Conventional confidence vs. Unconditional confidence
A few months ago I had the good fortune of participating in the culminating weekend of the first year of Shambhala Training. Titled “Ridgen: Unconditional Confidence,” it had a big name to live up to. And live up to its name it did. Our esteemed teacher, Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, began the weekend by pointing out the contrast between our normal, conventional view of confidence and the confidence talked about in the Shambhala teachings. Our normal mode of confidence is usually “confidence in” something or someone; a situation, a trusted person, or a particular skill we possess. When something big is about to happen in our lives people will ask us “Are you confident?” But what they really mean is – are you confident in your ability to nail this job interview, or your luck in securing the winning bid on a house, or some such thing.
Unconditional confidence, in contrast, has nothing to do with either outer circumstances or your inner emotional landscape. It is free of any condition. This is because when we have unconditional confidence we are not confident “in” anything and our confidence is not “about” anything. The good news is that if there is no condition that needs to be met for us to have confidence then we can just have confidence. However, this is one of those things in life that is very simple, but not easy to do.
The Case of the Confidence Man
We have a term in our society for someone who inspires in us such ultimate confidence in them that they are able to take us for a proverbial ride – the “confidence” or “con” man (or woman). You might want to say that the “con”fidence man has unconditional confidence, that they don’t have to rely on any outside condition or inner emotional landscape to bolster their confidence. It would seem that they just magically have so much confidence that they are able to do anything. But I would disagree. This seemingly unconditional confidence is alluring and magnetic, so we are drawn to it. It appears to us that their confidence is so unflappable that anything could happen and they would stand firm. That is why so many people are taken in by con artists. In these ways the confidence of the con man mimics true unconditional confidence. Yet their confidence is extremely conditional; it is conditional on their ability to lie convincingly and to trick people. This is the opposite of Unconditional Confidence.
Our basic goodness
Unconditional confidence is alluring and magnetic. People are drawn to us when we feel it. It radiates from our very being. So where does unconditional confidence come from? Certainly not from trickery or phoniness. It comes from connecting with our essential being; who we all are at our very core. In the Shambhala teachings you hear a lot about “basic goodness”, which is a less imposing way of saying “Buddha Nature”. Basic goodness is something we all have, are born with, and uncover every time we touch in with it. We are all basically good, believe it or not. That is why we all have the ability to become Buddhas (or put more correctly, uncover our Buddhahood). So how do we do this? How do we connect with our basic goodness? There are infinite ways to do this, but here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Get out into nature. Our lives are so busy and covered up with inessential stuff everyday. Connect in with where we came from–the earth.
- Be who you are. That’s right. Don’t be afraid. Nobody else is going to do it, and you can’t possibly be someone else.
- Get back to the basics. Make it a habit of attempting to sense things in an unfiltered way. Drop your judgement about hot/cold, good/bad, like/dislike and just sense things as they are. Taste, touch, hear, see, smell. Activating your pure sense perception cannot help but bring you back into your essence, even if just for a moment.
- Connect with what is. Once you are sensing something as it is try to connect with it. In that very moment you see the vibrancy of the flower and smell its perfume. Be with that flower in that moment.
- Let go. Don’t try to hold on to the moment. You can’t make it last anyway; your experience is shifting each millisecond. Don’t try to possess the flower. There is a metaphorical beauty in picking the flower in order to keep it, it will only whither and die.
- Oh yeah, meditate! Stilling your mind is the most fundamental way to uncover your essence. Sit still, follow your breath. Allowing our minds to rest is just as important as allowing our bodies to rest. The world can wait for 10 minutes.
Your unconditional confidence springs from the knowledge that you are already basically good and relaxing into that. You are connected to everything already. You don’t have to possess any of it. You don’t have to judge any of it. You can let everything be as it is and you are perfectly fine with that.