Who I thought I was in high school wasn’t who I thought I was in college.
This shifted again while I was studying martial arts, then while immersed in a career and then several times again during my retirement. During those periods of my life, I had fiercely defended (and embellished) those conceptual beliefs of who I thought I was and should be.
Still to this day, the temptation arises to follow my mind’s imaginary and ever-changing “template” that baits me with a false sense of security in this moment to moment existence.
Actually, these shifts happen more often than that. Each new thought initiates a new mind-set along with a new presupposed reality. Because we think hundreds of thoughts every day, needless to say, it can all get very confusing when our identity takes on different and opposing forms.
“I’m so smart,” to “I’m such a dummy,” or “I’m good looking,” to “I’m a gluttonous pig with no self-control,” ad nauseum.
Judgments often arise with each thought and action, whether deliberate or not. They feed or defeat our sense of self—our ever-shifting identity, which never seems to be permanently fixed. In the midst of the constant change that surrounds us, this often causes us great angst and that’s why I believe it’s important for us to consider this topic.
Believing that we should be able to control everything (or failing to perfectly control something) often leads to negative self-judgments. The resulting downward spiral of thinking and feeling and its cause deserves a deeper examination.
Looking at the Buddha’s teaching of the Five Skandhas, all form is empty, so not only am I judging myself based on impermanent and passing form, but I can’t ever predict what my next thought might be! If I can’t predict that, why am I so hard on myself when I’m not being the type of person I thought I should be?
What is really going on here, with all of that judging?
It’s not as if my words, thoughts and actions can all be chosen in advance, although it may appear that way to many. If only I could be as perfect as I think (and you think) I should be. So then, who am I really, other than a “great pretender,” a judge of that which has already risen and passed? I remind myself that perhaps all those judgments that appear in my mind shouldn’t be taken so seriously since they aren’t much different than the passing clouds in the sky.
“Clouds come and go but the sky is always blue,” as often is said in Buddhist circles.
We often hurt ourselves and others because we believe almost every thought that appears in our mind to be real, permanent and self-defining. We take our “self” so seriously, wanting it to be different than what appears and then passes away, without any acceptance or compassion.
Be mindful of impermanence and its discerned wisdom might just eventually show us a different perspective.
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Assistant ed: Cat Beekmans
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