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

by rtrees

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.