Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Devil In the Details

Well, here are the Big Three for me! The Devil in my Details consists of self-doubt, guilt and anger. I observed the encroachment of these three characteristics in my consciousness the other day and realized it was familiar territory. Whenever I find myself in a situation that causes me to doubt myself in some way I seem to begin to feel guilty. What should I have done that I didn’t? How could I be so stupid as to make that mistake again? Am I ever going to get beyond this crazy feeling that I am just not good enough? It isn’t long before I drop into the pit of anger. I get mad at myself for the shortcomings, the lack of self-confidence and the vulnerability that I feel. 

It doesn’t seem to make any difference how much success I have experienced or how many things I have done right. Whenever the self-doubt appears, immediately all the positive accomplishments are not enough to prevent feeling the guilt for not achieving more, or particularly, not seeming successful in the most recent effort. The anger comes because I know better. Then I get angrier with myself because if I know better, why in the dickens am I feeling this way? 

Your anger is like a flower. In the beginning you may not understand the nature of your anger, or why it has come up. But if you know how to embrace it with the energy of mindfulness, it will begin to open. You may be sitting, following your breathing, or you may be practicing walking meditation to generate the energy of mindfulness and embrace your anger. After ten or twenty minutes your anger will have to open herself to you, and suddenly, you will see the true nature of your anger. It may have arisen just because of a wrong perception or the lack of skillfulness.   --Anger: Wisdom For Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead Books

Certainly self-doubt could be considered a “wrong perception” as pointed out in the text above. If I want the flower of my anger to reveal itself to me, changing my self-perception is a critical starting point. It may seem impossible to change my mind when anger sets in due to self-doubt. However, that is exactly what must be done. Correctly perceiving myself as a capable, competent spiritual being expressing, learning and growing in this physical body is how I remind myself of the correct perceptions of self. This is precisely how skillfulness in mind action comes about.

There are many occasions that can generate self-doubt. Perhaps someone didn’t respond to me as I expected him or her to. I remember back in my seminary days how the subject of expectations came up in regard to giving someone a gift or doing something nice for another person. I had been brought up to always send a thank you card or do something nice in return. The lesson that came up was that when you give a gift it is only a gift so long as there are no expectations connected with it. Doing something nice for someone only counts if there is no quid pro quo. One might respond that common courtesy would dictate one should say “Thank you,” when given a gift. That is another lesson for the recipient to learn if they choose to. My lesson is to give and totally let the gift go. No hoped for response and no waiting around for “appreciation.”

Self-doubt also springs from realizing that you have said or done something that turned out to be off base. Sometimes you know this as soon as you speak a word and wish you could take it back. At that point one might feel a bit sheepish. The degree of self-doubt one feels might relate to how apparent the gaff was. If no one else noticed, you might be less affected. If your words or actions were like yelling in the library you may well sink deep within yourself and beat yourself up for a long time. This is when guilt begins to surface. If the guilt is not addressed quickly, anger follows. For me, that anger is almost always self-directed. No matter what case might be built for blaming someone else, I often take that blame to myself. I am certainly not trying to be a martyr. It is simply recognition of how my lack of skillfulness surfaces when I let my thoughts and feelings center on self-doubt.

That downward spiral is so self-defeating. When one is on that course it seems nothing helps in turning around and climbing back to the surface of self-respect, confidence and empowerment over conditions in your life. If you are alone, or feel that you are, the journey is even more difficult. I am on that journey right now, and fortunately I have companions on the path. Were it not for these companions, I would have little incentive to plod on. That little glimmer of hope that recognizes there are those who believe in me, no matter what, gives me the strength and reason to stay on course until I am once again on top of things.

I do not know how anyone truly alone in his or her life journey can survive! 

My instincts tell me that no person is really alone, though he or she may not yet have determined how to reach out for help, believing someone cares. I wish I could somehow impart that belief to anyone who feels alone so clearly that they would never feel that way again. What I can do is remember the story of the unfolding of the flower of anger and remind others of the positive perceptions and skillfulness that open the way to new possibilities and new ways of thinking about your true self. The devil in the details can be overcome. I believe this for myself. I believe this for you.


June said...

The 3 devils also visit me often, and they usually come together in this order: anger-guilt-self doubt(frustration).
Even in parenting, I try not to pass or show my anger to my kid. I know the way I behave will affect him in the future. Whenever my anger comes, it is my chance to practice my self-control and problem-solving. Still try to learn and grow with my son. Thanks for the lesson.

Dan Perin said...

Thanks, June. You are approaching your "devils" in a positive manner and I am sure your example for your child serves as a fine lesson for him.