I’ve recently taken to watching old episodes of Northern Exposure on Youtube. If you’re not familiar with the show it lasted for 6 seasons and aired in the early 90’s. It’s set in a rural Alaskan town that has less then 900 people in it and features a variety of eccentric characters. It has native american themes coursing through many of the episodes and I appreciate the lessons and insights that are often interwoven into the show. A few days ago I watched an episode where one of the main actors, a half-white half-native american named Ed who’s in his early 20’s, was grappling with whether he wanted to follow the calling he had received to become a shaman (also known as a healer). He was being followed by a small leprechaun type of creature with red glimmering eyes who tried to convince Ed that he wasn’t good enough to go out with this certain girl he had met. It was later explained to Ed, by his shaman mentor, that every healer in training had their shadows or demons to deal with and the leprechaun was his.
He further explained that his demon was the worst of the differing kinds because it was the demon of self-doubt and it would be the hardest to cast away. He said that Ed might deal with that demon all his life but that he could keep it at bay by working on his self-confidence and learning how to love and accept himself. Ed’s mentor basically stated that all suffering that exists in the world is due to low self-esteem. He asked Ed the rhetorical question, “Do you think Hitler felt good about himself?” In his explanation I heard a very similar parallel teaching within my own mindfulness tradition that states how people with that much anger have a great deal of suffering and will cause others to suffer too.
As I am interested in becoming a dharma teacher in my Buddhist lineage I am on the path of learning how to piece teachings together, observe how others teach, look for ways to unfold habit energies, and discover the roots of suffering for myself in order to offer support to others. I started thinking about the shaman mentor’s notion of how all suffering is born from low self-esteem and self-doubt. It made sense to me.
A few days ago I was reading an issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, from November 2014, and I came across an article by Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein called “What’s Your Pattern.” In it she offers the list of traditional Buddhism’s Five Hindrances.
Five Hindrances (as written in Syvlia’s article):
– Desire (sometimes called “lust,” which somehow sounds worse)
– Aversion (in all its permutations, from annoyance to rage)
– Sloth and Torpor (which sounds sinful and intentional, in contrast to fatigue, my preferred term)
– Restlessness (which manifests as fretting and worrying)
– Doubt (which is liked to insecurity, self-blame, and lack of confidence)
When I look deeply into the Five Hindrances I can see the root of low self-esteem within each one. Doubt, while listed as the fifth hindrance, penetrates all the others too. In many, if not all, Buddhist teachings the insights and lessons offered are interwoven with all the other teachings.
I can relate to each one of the hindrances in my own way and see how doubt and low self-esteem deeply afflicted me for so many long years. Low self-worth can manifest in many ways. It may surface as a longing to be needed, accepted, and loved by others in order to receive validation – through distraction tendencies in order to avoid facing our thoughts and feelings (from television to alcohol to over-working to our electronic devices) – by complaining a lot and creating drama in order to draw attention to ourselves – in a continual need to change how we look (from clothing to hairstyles to losing weight to plastic surgery) in an attempt to feel better about ourselves – or by becoming extremely self-conscious and thinking others are always looking at us and judging us, which is a direct manifestation of our own inner self-judgement. These are just a few examples. There are many more.
Let us practice to accept, embrace and care for ourselves just as we would for a dear friend. Our ability to live happily with ease depends on our capacity to enjoy our own company, to be content in our own skin, and to offer the gifts we all have to our precious world community.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”