Last Sunday a friend loaned me a copy of "There Is Nothing Wrong With You" by Cheri Huber. The title appealed to me instantly, since it's so obviously right.
I mean, most of the time it's crystal clear to me that I'm absolutely fine. It's other people who are all screwed up, the way they don't behave like I want them to.
Problem is, they feel the same. So the conventional wisdom is that the world is made up of six billion humans chanting a mantra of "I'm right and you're wrong."
This certainly seems to be the foundation of religion (and politics). But Huber, a Zen practitioner who melds Buddhist and self-help philosophy, has a different slant on rightness and wrongness.
Her book's subtitle, in the new edition, is "going beyond self-hate." She sees self-hate as the root of the sense of wrongness that permeates most people's everyday lives.
Trying to STOP, FIX, or CHANGE is part of the self-hating process. Just stay with the experience and REALLY GET IT. That this is sad, it's not wrong, it's just hard, it's hard to be a being. How can we not feel compassion?
Of course, ego will jump right in there and say, "Enough of this sadness. Let's DO something about it." That DO-ality will flip us right back into the bottom of the pot. I imagine a big stew pot of self-hate, and you just about crawl up to the top of the pot when you run into something that flips you right back in.
Usually this "something" is: trying to change what you are experiencing. Criticizing yourself, judging somebody else, thinking you need to change something, fix something, DO something—
And you are right back in the bottom of the pot of self hate. Again…
(My edition of "There Is Nothing Wrong With You" is typeset in a handwritten fashion, with an informal style. Usually I'm not a big fan of CAPS and cutesy layouts, but it works in this book – though the format looks a bit strange when quoted as I did above.)
There's a lot of simple wisdom in the easy-to-read pages that I whipped through in a couple of morning pre-meditation reading sessions. Such as:
I am not here to become an acceptable person. I am here to accept the person I am.
It may be true that you make sacrifices, but that doesn't make you good; it just means that you make sacrifices.
It may be true that you are accepting, but that doesn't make you good; it just means you are accepting.
It may be true that you are responsible, but that doesn't make you good; it just means you are responsible.
It may be true that you meditate, but that doesn't make you good; it just means that you meditate.
We label these behaviors good and then continue to do them in order to support self-hate. Perhaps doing in order to be good is what keeps you from realizing that you are already good.
Those last two lines made me think about my motivations during a long period of true-believing religiosity. I really enjoyed feeling that I was on the right spiritual path, because left to my own devices obviously I'd wander off and get lost, screw-up that I am.
So, yes, self-hate (or at least self-mistrust) kept me reading the books, attending the services, sticking to the straight and narrow, fearing to question. Oh my god, what would happen if I followed my own instincts? Well, Huber says:
All of life's conflicts are between letting go or holding on. Opening into the present or clinging to the past. Expansion or contraction.
…Life is very short. We do not have time to be frightened. We do not have the luxury of allowing fear and hate to run our lives. THIS IS IT!
…We cling to our belief that there is something wrong because that's how we maintain our position at the center of the universe.
Suffering provides our identity. Identity is maintained in struggle, in dissatisfaction, in trying to fix what's wrong. So we are constantly looking for what is wrong, constantly creating new crises so we can rise to the occasion.
To ego, that's survival. It is very important that something be wrong so we can continue to survive it.
I'd think: Oh no! There was a smidgen of meat in the food that I ate! I've broken my vegetarian vow! I should have checked more carefully – interrogated the cook, inspected every bite before I swallowed it, something!
As the familiar Zen story goes, I was the monk who watched his colleague carry a beautiful woman across a stream (a no-no for these monastic guys) and stewed about it for miles afterward. Until he said, "Why did you pick her up? You know we're not supposed to touch women."
The response: "I left the woman back on the stream bank. You're still carrying her. Who is the biggest vow-breaker?"
My wife and I have been taking dance lessons for a couple of years. They've attuned me to the difference between moving to patterns, versus moving freely.
Not that the two are separate and distinct. They're related. Because I can be leading a series of moves, a pattern, that is clear in my own mind. I know what is supposed to happen.
But Laurel doesn't, either because I haven't led the move correctly (usually the case) or because she doesn't know how to follow the lead.
Either way, when I have the Oops sensation that things aren't going as planned, I've got choices.
I can either try to force my partner to do what she darn well should be doing because I intended it, which can lead to stopping the dance and having a discussion (or argument) on the ballroom floor, or I can adjust myself to her movement.
Change my plan in accord with reality – which almost always is the preferred option.
It isn't that I'm right and she's wrong, or the reverse. Something simply is going on, and we both need to flow with it. I like what Huber says here:
What would maintain egocentricity? How would you know who you are?
It is only the illusion of a separate self who could believe that it is possible to make mistakes. Because, in fact, there isn't anything going on other that what is.
It is only in some imaginary parallel universe where this could happen, or this could happen, that we get that kind of alternative: what happened – what should have happened
As far as I know, it is only when we hold the notion that something happened this way, but it should have happened that way that we can say, "Well, I had this experience, but that is the one I was supposed to have.
I don't think so.
…We have a choice.
We can live our lives trying to conform to some nebulous standard or we can live our lives seeing how everything works.
When we step back and look at it that way, it is obvious that the attitude of fascination is the only intelligent one to bring to anything.