For today’s blog post, I thought I’d deviate slightly from the more “traditional” teachings of Buddhist psychology. That being said, this topic can clearly be understood in light of Buddhist philosophy and is a topic that seems to not only come up in session quite frequently, but also serves as the root cause of so many of our mental health problems.
In our Western society, we emphasize “doing” over “being”. Because we live in a competitive, fiercely individualistic culture, we attach value and self-worth to various tangible accomplishments and achievements – job titles, salaries, educational degrees, awards, material wealth, etc. In addition to this sense of being constantly “evaluated” and rewarded (or not) based on performance, we’re also given messages from an extremely young age that who we are – and what we feel – is essentially “wrong”. When a child falls down and cries, even the most well-meaning parent may invalidate that child’s feelings by saying “It’s okay sweetie, you’re alright.” The child hears that it isn’t a big deal but this message contradicts his internal experience. Other such messages include “Suck it up, tough it out”, “Don’t quit”, “Mind over matter”, “Nobody likes a cry baby”, “Turn that frown upside down” and so much more. These messages tell us that we are somehow “different”, “less than”, or broken, and that in order to belong (one of our most basic human needs), we must cover up our authentic experience and act in a way that allows us to fit in. This also applies in regard to body image and our obsession with physical appearance – not just having the “right” body, hairstyle or wardrobe, but also having a certain house, car, even lifestyle. It’s as though we were all given some blueprint to follow, guiding principles for the “ONE AND ONLY RIGHT WAY TO LIVE.”
Well, as someone who has lived on 4 different continents and traveled to nearly 35 countries, I can tell you that there most certainly is NOT “one right way to live.” And not only is there not “one right way to live”, but the “script” that we all blindly follow in our society isn’t even a good one in terms of our mental and physical health! According to the Happy Planet Index (which measures a country’s happiness based on wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and ecological footprint), the United States ranks a dismal 108th out of 140 countries (Jeffrey et al., 2016). So we’re not happy, we’re told that we have to DO something to EARN love and approval and belonging, and we feel broken and different from an early age. So what does all this mean?
Basically, we’re all frauds (just kidding but not really). As long as our society emphasizes the aforementioned values, and until we believe that we are BORN ENOUGH, and that “being” is just as good if not better than “doing”, we will suffer. We will feel deep shame and hide our true selves, resulting in feelings of separation, disconnection, and loneliness. When we put on a façade in order to fit in and win the hearts and minds of our peers, we deny our authentic selves and we feel pain.
The antidote to all of this (besides a massive socio-cultural campaign in which we overhaul these misguided notions and ideals!) is to be BRAVE ENOUGH to say “screw it”. To have the courage to be vulnerable. To LOVE ourselves, deeply and truly, with the knowledge that we WERE, in fact, born enough. We all cry and hope and fear and dream and run and yell and act in ways that are horribly ugly and heartbreakingly beautiful and everything in between…we all want to be taken care of, to feel connection, to find love and happiness.
So if we are innately, essentially, the same – and not just the same, but PERFECT AS WE ARE – then let’s have the courage to unbecome ourselves. Let’s shed the layers and walls and masks and finally know that yes, we ARE inherently lovable – because we are all inherently LOVE.
Jeffrey, K., Wheatley, H., Abdallah, S. (2016). The Happy Planet Index: 2016. A global index of sustainable well-being. London: New Economics Foundation.