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EAL #20 — What is Your Beauty Anyway?

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The More You See, the More You Understand

In prior letters, I mentioned the idea of learning to see your own beauty. Now this sounds like a lot of fluff and I would have thought it was for most of my life, but I actually mean something specific.

Seeing your own beauty means beginning to see why you act the way you do, or more precisely, it is the compassionate understanding that arises from this seeing. When you look mindfully, you start to realize that your mind is kind of crazy. You also get glimpses of what is inducing all this craziness. You start to see that everything you are doing really arises out of love and self-concern, but that a lot of it is just misguided and the result of poor conditioning and flawed beliefs.

Maybe you see that a subtle feeling of shame caused your reactivity or that you were triggered by some jealousy or comparison. Maybe you consider yourself inadequate relative to this “successful” person and so you’re feeling uncomfortable.

When you try desperately to win a trivial board game, you may open your eyes and realize your insistence is born out of the burning shame that comes with losing. Once you see the process, you naturally grow more interested in experiencing the burn—paying the price, I call it—and not being so addicted to the wins. How much does this need to win, to be the best in a competition, dominate your life? How freeing would it be not to need to outrank other people, to stop looking at the world through eyes of relative value? The mind you play with is the mind you work with.

Someone shared a free month subscription to Sam Harris’s Waking Up meditation app with me recently (which I now share with you—it’s excellent, I highly recommend trying it). My first reaction to the quality was: Hell, someone’s already put it all out there and done a better job than I can do. And then something let go, some sense of obligation, of needing to be special. I’m not the savior, there are other great people out there. I don’t have to take emotional responsibility for the world. It is very liberating to be okay being ordinary.

The More You Understand, The Less You Judge

As you look more, you understand more. Instead of judging yourself for your insecurity, you begin to touch the discomfort, the fear, the shame. More insight arises (mindfulness practice is often referred to as “insight practice”) and rather than seeing yourself as flawed and deficient, you just see a chain of cause and effect. You see your mind is conditioned to react to the world a certain way, so of course you were deeply uncomfortable talking to that very impressive person (who also farts by the way). This is not an intellectual insight—those don’t take root in the behavioral soil—it is affective and experiential, offering the possibility of profound behavioral change.

You see that all your flaws and foibles are just patterns, reflexive behaviors you use to protect yourself. You see how human this all is and stop judging yourself so much for it. Just as it becomes difficult to hate the villain when we allow ourselves to understand their world, it becomes difficult to hate yourself when you understand your world.

The Less You Judge, the More You Can Choose

When you stop condemning yourself so harshly, you grow more capable of choosing the best course of action. You bother yourself less over your imperfections and become more interested in acting in ways that truly benefit you, even when that means staying with the unpleasant. The more you see how everything about you is just so human, the less you are disturbed by all of it and the more you can inhabit your simple humanity.

This is very different then positive attempts to induce self-regard by repeating affirmations or by struggling with your thinking to be more positive. It’s more stopping to do something than it is correcting something, like cleaning the dirt off your lenses so you can finally see clearly. Instead of pushing away your fears or trying to fix your negative thinking, you lean into them with receptivity and just listen and understand.

So seeing your own beauty really just means learning to see yourself with eyes of understanding. You’re not as bad as you think you are.

You’re much better.

You’re beautiful.


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