Teen Buddha

an open discussion, extending old methods for modern problems

Month: January, 2013

Not Good Enough and Feeling a Failure – a Practice in Tonglen

I recently received my practice SAT score at the end of the online test. It was embarrassingly low in the math section. It can seem a small thing to be concerned with, but it strikes me down hard. Comparisons find their way into my mind, I will not go to the university I want to, I will stay in this small town, I will never do anything with my life, I will have an uneventful, isolated life. They progress. Writing them down here, they seem ridiculous. But to me, at the time, they are very concrete.

I feel like I’ve been dropped in a deep hole somewhere, the soil eroding all above. I am, in this moment, a complete failure in my mind . I am not good enough. In this world, we are told unless we stand we will be trodden over. Thoughts such as these surface:

“There is not enough room for everyone in this over populated planet. Some people must be stepped on. In the “real” world, people do not care about your success, they do not care about your happiness. ”

The dreaded words, Not Good Enough. Not attractive enough, not smart enough, not creative enough, not wealthy enough, not driven enough…. Just give up now, some small voice tells me. You don’t contribute anything, anyway.

After some time, I ask, “What Now?” Okay, accepting this theory I am worthless and useless, what now? This way of thinking takes me no where but to a dark bedroom, crying.

And in these despairing moments, I sometimes have instants of light. Total release of my depression for about five seconds. Then its back again, but somehow not so bad. How can this be? This is where Tonglen comes in, this is where compassion comes in too. Through a crack in the monotony, in the “okayness” of everyday.

It helps to picture someone else, a friends or a complete stranger, lying in bed just as I am -crying. They feel what I feel. Immense depression and failure. I know its odd, but I find it easier to love this person than myself. They don’t deserve this. They are beautiful, complex, worthwhile person. These values we hold up in our world do not really matter. Success is just success. What matters is kindness.

This person, you and I are all closer to love when we are sad. Its a bit of a strange concept, but we are more open to kindness in this state. Because we can empathize. If I was a successful, perfect, (and completely fictional) human, how could i relate to sadness or failure?

I couldn’t.

So I practice Tonglen.

Tonglen means “Taking and Giving” in Tibetan. To practice Tonglen, is to breath in someone else’s sadness. A simple way of using Tonglen is to:

1) Sit upright (or lay down if you need to)

2) Picture a stranger suffering just as you are. Think of the emotion you are having, the situation that spurred the emotion.

3) Realize: I am feeling this emotion already, like it or not. So I will take on this persons sadness too.

4) Breath in their sadness. A specific one you both feel. Touch it to your heart. Release kindness, and happiness to them.

When I am done practicing this, I feel connected. I am not alone in feeling sorrow, I am not alone. Suffering is the face of humanity. It is found everywhere. It is very real, and I am experiencing it along with millions of others.

Typical and habitual thoughts of self doubt and distain will continue to effect us. But slowly, we will respond to them with self love and forgiveness. In doing this we have found a something, and have perhaps given a moment of light to someone lying in the darkness of depression. That someone starts with ourselves and then can spread to others.

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Blaming Yourself

It is 3:10 AM and another difficult night. While many of the fears and anxieties I have during the day have been pushed aside by distraction, it is dark and they are waiting for me. Just like they always do. Sometimes the days go by swiftly without a hitch, but that feeling of landing amongst my problems never goes away completely.

I call this feeling many things, uncertainty, anxiety, hopelessness. It is a beast of many names. I’ve carried it along with me for a long time now.

When I was five years old my mother would find me in the bathroom, scratch marks and bite imprints on my arms and legs. I was unable to release the anger and sadness and my young mind could not cope. My parents were separating, my mom had just found her biological family, and I felt unsafe. Of course I was not aware of these causes as I sat there crying; I just felt anger, fear and a deep, confused sorrow.

It was around that time that my mom and I came up with a strategy. We built a safety guard rail to keep my “car” from going off the road.

1.) Yell into a pillow and have a good cry.

2.) Eat a snack.

3.) Talk about it.

4.) Hugs

5.) Repeat

I feel as though these simple steps have carried into my life now, in a slightly modified form. Crying still releases the pain, having a good snack or a cup of soothing tea raises my blood sugar, and I have found talking and writing to be very beneficial. Healthy touch is found with a pet, family member or close friend.

Here’s the thing: the sadness doesn’t just disappear. It can be relentless, patient and unyielding. In the face of these, repetition is important. To respond to this, I try to become unyielding in my coping practices. Unyielding in my self forgiveness.

It can be so easy to internalize our fears and sadnesses. Some of us keep up a happy persona, we study hard, we smile, we keep up appearances. All the while we are hurting inside. Others of us may express unhealthy forms of anger and violence to ourselves or people around us.

All are expressions of our hurt. This self blame is so, so harming.

Being “good” and “kind” was always a goal of mine, and still remains to be, and I saw expressing hurt or anger externally would hurt other people. Thus I avoided expressing anything at all and hurt myself instead.

It is important to show some of your true state to people, while you do not have to explode with anger or sob around strangers; simply saying “I’m having a really rough time” to a friend can relive a load. Be honest.

It is still around 3:00 AM. I am still myself, with the same problems, fears and sadnesses. Still, with all of this, I try to accept myself, where I am. I try and remember that blaming myself for my perceived weaknesses when I am already down is a terrible thing to do. Instead, practice a little self compassion and kindness.

You are deserving of happiness. You are not held by your “weaknesses”, you are not in a permanent place. You need a rest. You need tending.

Sometimes other people cannot tend us, sometimes we have to tend ourselves. And thats okay too.