Mindful Resistance: Take Back Your Self-Worth

“We can see that our thoughts are unbidden, impersonal, painful. Out of compassion for ourselves we can feel their danger. “Like rotten garbage,” says the Buddha, “we can put them down.” (Jack Kornfield)

photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

I have a dog that I walk every day, twice a day. He and I are intimately familiar with our neighborhood having spent many hours inspecting its lawns and lampposts.

Lately, I am amazed at how much trash we encounter on our walks. Because my dog tries to eat disgusting things, which I then try to extract from his mouth, I am more mindful than most of the kinds of rubbish on the road.

It is also true that my own yard is a bit neglected. It needs more weeding, mowing and pruning than I provide. Neglecting my own yard while complaining about the neighborhood doesn’t make sense. Appreciating how my own yard is part of the neighborhood and spending time beautifying it seems like a good idea.

Garbage in the ‘hood and a neglected front yard. Where do I start? How does cleaning up my own yard relate to the work that is needed in the larger world?

And, what about the rotten garbage, as the Buddha called it, that arises in my own mind? How does working with my own mind impact the world beyond me?

How do you cope with rotten thoughts?

My dog — who is now known as Little Stoner — once ate some pot that he found on the road. I didn’t know he had eaten pot. A few hours later, when he tried to stand up and couldn’t find the floor with his paws, I thought he was having a stroke. Funny in retrospect, not so funny at the time. Beyond getting massively stoned, it turns out that pot is dangerous for dogs.

So, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring the garbage I see because it can be both dangerous and expensive. As anyone who has gone to the 24-hour vet clinic knows.

The same holds true with mental garbage.

Maybe you’ve had this experience? I look in the mirror and suddenly realize that my face is wrong, my hair is wrong, and, never even mind my body. It’s dire.

It’s fair to say that these are garbage thoughts.

Because these thoughts have been on repeat for years this gives them credibility. If I’ve always thought this way it must be true, right?

Except, these thoughts haven’t always existed. For starters, they weren’t there right before I looked in the mirror.

The garbage thoughts arose and my mood shifted in their wake. It happened so fast that I didn’t think to question it.

Kornfield says that when we pay attention, we can see negative thoughts coming “like a bad friend or a mugger.” We can recognize their ill-intent and turn in a different direction.

When I pay attention, I notice bad thoughts building on the horizon like storm clouds. I can see them rapidly advancing. I notice how my mood turns greyish and sour under their influence.

Bringing awareness to garbage thoughts as they arise is 90% of the work.

What’s the other 10%?

Into this space of awareness — insert a wedge of compassion.

Remind yourself:

There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.

There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.

There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.

When you see a bad friend, a mugger, or garbage on the road: Swerve!

You are driving down a country road and a truck in front drops a big bag full of garbage in your lane. Quick! What do you do?

You swerve!

What if you are texting and not paying attention to the road?

Garbage tsunami!

Awareness is, by nature, compassionate.

When you are paying attention to your thoughts, you swerve naturally to avoid garbage. You can avoid a garbage tsunami of the mind.

Where in your day could you bring more awareness and practice swerving away from garbage thoughts?

Many of us are critical of our appearance and so bringing awareness to thoughts that arise when you look in the mirror is an excellent place to practice.

Swerve and say:

There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.

There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.

There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.

Take back your self-worth.

A question that reveals who has power in a given situation is: who benefits?

When your garbage thoughts are putting you down: who benefits?

Who benefits from your low self-worth?

Advertisers assure us that if we buy what they are selling, we will be acceptable, we will be loved, we will be safe from what makes us anxious.

When we bring mindfulness to our thoughts and insert a wedge of compassion, we also insert a wedge between us and the multibillion dollar industries that seek to capitalize on our mindlessness.

Mindfulness helps us resist a materialist culture where our inherent self-worth is stolen, packaged and sold back to us as products.

There is no end to what we mistake for our misplaced self-worth: grades; our salary; our professional status; likes on Facebook; our hairdo.

There is nothing wrong these things in and of themselves. They simply aren’t our worth.

Our relationship with our culture is a giant mirror for our self-worth, continuously reflecting back to us pieces that we can reclaim.

When we harness the power of our awareness we reclaim sovereignty over our minds. This puts us into a different relationship with our culture. One where we can participate as creators and not only consumers.

Practice turning your mind towards compassionate thoughts. Know that this eases your suffering and empowers you to create from a place of inherent worth.

Don’t hide trash under a bush. A dog is sure to find it. And, when he does, don’t let him swallow it. Toss it out!

(p.s. There is nothing wrong with you. I love you.)

Kornfield, J. (2008). The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. Random House. (p. 301)

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