Helping our Neighbor and Promoting Theosophy – Part five
An experiment of the Theosophical Society in Israel in offering some Theosophical principles to the public in simplified and practical form.
Lesson 5 (out of 5 lessons)
Believe in Yourself – Finding Self-Esteem and Inner Power
At our fourth meeting we investigated the topic of mindfulness in depth and engaged in additional, related life skills: We practiced concentration which is a skill that assists our being attentive and mindful. We experienced situations of listening to another and to ourselves, in a way that only our attention can enable. You are invited to share your experience from these exercises and any insights you may have acquired during the week related to these topics.
Today we will further delve into the topic of listening to ourselves – as a way to regain our belief in ourselves; inner observation as a tool to find a sense of worth and power within us... To believe in ourselves is to trust ourselves and to live with a sense of Self-Worth.
One of the most difficult things in life is to lose one’s self-confidence and live with a feeling of worthlessness. To prevent this feeling, most of us continually compare ourselves to those around us; we rank ourselves as better or worse, more successful and less successful – according to our society's value scale or that of a group we are part of, like family, colleagues, sport organization, etc. These comparisons to others are detrimental because there is always someone better than us in something. Most of us value ourselves according to how those around us value us – and frequently we live our entire lives with a feeling of worthlessness that stems from how others related to us in our childhood (or how we interpret how they related to us).
In other words, we are dependent on our surroundings for our sense of self-worth. True, when we were children or upon entering a new role, we needed feedback from our surroundings to learn how to behave, what was correct and worthy and what was not, etc. But this need becomes a problem in our lives when we are continually dependent on external esteem – when we don't develop our ability to draw self-esteem from within.
The objective of our meeting today is: To examine the assumption that our power and our self-worth come from within us; to learn what we can to do find our self-esteem from within and to regain our belief in ourselves. Here are some reference questions that will accompany us during this session:
It is recommended to write the questions on the blackboard.
• What causes us to lose our belief in ourselves?
• What weakens us and what strengthens us?
• What causes us to feel worthless?
• Where do we get the feeling of self-worth?
• Why do we reach situations of low energy and feelings of worthlessness and beliefs that we can't cope with?
• Why are we dependent on outside feedback of our worth?
The simple answer to all of the above questions is: Because we don't look inward to see who we really are. The root of the problem is that we don't know ourselves. What we do know is our self-image, which consists mostly of what we imagine people think of us. Is this possible? Does another really know me or is it only his superficial impression of me? Is that self-image really me?
There's a story of a woman who went to heaven and five judges asked her – "Who are you?" The conversation develops like this: "I'm Melissa"..."I didn't ask your name" -..."I'm the mayor's wife" "I didn't ask about your husband"... "I go to church"... "I didn't ask what you believe in"... etc, etc, etc. The question is – WHO ARE WE? All the external characteristics don't bring us closer to the answer – they are only labels or information that relates to us. Our unfamiliarity with ourselves is the source of our weakness. Most of us don't bother to introspect and learn about ourselves from within. Instead we look outwards to form our sense of worth. We struggle for external worth to get attention – which is the energy and power that motivates our lives. Our running after a sense of worth hurts and weakens us. Instead we can look within and find the energy and power within us.
How do we regain belief in ourselves and become empowered?
The first element is LISTENING TO ONESELF. What does this involve? – Listening to oneself may be difficult at first because we encounter ourselves with a repository of our negative thoughts, flaws, difficulties and weaknesses. Flight is our first tendency– what do we need this for? But when we continue to listen and allow ourselves to be attentive to everything that comes up from within, we experience our attention as a sun whose rays disperse dark clouds. This is gradual process that develops as we refrain from struggle and observe our negative thoughts and feelings without condemnation and with a spirit of empathy and compassion for ourselves.
Being attentive / mindful to ourselves enables us to experience clarity, insights, intuitions and accept ourselves and other human beings. When we bring empathy and compassion into our inner world we will start seeing ourselves in a more balanced manner. We see that we might have difficulties and flaws but we also have good qualities which we could not see because of our negative attitude. Balance enables us to find qualities which we can love in ourselves.
The opposite is also true – a lack of balance and only seeing the negative within ourselves (that comes from negative and judgmental thinking) makes us feel worthless and unloved. Self-accusations and guilt about defeats weaken us immensely. Whereas we become more and more empowered the more we refrain from struggle and inner warfare and become friends with ourselves – relate to ourselves in a friendly way and be kind to ourselves as well as to others. This is not meant in a selfish way of concentrating purely on oneself at another's expense, of course.
How do we do this? We sit quietly with ourselves – quieting our mind... but it is recommended to first be physically comfortable (using one of the exercises that we learned the first session regarding the subject of relaxing and releasing negative thoughts – for example: Contract and release, deep breaths – take a deep breath... contract feet, calves, thighs...feel the contraction and release muscles gradually... Take a deep breath... and contract...and so on for the pelvis, stomach, diaphragm, chest, back, arms and hands, and the face. Then we let our breath return to its normal rhythm and observe it... letting it flow in its own way, without intervention... we feel our breathing.
This physical relaxation brings mental relaxation and tranquility so that we feel good with ourselves. Inner peace and tranquility have their source in a deep and spiritual stratum of ourselves, in our souls. Experiencing inner peace helps us restore belief in ourselves and of our inner power. This requires daily practice.
We can also observe our thoughts and allow a dialog within us. If negative thoughts of difficulty and failure arise, we can respond to them by seeing situations in which we have succeeded.
The second element of regaining belief in ourselves is: Coping with weaknesses and habits that make us feel bad about ourselves. We make the decision to cope and do the following:
Define some weaknesses and habits that weakens you, like eating before going to sleep or going to sleep late at night and imagine yourself vividly overcoming this weakness. Try to do this exercise once a day. When we succeed in changing one habit it is a breakthrough for change and success in the future.
Form a positive affirmation (thought/belief) in which we put in words our resolution to overcome this weakness. There are never negative elements in an affirmation and it is always grammatically formulated in the first person.
Habits are formed by repetition, first in thoughts; afterwards it awakens feelings and finally new behavioral patterns. The change in thoughts and imagination will turn into reality – We succeed in changing habits. We adopt new positive habits and nurture them. We become empowered by our successes. And then move on to encounter further weaknesses.
The third element in the process of regaining our belief in ourselves is by helping and serving others.
Each one of us has something to give. When we help and serve others we feel a sense of worth and vice versa. This is an expression of brotherhood from the Theosophical perspective – integrating more giving into our lives.
In sum, it is important to emphasize: To return a sense of self-worth to ourselves, it is important that ALL the ELEMENTS described above are found together in our lives. We return our sense of worth when we:
Learn to listen with awareness to our feelings and thoughts in a friendly manner and without judgment (the first element)
Exercise, changing habits and facing weaknesses (second element),
Help and serve others (third element).
How is it manifested and how can we internalize it? We shall relate to two aspects:
1. The empathetic investigative approach
We examine : why our failures, which are a part of life, cause us to feel so bad about ourselves?
The cause can be found in how we take our failures, our interpretations of a lack of success:
• Do we see it as the end of the road...there is now no chance to succeed... I'm a nothing – zero!
• Or do we ask ourselves: What can I learn from this failure? What is this telling me about the rest of my life?
We can learn a great deal by observing sincerely and empathically our response to failures we experienced in the past. We can get many insights from within ourselves if we develop this kind of nonjudgmental observation.
2. Finding the positive in ourselves and our surroundings – as an approach to life; practicing positive thinking as part of our daily routine, for example: (a) Write down positive things about ourselves. (b) Look at the members of a group and try to find something good in each one. (c) Think of three good things that happened each day before going to sleep. (d) Begin each day by reading a positive sentence and taking it with you throughout the day, for example:
• I feel strong because I know that divine love and order are part of my life.
• I give thanks for all the gifts that today brings.
The moment we catch ourselves thinking negatively, we immediately change our thought and transform it into a positive one. The field of thoughts, our mind, contains one thought at a time, so the moment a positive thought enters, it dismisses the negative thought and everything changes.
In our speech we focus on the positive instead of the negative – for example, we'll say "I want to be healthy" instead of I don’t want to be sick.”
Sit comfortably, bring your attention to the present moment... Be aware of your body, how the body feels...is your body relaxed?... Be mindful of the sensations in your body, sensations that remain for a while and then pass... Observe your body warmly, with friendship and acceptance...Be mindful of your breathing... breathing reflects the state of your mind-body...Gradually your breathing becomes soft and quiet and this quiet permeates into your body as well as your minds...
Remember a situation from the past in which you felt weak or worthless... a situation in which you were flooded with critical thoughts about yourself... Bring yourself to that situation again... but... as an OBSERVER... From a place of observing the whole, see the event, and experience the thoughts accompanying it...
Look at yourself empathetically... at that part of yourself experiencing lack of love ... at that part of yourself experiencing self-criticism...bring empathetic listening to those parts...
Be aware that your attention is like the sun that dissipates clouds of thoughts... attention that is wide accepting, compassionate, without judgment... Become friends with yourself, with the places of your hardship. Be friends with those parts of yourself that you rejected in the past... listen to them... do not run from the difficulty... all these parts with weaknesses are parts of your self... Listen to them with compassion...They will be able to change only when you accept them...
Think of someone you love very much...feel the love that you have for this person...feel this love again... now take this feeling of love and place it on those parts of you that you haven't loved in the past... that you neglected... Place this love on them and let these places accept this love...By accepting love into the places where you feel difficulty you can transform them... change them.
Be aware of your breathing... look at the feeling now... Is your heart more open? Are you calmer? Do you have more space for yourself as you are?
Gradually return to awareness, to your presence here... at your own speed, gently come back to your regular conscious state as you leave the mediation.
What are we here for, save to help each other, to love each other, to uplift each other?
Since 2008 we have given about 42 workshops almost free of charge to about 380 participants, most of whom encountered Theosophy for the first time.
As a result, the participation in our introductory courses on Theosophy has increased and in the last four years we have had 16 courses with 98 participants, with quite a few of them willing to continue with their study of Theosophy and to train themselves to become volunteer facilitators at these workshops.
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