No one can make you feel inferior without your permission ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I’m fat. I’m worthless. Who am I to have an opinion, a voice, a hope or even a dream of happiness?
How many times during the day do you talk yourself like that? C’mon. Be honest. I know this kind of monologue is going on in my head all the time. Even after the Big Epiphany a few years ago, the one that led me out of the darkness and into the bright light of day, I’m still my own worst enemy.
The thing I want to talk about here is how someone like me (and you) can even begin to take our first tentative steps on a spiritual path.
Let’s just say for simplicity’s sake that the spiritual path is one that we follow in order to find some semblance of happiness, clarity and certainty in an otherwise mixed-up world. That, and gradually moving away from our habitual self-absorption to thinking a little more about our fellow human beings. Ideally we do this by cultivating our ethics, our self-discipline, concentration, and ultimately our personal experience of wisdom (to my theistic brothers and sisters out there, maybe we can say God).
Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. The spiritual path is a tough one to follow. Often it runs upstream, against the grain, and into the face of what most people hold to be dear and true. Following this kind of path is not easy for the strong-willed, let alone those of us who don’t think too much of ourselves in the first place. In order to take up this kind of life, this determined effort to improve for the benefit of others, we need to first stop the music we’ve been listening to for far too long. We’ve got to throw out all those old records that drone on inside our heads. You know the ones. They are the hit singles of all time like You Suck, You’re Worthless, Now Die”, “Everybody Knows You’re a Loser”, “You Picked A Fine Time to Be Born at All”, and other classics.
In order to take up this kind of life, this determined effort to improve for the benefit of others, we need to first stop the music we’ve been listening to for far too long. We’ve got to throw out all those old records that drone on inside our heads. You know the ones. They are the hit singles of all time like “You Suck, You’re Worthless, Now Die”, “Everybody Knows You’re a Loser”, “You Picked A Fine Time to Be Born at All”, and other classics.
Man, who wrote these songs anyway?
When I was in therapy, my therapist one day asked me who’s voice it was that was telling me what a piece of crap I was for being gay. That stopped me cold in my tracks. Suddenly I was back in my twelve-year old body, shivering and shaking as all the ghosts of my past told me how homosexuals were abominations and should never have been born. Now lots of pop-psychology tells us that all our problems are rooted in our childhood experiences, that the things our parents, guardians, teachers and authority figures did to us when we were kids rooted themselves in our subconscious minds until they grew, wild and unchecked, into all our current neuroses and complexes. I think there’s a lot of value in looking into our own origin myths in this way, but what we really have to realize is that we are grown-ups now and the only voices inside our heads are our own.
For me, that was a tough one to swallow but once I did I was able to take off running. Suddenly, it was all up to me and I could begin to take my life into my own hands.
I’ll tell you right now that if I hadn’t had that epiphany, I would never have been able to take up meditation or any spiritual practice. I wouldn’t have had the fortitude. I would have long ago given up, and without a lot of hard work, therapy, caring for myself, leaving myself little love notes around the house, and telling myself over and over again that I was worth something, I would have been stuck listening to those old records for the rest of my life.
So I think in the beginning, cultivating a strong sense of self-worth is our real spiritual practice. After all, how can you love me if you hate yourself? If you don’t treat yourself with compassion, how can you do the same for others? If you’re impatient and unforgiving with yourself, isn’t that how you’re going to be with your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers?
It’s a long road, to be sure. There’s no snapping your fingers and making everything better. But for those of us who do struggle with self-esteem, working on it with love, care, and the thought of one day benefitting others, it really is the greatest gift we can give to the world.