Facing Oneself

Facing Oneself

Anyone who is interested in learning the truth about oneself (which in Buddhism we call the dharma), anyone who is interested in finding out about him- or herself, is basically a warrior. If someone is willing to look at him- or herself, to explore and practice honest wakefulness (real self-examination and honest self-awareness) on the spot, then he or she is a warrior—a warrior, meaning, a person who is truly brave.

Warriorship is based on overcoming the biggest obstacle that we as human beings have to face—ourselves. And namely our cowardice and our sense of being wounded or hurt or entitled.

Many approaches to spirituality and life in general are influenced by cowardice. For example, if you are afraid of seeing yourself as you are, you may use spirituality or religion as a way of looking at yourself without seeing anything of yourself at all!

Or you might convince yourself that there is some religious discipline that will allow you to pass directly into spiritual ecstasy. You might convince yourself that the real world does not exist; that only the realm of spirits exists. However, eventually some tragedy or disappointment will bounce back on you, because we cannot cheat on the basic norm, which is known as “karma,” or the law of cause and effect. We cannot cheat. Trying to cheat on this is what we call “spiritual bypassing.”

Or if you are really interested in working on yourself, you can’t lead a type of double life—adopting spiritual ideas, practices, techniques, and concepts of all kinds, simply in order to get away from yourself. That is what we call “spiritual materialism”—hoping that you can have a nice sleep, under anesthetics, and by the time you “awaken,” everything will be sewn up and have been done for you. And everything will be healed. And you that you didn’t have to go through any pains or problems. Which would also mean that you didn’t have to develop any of the real honesty, courage, wisdom, compassion—the so-called “spiritual fruits” of the journey—required to contend with and resolves these pains and problems.

In a genuine spiritual discipline, you cannot do that; you cannot cheat. You have to face yourself. And you have to face yourself directly, as you are, without backing down, without any softeners. You have to face yourself honestly, squarely, fully, courageously.

Because ultimately becoming a warrior and facing yourself is a matter of honesty. Honesty plays the central part. But so does courage. And so does being resolute and committed. Because in looking at yourself, you may find that you’ve been bad, you may begin to feel ashamed and terrible about yourself, you may begin to feel wretched and completely pitch-black, like the black hole of Calcutta, about yourself and your life. But rather than condemning yourself, the idea is to simply just face the facts—face the facts resolutely, courageously, honestly. Just see the simple straightforward truth about yourself. Simply discover what is there; simply see that, and then stop! Don’t condemn yourself! Because that would just be pride, our sense of wounded vanity or hurt speaking. Rather it’s important to just look; it’s important to be matter-of-fact.

When you see yourself and your life in this way, you begin to be a warrior; you begin to develop a genuine gut-level sense of truth.

One of the main obstacles to fearlessness is the habitual patterns that allow us to deceive ourselves. Ordinarily, we don’t let ourselves experience ourselves fully—we have a tremendous fear of facing ourselves. Experiencing the innermost core of their existence is embarrassing, shameful, incredibly unsettling to the vast majority of people. And so many people try to find a spiritual path where they do not have to face themselves but where they can still liberate themselves—liberate themselves from themselves!

In truth, that is an impossibility. It cannot be done.

We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut, our bile, our shit, our excrement, our most unsavory and undesirable parts. We have to see that. Because this is the only real foundation for warriorship, and this is the only real basis for conquering fear.

In facing ourselves, we will have to face quite a lot. And we will have to give up a lot. You may not want to, but still you will have to, if you want to learn to love yourself and befriend yourself. It boils down to that.

On the other hand, if you want to hurt yourself by indulging in your neurosis and keeping your heart armored and closed off, that is your business and nobody else’s. Because nobody can save you from yourself. So go ahead. Indulge your neurosis. But you are bound to regret it later on. And profoundly so. Because by then, you may have collected and piled up so much garbage within yourself that it will be almost impossible to undo the situation.

And that would be a very wretched place to end up.

But often, that’s what some people do.

Often we prefer to hurt ourselves. It seems to feel better to pursue our habitual patterns than to help ourselves. It’s more comfortable to continue living in a blind, uncourageous, timid, self-deceptive, dishonest way, than to risk living in a much more courageous, fearless, honest way. To some people, their habitual patterns are so comfortable, so familiar, that it’s like home to them. A broken home. But a home nonetheless. The only home they’ve ever known. And may ever know. Because it’s what they make every new home and relationship into.

So sadly it’s a home they’ll likely never wind up leaving.

If we are to ever leave home, we have to face our fear, we have to face what we fear most: we have to face ourselves. We have to look directly at ourselves. We have to learn how to sit with ourselves and see ourselves for who and what we are.

If we put one hundred percent of our heart into facing ourselves, then we will connect (reconnect) with our original unconditional underlying goodness.

But if we put only fifty percent of our heart into the situation, then nothing very much will happen.

(Abridged and adapted and elaborated on from “Smile at Fear,” by Chögyam Trungpa; pp. 1-10.)


4 thoughts on “Facing Oneself

  1. Pingback: 2011 Gemini Horoscope Mar. 6 | Deb's Sunny Place

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  3. i just want to say thank you for sharing this. I’m a youth division buddhist (nichiren buddhism) and i’ve just encountered struggles on facing myself. It definitely is one of the hardest things i’ve experienced but I can’t wait to overcome it. Thank you for your guidence.

  4. Thank you for comment, Rachel, and for taking the time to read this post. I’m glad you have found something helpful in it.

    Chogyam Trungpa had many wise insights into how we humans are and how we evade ourselves and play games with reality. Pema Chodron studied under him and her books are also an excellent resource.

    Facing oneself comes down to facing the reasons why one wants to face oneself as well as the reasons why we would rather not face ourselves and instead hide–those motivations we need to face most of all–and honestly.

    When people “struggle” when facing themselves I tend to think they are doing so because they are getting close to something good and insightful–they are resisting seeing something, so they must be getting close. Observe yourself as you are struggling and see if you can tell if you are perhaps resisting. Poke and prod around within yourself gently and ask yourself why you are resisting or struggling–ask yourself what you are afraid of seeing–or feeling–is it the confusion, uneasiness, anxiety, something in the past. Be gentle with yourself; kind. Treat yourself–the frightened part of yourself–like a child, and be a very warm and kind parent to it as you ask yourself what you’re afraid of or why you’re struggling.

    And remember, you are also likely dealing with a lot of old habits that don’t want to go quietly into that great night–the ways in which we habitually and reactively avoid looking at ourselves are myriad and deeply engrained–you’re dealing with a lot of years of evolution and natural selection, so there’s a lot of “survival value” in our avoidant and self-deceptive patterns and tendencies.

    But the reality is, you likely don’t need the vast majority of those patterns and tendencies anymore. They were useful keeping our ancestors alive and getting you and I here, and perhaps those patterns and tendencies were useful even in childhood when we were dependent and small. But the vast majority of them are outdated and not needed anymore. We need to update and upgrade our programming and our way of looking at the world and ourselves–what M. Scott Peck refers to as “life-maps” in “The Road Less Traveled.”

    I wish you well in your struggles and in leading a more mindful and self-aware and examined life. The world certainly needs more heroes like that and like you!

    And I hope you’ll take the time to read through the rest of this blog and my other blogs (there’s a link to them above in the right hand column).

    Namaste and kindest regards,


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