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Fundamentals of the Dharma: Self-Uncertainty

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2012-10-16
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



One of the more common emotional responses to practice is that at times we feel like we are failing in meditation. Nothing seems to be going according to the instructions. We try diligently and then hear that striving will not get us anywhere. We want to like ourselves but are full of self-contempt. We would like to wish everyone lovingkindness, but we do not feel that in our hearts. All of this has us feeling like a spiritual failure.

One way to sidestep the thought that our practice is not going well is to remember that our practice is about self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is always working. Like a mirror that always reflects what it sees, it may not be showing us what we want to see, but it is always reflecting back what it sees. The practice is to accommodate what we see, no matter what is reflected back. Just let the reflection show us the state of affairs. Now comes the hard part. Do not attempt to change, judge, or get over what we see. If we want to do something, relax with what we see. Let the built up tension be dispelled. If we try to get over a problem before we understand what the nature of the problem is, we will further complicate our struggle.

Much of our struggle is arising from the sense of being a personal failure. In a culture built upon evaluations and comparisons, many of us feel like we are defeated before we begin. We lead with self-uncertainty and for a Dharma practitioner that is the worst possible assumption. Awakening needs everything from us, and self-uncertainty holds us back in timidity. We have to address this assumption head on to end its tyrannical rule.


Some meditators doubt whether they can spiritually awaken and feel as if they are failing in their efforts. This sense of personal failure is self-doubt. This week look at your meditation practice and see if you are discouraged by it in any way.  Self-doubt starts with discouragement and moves quickly to, “I am not able…” Feel the judgments associated with discouragement. Is this doubt a broader psychological belief you bring to many aspects of life? Instead of repeating this script until you die start making it conscious. Challenge its assumptions. What part of relaxing, observing, allowing, and responding (the essence of the practice) are you unable to do?


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