In my first lucid moments this morning, I spent some time meditating: breathing in through my nose for five seconds, breathing out through my mouth for ten (a method I learned reading this book by this researcher; why I’m reading it I’ll save for another time). While I breathed, I noticed the thoughts drifting through my brain, and discovered something.
A steady dialogue about whether I’m a worthwhile person continually occupies my mind, a steady, sometimes frantic search for validation of my self worth.
I’ve been aware for a long time that I question myself, that I have unfriendly voices in my head constantly taking me to task for my failings. But over time I’ve taken those voices for granted. I’d become oblivious to how much energy I spend trying to answer them, and I’ve never realized until now how much that dialogue shapes the way I view and interact with the wider world.
Looking at my thoughts, even for a few minutes, it gets hard to separate the ones that don’t involve me judging myself because they are so few. Not black enough, not man enough, not decent enough, not kind enough, not compassionate enough, not disciplined or handsome or sexy enough. Not logical or sane enough, not hardworking enough. Not emotionally controlled enough. Less than less than less than less than. Unswervingly undeserving and unworthy.
I have, in sports terms, spent so much time playing defense that even my offense simply exists to protect myself from attack. And every loss—even the slightest setback—has served to affirm an unworthiness that either drove me to counterattack or, more often (given my depression) sent me spinning into an abyss of shame and self-denigration.
No wonder that I’m so often moody with those closest to me; waiting for the next attack on your legitimacy for being on this planet will put you on edge and keep you on constant alert, which is both exhausting and dispiriting. Add in that, as a brown person in a white-dominated world, questioning of my validity hasn’t just taken place in my head; I haven’t had to manufacture it. It’s the constant background noise of life, if not for me personally then for my history, my culture, and my race.
This also explains the toxic temptation that academia posed for me: a place where I have proven myself (a master’s, doctorate, and decades teaching) but also where the demands to prove yourself (your ideas, research, writing, beliefs, teaching, etc.) never end. Not matter how good I was, I could always proof I wasn’t good enough.
So I have a goal: To withdraw from the competition. I want to stop trying to “win,” and focus instead on my own development, on being my whole true self at that particular moment. Not the “not good enough” doer, doer, doer. Not the superior “adept” rising above others. Just this self, believing in my own completeness, and every action a simple expression of that completeness at that moment. Which means being in that moment. Listening to it. Answering as myself.
This may be what the Taoist Chuang Tzu means when writes about giving up chasing “yes, this” and “no, that.” Maybe this is the “actionless action”: acting but focusing on the truth and quality of the action in the specific moment rather than worrying about the result. Residing at the still center from which all possibilities radiate like the spokes on a wheel, and staying within the scope of reality.
At this point, a lot of this is more than I know. But it’s a beginning.