Turning Against The Self


Buddha was said to have said: 


“not getting what you desire and getting what you desire 

can both be disappointing.”


Sometimes we get what we want, and we rejoice.

Sometimes we get what we want, and fear makes us recoil.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want, and we learn and grow.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want, and we turn against ourselves.


There are times when my heart opens up with desire. Especially around my birthday. But if things don’t go my way, sometimes I identify with the child in me, and let it be about the ego. I tell myself a story that makes it all about me. This is how children are in the world. Not only do they easily get disappointed, but they personalize, they think there must be something wrong with them, and that’s why they didn’t get what they wanted. As the story that I tell myself continues, as a balm for the disappointment, I see the cause to be direct action against me. As if the world wanted it that way. And then, instead of soothing the hurt child, I turn against her, unconsciously aligning myself with my projected view of the world. This is perhaps an adolescent response--thinking the world is paying attention to our disappointments. And that we are the only ones feeling that way. When really, the world is in a constant flux of a totality of disappointments and triumphs, as well as everything beyond.

You may be wondering, what kind of disappointments am I speaking of? They are the same disappointments we all feel in a daily way: we didn’t receive the phone call we were expecting, our favorite tea cup broke, our life doesn’t look quite like we want it to. But, when I really think about it, the greatest disappointment is usually in myself. Ultimately I am disappointed by my own abandonment--by not taking care of myself, not keeping my life in balance, not giving myself enough rest, not taking care of my own needs. It is a disruption of function within the inner family of the psyche. It is easy to blame the world, but it is impossible for the world to take responsibility. It is more effective, and far more empowering, to take responsibility for my own feelings, and my own actions or lack of actions. Of course sometimes events happen that are beyond our control, but still, we always have a choice in how we respond. And in how we care for ourselves. Often, when the heart is vulnerable and full of longing, it is a sign that the inner child is needing attention, and the inner adult self, whose job is it is to take care of the child, is wrapped up in the outer world that seems to have no room for those quiet soulful needs.

However, that is not the end of the story. Even after I’ve caused further suffering from turning against the little self while it already feels vulnerable, I realize that as soon as I start to have compassion again, and show kindness, the little self didn’t actually come to any permanent harm. It never seems too late to show kindness. Again, like a child, the self is resilient. It can endure great suffering, and responds well to compassion. It is soft, yet strong, like a jelly fish. Maybe it stings a little in self defense, and instead of breaking when poked, it gives just a little, and then its body fills back into the space after the aggravator is gone. 

I notice with three year old Emilio, whose ego is not yet fully formed, that he does not yet personalize his disappointment. If he feels disappointed, which sometimes happens several times a day, his response sometimes is to go into arage, but more and more often, his response is to go into a corner of the room and hide. He goes under a blanket or a desk or a table. Perhaps this is how he tends to the hurt part of himself, or perhaps he is ashamed. Or perhaps a little of both. Either way, after only a few minutes of hiding, he returns to his world of play, bounced back in full recovery (just like the jelly fish.)

Another way to see this cycle of separation and reunion is as a spiritual longing for connection with the The Self. Here is a poem by Rumi to illustrate:


Love Dogs

by Rumi

One night a man was crying,

                                                Allah! Allah!

His lips grew sweet with the praising,

until a cynic said,

                             “So! I have heard you

calling out, but have you ever

gotten any response?”


The man had no answer to that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.


He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of the souls,

in a thick, green foliage.

                                        “Why did you stop praising?”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

                                                                   “This longing

you express is the return message.”


The grief you cry out from

draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness

that wants help

is the secret cup.


Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.

That whining is the connection.


There are love dogs

no one knows the names of.


Give your life

to be one of them.