Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Self-Hatred? What is that?"

Earlier this morning, I read the comments on my most recent blog post. I always love reading comments, but the encouragement here resonated especially deeply. In the post, I fumbled around with the idea of taking pride in my own actions. It sounds like I'm so not the only one who struggles to be able to do that!

Again and again, one of the recurrent themes that comes up amongst friends and acquaintances is the idea of not being good enough. At the end of the semester, teachers often feel a sense of failure mixed in with "it's all gonna be over soon" relief. We think that some students didn't "get it," or that they won't pass, and we take that on ourselves. In the locker room after yoga, I hear students engage in similar self-flagellation over a class that didn't go well. "I just didn't drink enough. I shouldn't have had that second brownie last night. I was thinking about my kid, and my standing series sucked." And these aren't simple observations--we seem genuinely disheartened by our own perceived shortcomings.

A divided mind
Where does this come from? It's so pervasive, despite our varied life experiences. Maybe it's partly a western culture thing. That would explain this reaction from the Dalai Lama, anyway. (Yeah. I'm finally quoting the Dalai Lama. It was bound to happen, right?)

On one of the Dalai Lama's first visits to the US, Sharon Salzberg raised her hand and asked him about how to work with self-hatred. "Self-hatred?" he repeated in English. "What is that?" It took some back-and-forth with the translators and questioner before he finally understood. The Dalai Lama had to ask Sharon for clarification, and he needed the help of translators before he finally understood what she meant. Finally, he said, "I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange."

There's probably more than one way you could interpret this lack of understanding. Naysayers might say he lived too sheltered a life, or that his teachers overlooked a really big concept. I've also heard it explained, though, that self-hatred is a very western concept. Possibly, Tibetans have their own slew of neurotic tendencies, ones that simply don't encompass self-hatred. His Holiness probably had to spend a few months in the US before he witnessed the vast expanse of self-loathing behaviors. Or maybe he finally watched a Woody Allen movie.

While I am certainly in no position to draw a conclusion about cultural differences between East and West, the story about the Dalai Lama floored me, probably because it gives me hope: it is possible to live so appreciatively that it doesn't even seem possible to grasp the idea of self-loathing. May any human be so lucky as to exchange that problem for a horse of a different color!


tony said...

"Infinite Life" by Robert Thurman (with a foreword from the Dalai Lama) offers a couple of chapters that I personally found quite helpful in understanding Western vs Eastern perspectives of self. I could try to paraphrase but it would much better coming from Thurman.

I will see if I can find my copy and leave it at the studio for you.


Yolk E said...

I am definitely interested in reading Robert Thurman. Thanks for the rec and the comment, Tony! I would love to read the book if you can dig it up :-)

thedancingj said...

That is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you for that! I had no idea - honestly I had no idea it was possible to live without self-hatred. And even the fact that I just typed that makes me sad :-(

Torri x0