Monday, January 17, 2011

Practicing Self Approval

"Wanting approval is the biggest check you will ever write." - Lawrence Crane

As a child, my father once told me to stop caring what other people think of me.  He told me that as I grow up, and become more confident in myself, I won't care how others feel about me.  The message is that if I don't care what others think of me, they'll stop judging me and have less control over my feelings.  If I let other kids' teasing hurt me, then they can hurt me, and kids who needed to feel that kind of power through psychological bullying would see that it works and use it to increase their own sense of self worth.  Though, if I had confidence in my own decisions and choices, and could realize that a lot of the judgments from others is just that, a play for power, a way to get control, likely due to lower self esteem in the others.

Truly confident people don't need to judge or bully others.  When they fully accept themselves, they neither need to grant or deny approval, nor do they seek it in others.  One of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is to not take anything personally.  Everything that someone likes or dislikes, approves or rejects, is a reflection of the values and emotions of that person, and that person alone.  It has nothing to do with the specific value or quality of that which is being judged.  Not taking anything personally, is trusting in yourself through judgment, and neither being proud of compliments, nor ashamed of insults.  Any statements or actions of others is just more information about the other person and nothing about the subject that they're judging.

It's hard, though.  There's a drive in many of us to want to be liked, and often to want to be liked and approved of by a specific person, specific people, or society in general.  And some people have been either formally or informally annointed as discerning critics.  Some people are great at being judges that others take seriously, their word becoming the basis for group opinion or group judgment.  To some extent, this is valuable to many as helping to determine fitness and what others will like.  However, in arts it often leads to the creation of diluted "mainstream" or "derivative" artifacts.  In people, it leads people into feeling low self esteem, "selling out", or lording their opinions over others.   Some of these comments illuminate a lesson: what we often find most appealing are the things that are most internally honest.

The great irony is, the more that people pander to be liked by others, the less authentic they become, and inevitably the less liked.  Seeking approval from others is really unattractive to the people giving the approval.  It creates a relationship of power.  People admire great personal integrity in others.  Having integrity means that one's beliefs and behaviors integrate thoroughly. Start Whole.

Lawrence Crane delivered an important message in a little book, that I find can be summarized in it's title Love Yourself and Let the Other Person Have It Your Way, and a key line  "Wanting approval is the biggest check you will ever write."   Giving others the power to approve or reject who you are is giving up your ability to make your own decisions, think your own thoughts, and feel your own feelings.   That's completely surrendering your personal freedom at the most fundamental levels.   To give myself approval, I constantly need to seek if there's anything in myself that I disapprove of, and accept it.  Over and over, I seek to accept every last bit of who I am.  Personal acceptance is an important part of my path to integrity, compassion, and happiness.

Since awareness leads to growth, I  track two related points daily on my daytender account:  Took nothing personally and Loved me.  I give myself a 1-10 rating on both of these.  Reflecting on these values is what helps, and the rating is interesting to watch over time, and in coordination with other counters and events of my life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Right Effort That's Right for Me

Lately, I've been taking the time to appreciate what I have and wher e I am in life.  I've certainly had a charmed life, being born to two wonderful, loving, and stable parents who raised me morally and with a great education.  I never wanted for anything.  I'm certainly in the very top percentile in terms of starting out with opportunity.  The question to keep posing to myself is if I'm making the "right" use of it.  The challenge comes in definitely what "right" is for me and then acting on it.

Much of finding this definition of "right" and the opportunity to act on it passes passively, meaning that we did not explicitly decide to eliminate certain options, they were eliminated due to our own inaction.  I remember the first time realizing that a door was closed to me.  Sitting in a high school art class, watching the Winter Olympics, it occurred to me that several of the medalists were younger than I was, and had started as children.  Anyway, it never occurred to me until that moment that winning all sports in the Olympics wasn't an option to me.  I still figured that I could do anything.  Though now, my body already had ruts and I had already missed out on years of important training needed to prepare me for such high level success.  It's when Virgil's idea "Optima dies, prima fugit." (the best days are the first to flee) occurred to me long before I knew the words.

Over the years, many other opportunities passively passed me by, and that's ok as I've learned to let go of ambition and see more to be "of use".  In Buddha Is As Buddha Does by the Lama Surya Das, he relates a quote by a forest monk from Thailand, "In Asia, the class sequence of the teachings and practice is first generosity, then morality, and then meditation…. But here in the United States, the sequence seems to be meditation first, then morality, and after some time, as a kind of appendix, there is some teaching about generosity."  This strikes me as huge, since I spend more time focusing on meditation and mindfulness, than on anything else.  In some ways, this is highly self-serving, though I always convince myself that I need to bring my best self to any situation, and that I have a long way to go in the realm of mindfulness.  This year, I aim intentionally to change my focus from self-service to world service. 

Though given all of the ways of possibly serving, I need to discover the right way to do that for me.  There are more charities in the world than I have pennies to my name, and trying to spread the pennies evenly wouldn't do any good.  Value comes when I can focus my resources--time, money, energy--into the things that really matter to me, while striving to ensure that all of my acts are wholesome. 

Somewhere in my life I heard or read the concept that men are typically generous toward loved ones, family, friends, and people that they know, while women tend to be more generous to the world at large.  I cannot recall the source of this, nor do I have evidence to back it up, though I feel that for me, it is certainly easier for me to be generous with those whom I know.  Perhaps that it is focus that I've passively "chosen".  More now, I aim to spread my attention outward. 

Nearly 2 years ago, I focused on Why I Blog and identified goals of sharing, a primary one being not resting until others are free of suffering, as in the Bodhisattva vow.  My way is in helping others be more mindful.   Recently, I've teamed up with others who share this goal, we call ourselves Stark Raving Bits, to create daytender, a web site for helping to cultivate mindfulness in others.