Why Reading A Book on Self-Worth Plunged My Self-Worth Into The Garbage Can … And How I Got Back Out
Last week I read Tea and Cake With Demons, by Adreanna Limbach, a clear round up and explanation of the fundamental principles of Buddhist thought on suffering and the relief of suffering. The author’s voice is sensible and compassionate. Yet, as I read about how worthy I was, just by virtue of being me, I felt less and less so. So that, the day after I learned that I was on the cover of a Florida magazine, Healthy Living, for my own recently published book, I sank into a massive sinkhole of self-hate.
Snippet of internal dialogue between my I-Am-Worthy mind and my Who-Are-You-Kidding? mind as I swam desperately toward the sinkhole shores to pull myself out:
IAW: I’m a cover girl. Speaking with giddy excitement.
WAYK: Of a tiny Florida magazine that probably no one reads. The even-toned voice of rationality. Oh, and speaking of covers, the book jacket of Tea and Cake is so much nicer than your book jacket. Not to mention, yup, more important publisher. I’m sure it’s selling more briskly than your book. She’s a better writer. Actually, she’s a better person. She’s not just an author hoping that her book resonates for someone and gives them an extra spark of energy. Like some people I know. I won’t name names. Starts with an M. Ends with an A. She actually coaches and does workshops and is a leader in her community.
IAW: Compare and despair. Speaking gently. There’s nothing to be gained by pitting yourself against another author. You are wiser than that. Without getting attached, you should enjoy this Andy Warhol moment.
WAYK: Really? Probes wound with sharp dental tool and then pours salt on the raw flesh. She’s gaining more attention and earning more money. Deservedly. Not that you’re comparing. Slaps festering wound with bonhomie cheer.
Fresh off my mind’s little dialogue, I did what every reasonable person does in such a situation. I turned on my partner. It was his fault for being such a terrific person that I couldn’t possibly feel good about myself living in the same home. Also, the fact that I’d blown up the day (Saturday, have a great weekend) was further proof of my unworthiness.
I rinsed out the worst of my despair with a mountain bike ride. Going to ground inside my body is usually helpful.
Then, I meditated. Day 245 of this streak I’ve been on. How effective.
Here’s the thing. Despite falling off the Wagon of Worthiness, I believe in the efficacy of meditation. Practicing the pause to observe thoughts before precipitating into action is useful. Or should I say, mindful? But mindfulness and meditation are not a one-stop shop, where you find the solution to all that ails you. We can learn how to observe our thoughts in non-judgmental manner all we want. But, as Sahanika Ratnayake points out, if we never critically analyze or evaluate our thoughts and their origins, then we risk oversimplifying the tricky task of understanding ourselves better. Not only that, we will not take responsibility for our thoughts and actions.
Meditation is the olive oil of my psychic life. Useful for almost any challenge that I’m wrestling with, including the vicissitudes of daily life. But olive oil will never be the solo ingredient. Not even the main ingredient. Meditation works as a foundation from which self-knowledge is more easily built; just as olive oil enriches the flavor of so much of the food I cook.
When I meditate, I am better able to see myself from the outside when a low moment strikes (or a high moment sweeps me away). I experience a bifurcation. While one part of myself self-immolates, the other part of myself watches. Saddened. Frustrated. But certain, too, that I will pass through this trial into another fulfilling period of gratitude and joy. I am aware of both states of mind at the same time. I am the train wreck and a spectator of the carnage. Can we just get on with the misery and be done with it? –the watcher says.
Why can’t I stop the derailment before it happens? The answer is — I do; a lot more of the time now than I don’t. But I’m addicted to my self-hate and the weaning process is, well, still in process. My self-hate is like a religion. I can see the patent falsity of its premises, the fairy tale nature of the stories my self-hate tells me; yet, it’s so comforting to keep believing. As much as I know that self-hate is the delusion and self-worth is the reality, the opposite feels true and safe. After all, if I accept myself completely as I am, then I have a responsibility to live up to this person of worth’s potential; instead of hiding behind my incapacity.
Which brings me back to why Tea and Cake(olive oil cake perhaps?) precipitated such a meltdown. (It’s all the books fault!) By reminding me repeatedly of my self-worth, the book goaded the WAYK voice in my head into action. As the book describes, the closer we come to understanding (enlightenment is too big a word for me to use), the more ferocious the negative voices become. In Buddhism, these are the manifestations of Mara, the tormentor who uses every trick in the book to divert Buddha from the path.
I am at an inflection point. I just sent a new book into the world. With every book I write, I come closer to writing the book I dream of writing (one’s standards almost always outstrip one’s talent). It is early days. Too soon to know how the book is doing. The hard, but joyful, work of writing is finished. Daily, I have to recommit to following through for the book, without knowing if my efforts are making a difference. The spikey highs I get from events like being a cover girl are fleeting, narcotic and therefore unsustainable. I wonder if I should just quit writing. That’s a question many writers ask themselves a few months after their pub date. The closer I get to being the writer I want to be, the louder the naysayer in my head.
Meditation alone would not have gotten me to that understanding. While the pauses that meditation enabled are crucial, the hard, ongoing work of gaining new perspectives on myself is a broader practice of gleaning information and insight from as many sources as possible, from others’ stories and experiences, to books, to friends, family and other advisers, not to mention listening to how my body feels.
I don’t want to stop writing. I’m lucky enough that at the moment I don’t have to stop writing. Whether or not I’m worthy, I’m sticking with this life.