Sunday, November 25, 2012
I am fearfully and wonderfully made. –Psalm 139:14
When I led a women’s retreat last year, we were talking about compassion for ourselves. I was struck by how difficult it was for some women to use positive words to describe themselves. When asked to describe themselves the way they would be described by the person who loved them more than anything in the universe (this could be a parent, dearest friend, God, their dog, anyone), there was a palpable discomfort in the room. Describing themselves in glowing terms seemed not only unfamiliar, but even wrong, smacking of pride and arrogance. Much better, they thought, to minimize their gifts, to deny their talents, to put themselves down.
But false modesty is just that – false. Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was once asked if he was really “that good.” He replied, “If I say yes, you will think I am arrogant. But if I say no, you will know I’m lying.”
The Bible says we are God’s masterpiece. Far from feeling arrogant or prideful, I am brought to my knees in humility and gratitude when contemplating this precious gift of human life, a gift that is not mine alone, but is generously bestowed on each of us, binding us together in our shared magnificence. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge the amazing wonderfulness of our existence?
At a conference with Western Buddhists, the Dalai Lama was asked about self hatred. Even after repeated efforts by his interpreter, the Dalai Lama remained confused by this concept. What was immediately understood by the Western attendees was so unfamiliar to His Holiness that he finally conceded, "I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange." What this tells me is that self hatred is not a necessary aspect of the human condition, but rather is culture specific.
Where does self hatred as a cultural phenomenon come from? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought since that women’s retreat last year. Some might trace its roots back to the doctrine of original sin, a concept perhaps unique to Christian theology. Seeing ourselves as inherently and inescapably flawed from birth is a heavy burden. One might also consider gender issues, since the affliction seems more prevalent in women.
Ultimately, however, the cultural origin of self hatred is less important than the fact that, because it is not an inevitable part of who we are, we can choose differently. That’s tremendously liberating.
Jesus said that we are the light of the world. “People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others....” I want my thoughts and words and actions to reflect that light of glory. I do no service to others by pretending to be less than what I am, a masterpiece of the universe, as are you. That doesn’t make us special. It makes us part of everything that lives.
So I invite you to try the exercise I mentioned above. You can do it privately if you don’t want to share publicly – that’s fine. How would the person who loves you more than anyone describe you? Can you accept that description without apology or denial? If you don’t want to share the description in a comment, would you share what the exercise was like for you? Is it hard to let your light shine? No judgment. Just be curious.
You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself. –Buddha
related posts: From Victim to Victor; The Perfection of Imperfection; Guided Tour