I have a big, bright red pimple on my face. I just caught sight of it in the mirror. Then I had an urge to text my wife, “I hope you’ll still love me even though I have a big, bright red pimple on my face.” Which would be a joke, and probably make her laugh. But I also really wanted the reassurance that she would love me even though I have a big, bright red pimple on my face.
There’s a pretty good chance she would. On our second date I had a giant pimple. It might even have been on my nose. Or my forehead. Anyway, it was giant. It was the kind of thing that would’ve made me cut class in high school. And this was only our second date! And I really liked her. But, regardless, I soldiered on. I was forty years old…what the fuck was I going to do, stay home from a date with a beautiful redhead because I had a fucking pimple?
But, it’s funny. Here I am. I’m a middle-aged man. And for the briefest second just now I was afraid my wife might love me less because of the pimple on my face.
I don’t know if it’s true but I’ve heard it a couple of times now, about the Dalai Lama being at this conference with a bunch of Western Buddhists and one of them asked, “DL, can you give us some tips on how to work with self-hatred?” and the Dalai Lama was all, like, “Come again?” He had to ask his interpreter to explain the question because he didn’t understand what “self-hatred” meant.
I don’t know about that, because the Dalai Lama’s been around the block a few times and it also just seems that self-hatred is such an obvious thing to feel that it must be human nature, cross-cultural.
Which I guess is kind of a sad commentary.
But it is odd. Think about it for a second. If you hate yourself, who’s the hater and who’s the hated? Are you two people? Does the hater hang out with the cool kids while the hated tries to slink out by the Woodshop door with his hood up?
It’s bullshit, anyway. Because even if you hate yourself I bet you’d hate someone who was as much of a dick as you are to you. If you saw someone treating someone else like you treat yourself you’d jump in the middle and tell yourself to back off. And then you’d put your arm around your other self and ask yourself if you were okay.
But, for some reason, you never do this. You just go on hating yourself and never giving yourself a break.
Still, let’s just assume the story’s true and the Dalai Lama really didn’t know what self-hatred was. We might as well, it’s a good place to start. It’s encouraging! And we need all the encouragement we can get.
How could this be? What sort of person would be mystified by the concept of self-hatred?
It could be that if you were this sort of person you’d just really love yourself. You’d think you were doing your best all the time, you’d be in your own corner. You’d try to help yourself. You’d be excited to see yourself. You’d really want things to work out for yourself.
Can you imagine being that sort of person? Give it a shot. Imagine that you really love yourself. Bring to mind someone you really do love: your mother, your child, your best friend, your dog. (I’m not joking—people really love their dogs, with selfless kindness. Imagine your dog if that works.) Feel the warm feeling of love that rises within you when you imagine this beloved person. Don’t rush: really feel it. All of your emotions happen in your body: they feel like something. Tingling in your hands and feet, perhaps, or warmth in your abdomen.
Love feels like something.
Once you’ve evoked the feeling of love, slowly, very slowly transfer your attention to yourself. Try to see yourself as another person, try to imagine you’re observing yourself. Like you’re two people: one who loves, and one who is loved.
And love yourself.
But maybe the Dalai Lama was confused because he didn’t see himself as a Self. Maybe the idea that there was a person in there who was the kind of thing that could be hated just didn’t occur to him. This seems like a stretch, too, because, hey—it’s obvious that there’s a Self inside us, isn’t it? We are someone deserves to be hated, goddam it!
But try this, for a second. Just stop. Take a breath. Close your eyes, if you can. (But keep reading, right now. Read this, then close your eyes later.) Take a breath, and look inside. Open the Inner Eye, man. Far out!
Really, though, open the inner eye. What’s in there, when you’re quiet? When your eyes are shut, when you’re breathing? When you stop for a second? There are thoughts, yes. Motherfucking thoughts, one after another, blah blah blah. The same shit day after day. And a lot of it hateful nattering directed against yourself. Honestly, if another person stood next to you and whispered in your ear the shit you say about yourself in your brain you’d punch them in the fucking mouth!
But just listen, right now.
The words just come. They arise. And they pass away. You don’t make them. You know how you can tell? Just try to stop them.
So where is this Self you’re so sure exists? Where’s this Self who you hate?
It’s not that there’s nothing there. Of course you’re there. Your body is there. Your thoughts are there. You’re aware of them. You think therefore you are…whoops!
What are you really aware of? There are thoughts, yes…and knowledge of thoughts. But here’s where Descartes (and everyone) makes a jump: there are thoughts, and knowledge of thoughts, but to jump to the conclusion that there is something else there to whom it’s happening is another thing altogether.
I’ve never seen that part, myself. I’ve seen my thoughts. I’ve sensed my body. I’ve heard things. I’ve seen things. I’ve felt things. But I’ve never seen the self in there who is supposedly doing all these things, to whom all these things are happening.
Is it getting too weird for you?
It’s straightforward: don’t take it further than you need to. Thoughts happen, you feel things, you see things, but this word “you” is just a convenient placeholder to point out that all these things are happening. There’s no self inside you can point to saying , See—there he is! The little fucker. With all those weaknesses. The one who keeps fucking up my shit. There he is!
It might seem like splitting hairs, but it isn’t. It’s critical. Because if you are only sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings and, critically, if you don’t control how these sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings arise and pass away, then who remains to hate? Who remains to be despised? Who remains to blame?
And if other people are built the same as you (and there’s no good reason to think they’re not) then why would you hate them? Despise them? Blame them?
Do you see where we could go with this?
I’ve spent a fair bit of time hating myself. I don’t really do it anymore. I become annoyed with myself, I’m often disappointed by my own actions. But I no longer feel animosity towards myself. I’ve cultivated loving kindness for myself. And it’s an enormous relief. And I wish you could love yourself just a little bit more, because you deserve to be here, and you deserve to be loved.