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Buying into the self-esteem business

by Andy Puddicombe

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Self esteem has become an industry. People move from one concept, book or idea to the next, perhaps feeling inspired and motivated, but without actually addressing what has created this underlying issue in their lives.

“If only I could follow this new regime of positive thinking, or reframing my ideas, or understanding my childhood, then I’d finally feel ok about myself.” This is a bit like running around in a kitchen banging pots and pans wildly, screaming “why can’t I find any peace and quiet in here?”

For me the magic happens when we stop, when we stop searching, when we stop trying to be a happier, calmer person and just allow the mind to express itself exactly as it is. Because underneath all the crazy thoughts and challenging feelings is that blue sky. And if we can set up a framework where that can be revealed safely, then thoughts and feelings can once again flow as they were meant to.

Obviously this has to be balanced with an intellectual approach, but how can the intellect, the rational, thinking mind, often the source of our self-criticism, also be the answer to those problems? It’s only by addressing, approaching or accessing the broader, innate essence of mind that we can really start to make sense of it all.

It’s like taking this huge step back in the mind, where the perspective is transformed and the stream of thoughts and feelings are no longer the sum total of who we are. Instead they are watched and listened to, engaged with when useful and let go of when destructive. The result is that rather than instinctively reacting to a thought, there is room for a skillful response. There is no longer the strong identification with the thought and feeling – rather than “I’m angry” it changes to “there’s anger.” It is hard not to overstate the impact this subtle shift can have on somebody’s experience of every single aspect of life.

And I guess this is the point: self-esteem happens in the moment. It’s not a fancy idea or a complicated concept which lies somewhere in the future if only we can work out how to get there. Instead it’s the direct experience of life, as it happens, in this very moment – in other words, through meditation, through being mindful. Free from judgment and coming from a place of spacious clarity, life is experienced as it is, right now.

The future grows out of the present, so it’s to the present that we need to look first.

When we’re in touch with that place within ourselves, when we can begin to apply this quality of awareness to every single aspect of our lives – even our relationship with ourselves, then the world begins to look very different. There is a sense of underlying contentment and unshakable confidence which enables us to be happy and engaged in whatever we’re doing.

And that’s when we become curious, interested, productive and efficient human beings, right? The future grows out of the present, so it’s to the present that we need to look first.

Watching the mind, and knowing the mind, allows this experience of impermanence and evolution to permeate every aspect of our being. It allows us to move, intuitively from one moment to the next. It allows us to let go of the burden of our limited notions or who we are, and our expectations of the future, to reveal a limitless place of creativity and potential. It is from this place that great ideas arise, ideas which have the potential to transform the world we live in.

Although life may be limited in years, our potential for growth, change and understanding is endless. But that potential can only be fulfilled when we know how to be still, when we let go of all the things we think we know and think we ought to know, and simply rest the mind in a place of knowing, unadulterated awareness, free from judgement or criticism, and open to every possibility there has always been or ever could be.

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.

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