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|
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!