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Slicing Self Worth

Many people come to a spiritual path looking for self worth. If we pay attention to our thoughts, we come to see that all of us carry around some belief that we are fundamentally flawed. That we need to prove ourselves worthy of joy and peace and we feel if we start a spirtial path and “work on it” that that will prove we are worthy. I think believing that we have to “do” something in order to gain our worth is what actually blocks us from experiencing it.

We were told as children “No, don’t do that! That’s bad!” or ” I can’t believe you did that!?? What is WRONG with you??” as if to say only people who had something wrong with them did such things. This type of speech is  so entrenched in our culture we no longer see through what message is being sent. We are no longer discriminating between the act and the doer of the act. I’m not saying  a child who is caught punching his friend on the playground shouldn’t have consequences, but the lannguage we use with children today is carried with them to adulthood. That child becomes an adult- us. We carry with us, of our own free will, the stories of what people said about us as children. As children, we felt small and helpless when adults disciplined us. Many times, we never saw that our ways of reacting to fear and anger as a child should be let go of to become a healthy adult,  never mind the fact that we all have this choice in the first place. Instead, that mistake we made at work and our boss frowns at us over makes us feel bad about ourselves. We tell ourselves “Damn! What was I thinking? What is WRONG with me?”

Do you hear the echo of childhood in that small question?

While the spirital path can be a blessing, western psychology goes hand in hand with spiritual practice. Many people have called it two sides of the same coin. Some people merely need to become aware of the stories they are telling themselves which are left over from childhood and no longer serve a useful purpose. But many  more of us need to be able to process the hurt and have someone listen and acknowledge our pain so we can fully release it.  That’s where mental health comes in, whether it’s a therapist or a trusted friend. Sometimes it’s not only about sitting on the cushion. Sometimes you need to lie on the couch and tell your story. A counselor will guide you to stop repeating your story to yourself over and over and how to feel the pain and release it.

Let me make this point clear – if you are on a spiritual path in order to get your psychological needs met, your spiritual experience may not be what you had hoped. While the paths look similar, different medicines heal different wounds. When all we know is that we feel pain it’s very hard to distinguish one from the other. The two intertwine nicely. If you find yourself re-experiencing trauma, abuse, constant negative self talk or even feel your spiritual practice is making you aware of things which feel overwhelming, looking into a psychological based path might be what’s actually needed.  If your Zen Master is not a licensed therapist, expecting him or her to know how to know why you won’t leave your abusive spouse is not in their purview.

Self worth is a celebration of having recognized that which reflects back at you. Coming to embody self worth takes courage and determination but it is also what we are driven to do.You are a walking reminder of what is good in this world. Many people are so on guard to all that is pain that they can no longer perceive the good. You reflect such a bright and steady light that no one can forget their own brilliance in your presence. Our daily practice is to do whatever it takes to embody this in our daily lives.

Here’s a list of books/ sites/ authors who really embrace this intertwining of western psychology and buddhist thought that I hope you find helpful:


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