Yesterday we got out of Tibetan class early. There was a prayer ceremony going on at the main temple in McLeod Ganj.
So I decided to skip my draconian routine of practice and study. I thought it would be a nice field trip. I would speak as much Tibetan as I possibly could. I would follow the prayers in Tibetan, too.
It’s only a ten minute walk from my house, up a steep stone trail through the rainforest, to Tsug Lha Kang. Still, I was pouring sweat by the time I found my seat at the temple. I was feeling upbeat. Ready to speak with the locals. Ready to face my fears and insecurities, too.
One of my friends from class was there. She’s a young Tibetan woman from England. She already speaks the language quite well but she’s here taking classes to deepen her understanding.
“Kyed Rang De Po Yin Pe!” I said. That means, more or less, “How’s it going?” My conversations usually pretty much end there, but yesterday I was ready to take it to the next level.
“Fine,” she said back in Tibetan.
Then she followed up with more Tibetan. I realize now, I should have anticipated this.
I stared at her blankly. I heard the words. Or at least I thought I did. But when my mind tried to play them back, all I heard in my brain was white noise.
I knew she had asked a question, and I was relatively certain that it had something to do with the day’s classes, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out exactly what it was. So I fumbled around by trying to repeat what she said. I must have failed at this utterly because she just looked at me with a funny smile.
“Did-we-have-class-today?” She asked in slow, clear, deliberate English.
“Uh…Dzin Dra…uh…Yod….uh….oh heck! Yes, we had class.”
Here endeth the lesson.
I realized that the sweat pouring down my face from the walk was now mingling with new, nervous sweat. As my friend walked away, I dabbed at my forehead with my hankerchief, cursing a little under my breath at my inability to keep the volley going.
Soon after that, the senior monks of the monastery came into the temple and the ceremony began.
I looked down at my prayer book, ready to follow along. But as the chanting began, and even though I can read the script now, I realized it may have well been written in, well, in Tibetan.
I was completely lost from the very first word. I didn’t even have a clue which page we were on. I looked over the shoulder of the Tibetan woman sitting in front of me but she had her book closed.
So I just sat there for the next hour, trying to be OK with the whole thing but with each passing moment I felt less and less confident. An old voice that I hadn’t heard in awhile started to chime in with the new mantras and prayers.
“You’re not getting anywhere with this Tibetan thing are you? Why did you even come here? You’re not going to be able to learn this language…you’re not smart enough, dedicated enough, good enough…”
And so on and so on. Even in that bright place, the old darkness was once again taking a hold.
You know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to be an addict or former closet dweller to recognize that voice. That voice is somewhere inside of us all. It’s the voice of our own deep sense of unworthiness, of shame, of aloneness, of hopelessness. It’s the voice that keeps up bound to our egos and our unhappiness.
But what what I’ve learned from Buddhism is that’s not our true nature. It’s just the smoke screen our egos throw up to keep up the illusion of running the show.
And what I’ve learned too, is that we can speak up for ourselves when that voice starts its unwanted chorus. We don’t have to shout at it or fight back with its same dirty tactics, but we don’t have to feel powerless either.
We can firmly yet gently stand up for ourselves.
“Whoa. Wait a minute,” I thought. “This is not the real me. I love me. I’m OK with me.”
Then I just stopped. I took a deep breath and tried to come back to what was really happening. I didn’t do anything more than that. All I had to do was give myself a break.
This is maitri. This is loving oneself. This is compassion for oneself. It is not self-indulgence. It is simply taking care of yourself so you can have the strength and courage and self-confidence to give all that back to others. It is a powerful thing, something I think I will have to work hard on for the rest of my life.
But that’s OK. I know, in the end, it will be worth it.
Everyone has moments of self-doubt and even loathing. What do you do when that “critic’s voice” comes up in your life?