Being True to Yourself


Hello Everyone,

I was looking through some old stuff about a week ago and found an email printout from November of 2004. If my memory serves me well it was written after a fellow Shambhala community member had died and folks were remembering him. A question had once been asked of him: What was the best thing about becoming a part of this sangha and what was the worst?

“The best I got from the Vidyadhara (Chogyam Trungpa) from the first second I set sight on him in 1974, that all I need to do is to be truthful to myself about my own experience. Once I did that it becomes apparent that there is nothing to get from, and nothing to demand of the teacher, the teachings, the sangha, the lineage, the world or the situation I’m in. There is a whole lot to give.

The worst is to see so many practitioners swim in self-doubt, self-pity, self-guilt and take so so long to come to this conclusion, to take the seat as a proud human being who can help rather than add to the problems of this world.”

I wanted to share this because I thought it might be of benefit to you as it was to me. Personally, I find it full of wisdom, simple and straightforward, yet profoundly challenging to accomplish. It reminds me of a chapter from The Shambhala Principle by Sakyong Mipham where he writes about how many (or few!) original thoughts we have, and he suggests that our cultures, family, and friends have such great influence on us that we come to believe all of these external influences are our own original ways of believing and being. The challenge, if one feels it is worth it, is to look at the root of our beliefs and find out if they really are true for us or did we just accept them through years of osmosis (the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.) and unquestioned acceptance.

A friend who had just completed a week-long retreat at Windhorse shared with me a revelation that she had. While practicing mindfulness meditation on the cushion, she noticed that some of the thoughts that were arising – judgements about herself in particular – were more other people’s opinions of her rather than her own. This is a profound realization in my opinion. Think about how often we hear our mother, father, sister or friend telling us what we should be doing. My friend said she noticed that she didn’t actually agree with what she was telling herself…it was her own voice in her head, but the content was someone else’s opinion.

If we are able to be truthful to ourselves about how and why we do the things we do, and honest about what we feel is the most genuine way to be, I suspect that a lot of suffering, self-inflicted as well as what we inflict upon others, could be greatly lessened. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we are the only ones who can ever really know what it is like to be us. We are the only ones who physically and mentally experience what happens around us. Of course there are group experiences and shared interactions of the same event, but each being involved can only experience it through their own sense faculties. One of the lojong slogans states, “Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.” The pith of which is, “You know yourself better than anyone else knows you.” I think it is natural to seek advice, to accept constructive criticism and to want to emulate folks we admire but when the scale of balance tips to a point where we are always looking to external sources for our beliefs, our strength and acceptance, then we need to rebalance and look to ourselves, ”the principle one.”

I used to ask my sister and some other people close to me questions like, Do you think it was okay that I did such and such? I was going to do this….do you think it’s a good idea? I really don’t want to go to this event, what should I say….is it okay if I make something up? And on and on. I did this a lot in my late teens and early 20s. Then sometime around my late 20s early 30s I started getting irritated when my sister or those same folks I used to ask advice from gave me advice-when I didn’t ask for it! Once I took the time to look at what was going on I realized that back in the day I did need advice and sometimes confirmation that I was okay, but I continued the habit of asking even when I didn’t need to. I just wanted someone else to share the burden of my own decisions. I’m not sure if this is making sense to you as you read this – hopefully my point is getting across. I had to own my actions and stop bringing others into my head because hey had their own stuff to deal with. Once I realized the pattern I had established with my sister and friends I owned up to it, apologized for getting pissy with them for offering advice, and told them that I’d only ask when I really needed to and was willing to listen. Voila! I started to get to know myself on a deeper level.

I think the main point of what I was trying to get across in the previous paragraph is this: when we don’t trust ourselves or are afraid to find out who we really are, because maybe people won’t like us, then we start creating a whole web of interactions and communications with others. This isn’t inherently bad of course, connection is good. What can happen though is if we aren’t genuine and truthful in our interactions, which can happen due to lack of experience, naivete, confusion, deceit, or many other factors…..there is the potential of creating further suffering. When we are continually reaching out to others to confirm our existence we are placing an unfair burden on those we love and admire. AND we are turning away from getting to know and love ourselves.

I think I should stop here…I feel I’m getting a little too existential!




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