So, this is a tricky one – it’s present, so here goes. Recently I have noticed my sense of unworthiness coming up more frequently than I’d like to admit!
Tara Brach talks about “the trance of unworthiness” that we can find ourselves in!
My teacher, Lama Yeshe tells me to “keep doing the weeding”. What he means is that when any thoughts, behaviours, triggers come to the fore that are causing me suffering, I need to investigate them and dig them out. Sometimes it seems I have successfully dug them out, only to find the weeds growing again. I then have to dig even deeper and pull them out by the roots!
So, what has been triggering my unworthiness? Actually, it’s me and my habitual patterns of thinking! I have used situations, words and actions by others to make it all about ‘ME” and misinterpreted them into feeling I am not good enough. Not worthy. My mind has skilfully created stories. When actually, truth is, no matter how small, I have managed to take very innocent things and turn them into something huge.
Sometimes I find that something keeps repeating itself and becomes more painful as if to grab my attention. I take this as a sign that a weed has overgrown like bind weed and is strangling the beautiful flowers in my mind.
Thank goodness for my mindfulness practice.
Although, as a human being I am subject to the ‘trance of unworthiness’ – these last weeks it has become more noticeable. I recognised it was time to do some weeding. To do this I needed to use a variety of practices that I have learned.
I started with the RAIN practice. This enabled me to see what was causing my suffering and undesirable behaviours. As a result, I was able to accept, yep, this is what’s happening, and allow it to be there. I inquired deeply into the triggers and causes. I found that a series of work and relationship incidents that happened way in the past that were still lurking there, unresolved. A series of thoughts and feelings started arising from instances that had made me feel unworthy since I was a child. Nothing serious, but enough to put me in the ‘trance’.
Some of this was painful stuff, so I paused and used the self-compassion break to provide myself with some comfort.
In the compassion training we learn all about the self-critic. As I moved into inquiring intimately into the thoughts and feelings of unworthiness, I recognised that I had locked myself into, what Chris Germer terms, the ‘unholy trinity’. This is the ‘modern hell’ created by our internal fight, flight, freeze system, which in my case has gone into overdrive!
My mindfulness practice had shown me that I have allowed myself to be carried away by the drama of a situation, making it a bigger deal than I needed to! The remedy? To send compassion to all the versions of myself that had felt unworthy previously, as well as the version that is suffering now.
The beauty of the sequence of training, also showed me that by allowing insight to arise of its own accord, I was able to see deeply into what was happening. I realised that it wasn’t the perceived current events causing the problem, but something much deeper that related to the past and not now. Times when I had been hurt, let down or disappointed. I could see the stories I was telling myself and how my self-critic jumped in to sabotage my sense of wellbeing. By sending compassion to my self critic, I felt it soften and my whole being soften with it. As I moved through the RAIN practice to the final stage of Non-Identification, I noticed everything relaxed, lost its seeming solidity and blended into a sense of equanimity, peace and calm.
In the wise words of Pema Chödrön – may we all be free from the trance of unworthiness –
“Remind yourself, in whatever way is personally meaningful,
that it is not in your best interest to
reinforce thoughts and feelings of unworthiness.
Even if you’ve already taken the bait and feel the familiar
pull of self-denigration, marshal your intelligence,
courage, and humour in order to turn the tide.
Do I want to strengthen what I’m feeling now?
Do I want to cut myself off from my basic goodness?
Remind yourself that your fundamental nature is
unconditionally open and free”
– Pema Chödrön, from The Pocket Pema Chödrön
May I invite you to try the RAIN practice this week and bring to mind the most recent instance where you have felt unworthy. Use the practice to recognise that unworthiness is happening, allow it to be there and investigate intimately into what has triggered it and the root cause. Notice how this makes you feel, and any other thoughts and emotions associated with it. Sometimes it can be that we have created a story, which is the trigger, and we can ask ourselves if it is actually true, or the self-critic creating a drama. Once you are comfortable with that move into the non-identification mode and, if you can, allow the feelings and thoughts to pass through with equanimity. Allow all this to unfold gently whilst holding yourself with compassion for simply just having a human mind which is prone to make dramas and stories with its trickery.
You may wish to try the guided practice using the Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) book and app. Or, of course, Come Practice with Us
I wish you well.
Brach, T., 2012. Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame. Random House.
Chödrön, P., 2008. The Pocket Pema Chodron. Shambhala Publications.
Germer, C., 2009. The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. Guilford Press.