The Buddha knew a thing or two about non-contingent self-worth. He recognized that we actively participate in the generation of feeling insulted. Words may be issues, yet without some kind of assent, acceptance, or appropriation, they cannot affect us.
This non-contingent sentiment is made beautifully clear in this passage from the Samyutta Nikaya. The Buddha creates a metaphor to the offering of food. Your guest may or may not take the food. The Buddha said this after he was insulted by a brahman, Akkosaka, notorious for his insults:
In the same way, brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting,; that with which you have taunted me, how is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all your, brahman. It’s all yours. (SN, 7:2)
This is a very modern take on the situation. The Buddha is acting as the first cognitive behavioral therapist and the same time he is emphasizing existential responsibility. Words can only “harm” if the receiver adopts a certain attitude.
Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company with that person. But I am not eating together or sharing your company, brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.
How much anguish has arisen from retaliating to insults? How much blood has been spilt making another pay for taunts?
Everyone is entitle to their opinions. In Mindfulness A to Z: 108 Insights for Awakening Now, I tell a story of a how someone said I looked like a “pimp” (I was wearing my best suit). These moments are little choices: indignation or letting be. Fortunately, that day I chose letting be and just had a good laugh.
The next time someone insults you, see if you can avert taking it personally.
I was recently asked to contribute to a Huff Po piece on 7 Ways Introverts Handle Heartbreak Differently by Brittany Wong. I found this article to be very helpful.
The other contributors prompted me to think about my own divorce process and how my introverted tendencies (back then still not fully realized) affected the way I handled that process.
I spoke of the need to withdraw and how meditation practice, invaluable always, was especially crucial during that tumultuous time. In retrospect, I understand now why it took many years before I was ready to re-engage with relationship. This had more to do with my introversion than the failure of marriage.
I, of course, remember how stressful the process was yet had forgotten how it was stressful in the ways that were heightened by introversion. After all the meetings, paperwork, and other matters of consequence, I was tapped out.
It was a brilliant sunshine day in May when everything was finally resolved. I remember how good that silent warmth felt on my skin and the sense of renewal it intimated, the new road ahead, as it were.
We often speak about going off into nature as if we are somehow separate from it. But aren’t we, by necessity, part of nature? Contemporary human has lost touch with its place in the natural world. If we are separate, then the rest of the world is just material resources to be exploited.
David Hinton in Hunger Mountain reminds us of a time when humans destroyed the world around them:
“Wildlife was was virtually extinguished by unrestrained hunting; the forests were completely cleared for lumber and farmland, allowing topsoil to wash away and fill streams and rivers with silt, which in turn decimated fish populations; and what topsoil remained on farms was depleted by unsustainable farming practices.”
It’s hard to talk about this subject without buying into the duality that holds us in opposition to the natural world. We talk about going into and out of nature but nature is all and everywhere, just varying to the degree that it has been touched by human hands. It is still possible to find your true self in the concrete expanses of a city, as this quote from the film, My Dinner With Andre reminds us.
Why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to perceive one moment of reality? Is Mount Everest more real than New York? Isn’t New York real? I think, if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! Isn’t there just as much reality to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?
Nevertheless, being in landscapes with relatively less fingerprints, does provide a window to our true selves that may not be so readily accessed elsewhere. It’s just easier but by no means guaranteed. We can still be preoccupied. To find our true selves in nature, we need to do three things:
- Know that it is possible
- Want to access it
- Have the capacity
I take my dogs on a brief hike each day. On this route we have the pleasure of seeing two of Vermont’s highest peaks–Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump (the closer and more spectacular view of Camel’s Hump is pictured above).
We are fortunate to have this exposure to the natural world each day. Yet, my mind can still be very noisy. Obviously, I know that quieter is possible; I also have to want to make the shift towards quiet, if I don’t go their automatically. To accomplish this, I have to have the ability to extricate myself from whatever stories are compelling me to turn my gaze to the horizon with its purple mountains.
This is why we practice because we can know and even have a strong desire and still not be able to pull it off because the counter forces are just too strong. Practice can help us to make it happen when we have the opportunities.
To get some practice and to learn some methods for accessing your true self, join me and Jaimal Yogis for a weekend workshop at Kripalu. There is still time to register here >>
What is the true self and how do we access it? These are questions that we will explore in the upcoming workshop: Finding Your True Self through Mindfulness and Nature at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
On the weekend of June 10, Saltwater Buddha author Jaimal Yogis and I will facilitate a retreat workshop where you will have a chance to taste what this true self is and learn methods for bringing it more centrally into your life.
Here are some details on the program:
Awaken to your luminous life in this moment. Mindfulness and meditation practice can provide refuge, sanctuary, and deep inner peace. Reclaim unity and oneness in a program that offers
- Basic mindfulness skills using formal and informal meditation practices
- Nondual states of awareness that can be accessed through contemplation and writing
- Ways to develop and apply a love of solitude to the hectic demands of life
- A working knowledge of the Buddha’s psychology of awakening.
This life-changing weekend engages you through mindful self-exploration, humor, poetry, heartfelt discussion, and a creative method for leaving your painful and limiting stories behind. It also includes time at Kripalu’s lakefront to explore the transformative power of water.