Self-Esteem (Day 3 India Retreat, The Power of Not Knowing)

The following transcription is a partial excerpt from Eckhart's talk on day 3 of the India Retreat in 2002.

Question: By dissolving the ego, won’t I be dissolving my self-esteem. Do I not need self-esteem to love myself and others?

Eckhart: Yes, self-esteem. Many people seem to have a problem with that - lack of self-esteem.

I read a while ago, when the Dalai Lama was younger he was meeting with a group of Westerners and they were talking about lack of self-esteem, and he just couldn’t understand that, what that was. And they tried to explain it, and then he went around the group and asked everybody, “do you have that?” And most people said, “Yes.” [And the Dalai Lama said,] “Oh, very strange, self-esteem”.

Now the human species is the only species on the planet, of course, that has a relationship with itself. Where [when] you have a relationship with yourself - that’s normal. But the cat doesn’t have a relationship with itself. Or the bird doesn’t have a relationship with itself. Or the tree doesn’t. So, birds, cats, trees, monkeys, flowers none of them have a problem with self-esteem. And even the most ugly looking cat wouldn’t have a problem with self-esteem. It hasn’t created a secondary, an “image self” - mind created. And once that’s created it walks with you, next to you, or behind you, or wherever it is. You always walk with a mental image of “me” and you have a relationship with that. And, often you don’t like what you see. That “image-self.”

That’s poor self-esteem. And then you may be in conflict with it. You may be talking to your self in the head. Telling your self something about yourself. Some people talk to themselves in the first person, buy many more people talk to themselves in the second person, as “you”. [For example:] “You see.” “You failed again.” “You see, you’re not as good as…” “You see, you...” “Why can’t you...?”

And then at times, the self feels suddenly great about itself. Some people predominately have low self-esteem, in other words, feel bad about the mind made image “me” [“little me”], feel bad about that. And then realize that, some realization comes in when they realize it is mind created. And they realize, and usually in the West, it’s connected with New Age teachings, and they realize they can do something about their bad self-esteem, their image. You can actually change your thinking about yourself.

First you discover that the thinking about yourself is predominately, or to a large extent, negative and then you see a little bit of Presence is arising. It must be, because you’re able to stand back a little bit and watch and see what you’re creating with your thoughts. And then the possibility comes of  changing your thoughts and self-esteem - through workshops, affirmations, visualization, and all those practices. And then after awhile that image looks a little bit more [enhanced], and you feel more comfortable with that thing walking along side you.

But since everything in form, all mind creations, thoughts are subject to polarities, you can’t walk with a high [sense of self] continuously, with high self-esteem and feel great about your self, there’s always a polarity to it, and its usually bound up with what happens or not-happens in your life, what feedback you’re getting from others. And it is usually comparative, the self-esteem is comparative.

[You ask yourself] How do I rate myself in relation to others? And that gives you an indication where you are on 1 to 10, or whatever it may be. So, self-esteem is connected with the mind made “me”, lack of it, or in good self-esteem [the enhancement of it]. But it exists in polarities: if you spend a whole year affirming continuously, “I love myself, I love myself”, and maybe until now you hated yourself. Your house is full of little stickers, and wherever you look you see, “I love myself”, and you look in a mirror and look into your eyes and repeat that, “I love myself.”

To some extent it works, to some extent. You have a better relationship with your self. But there’s always a down side. It’s hard to sustain that, because the other polarity will manifest also in your life. And you go through life, when in order to know how you feel about yourself, you need to compare yourself with others. And then you say, “Oh, I’m actually better looking that this person, and so I feel quite good about myself.” “I’m actually much more educated that that person, and I feel good about that.” Or whatever you can get. “Well, this person is ill and I’m healthy, so that’s good.”

[What] you need for self-esteem, if you look, you need relativity. So you need comparison. And ego is always comparing itself.

Is it possible to live without having a relationship with yourself, neither good nor bad? It is possible to be so completely your self that the mind made image of me, dissolves?

And yes, this is why we’re here [at the retreat in India, or reading his book, or reading this]. This is the essence of our gathering. The mind made image is connected to thought, to continuous thinking. It’s fueled by, perpetuated by, upheld by the continuous thought processes many of which are about “me”, and my “self.” And so through thought I have a relationship with a thought made entity, which sometimes feels quite comfortable and sometimes feels not pleasant, I don’t want to live with that person. And of course, it’s true, many people live with a self that is very unpleasant, that creates a lot of problems, a lot of suffering, that continuously criticizes them, that continuously blames them, that tells them they’re not [good] enough. And they live with that entity, mind made, conditioned mind movements, conditioned in such a way that they attack you continuously. And that’s the self that they have a relationship with. They would never live with a person like that. You would run out of the room. You couldn’t live with the person for more than a day. If somebody you lived with did that to you, what your self-image is doing to you through thought, you would have filed for divorce long ago. But you can’t do that because it’s your own mind and it walks with you. And there you have this complaining, and whining and accusing. [And you say to yourself] “Ah, get away.”

And a large part of that is because you’re identified with thought. There isn’t the ability to step back from thought and watch thought, watch that. And here, the mind-made entity, because that self that you have a relationship with is part of the story based self. The “me.”

That was the self that I had a very unpleasant relationship with for many years. I had an extremely painful relationship with myself. I couldn’t live with myself anymore. And so, I somehow said, “That’s it! I can't live with it anymore, that's it!” But that was so total, that I no longer sustained, fueled the self through thought. I didn’t know anything about it, it just happened. So the mind made image dissolved. The self that I couldn’t lived with, that was so heavy, dissolved. And what was left was simply, “I”. So the “I” shifted, whereas before when I said “I”, I was referring to my self, the unhappy “dense-I”, the “story-based-I” - that dissolved. Then the true “I” emerged (had always been there). Presence, I am, nothing in particular anymore.

A simple sense of Presence or Beingness. And for the first time I could walk and Be without having a relationship with myself. And that, there is something so precious in that “I” or Presence, so – it’s beyond words, you could say, it's like a diamond. It’s something that’s extremely, very-very precious.

That’s why perhaps Buddhists have the image of a diamond. But this is not comparative. It’s a sense of that deepest Self, not the mind made self. It’s so precious, it knows itself to be that in a non-dualistic way, without needing to compare itself to others. It has nothing to do with a form, or any mind form. As Presence arises, you don’t need self-esteem anymore, you don’t depend on that any more, because what dissolves is the mind-made-entity, with which you have a relationship.

And its so, self-esteem is an intermediate thing that for a little while makes your life more pleasant, and then after awhile you see the unsatisfactory nature even of that because you cannot uphold continuous self-esteem, its hard work, all these affirmations. And then things come into your life that tell you the opposite [about yourself], inevitably, sooner or later.

So, then suddenly [when you go beyond mind made self-esteem] you don’t love your self any more, nor do you hate yourself, because there’s no self to love [or hate]. There’s simply the state of Bliss, which is love. It emanates. But you don’t create a fiction that now you have a good relationship, and love. So that is moving beyond self-esteem.

And now we see why the Dalai Lama couldn’t understand. He only learned about self-esteem from Westerners who have a highly developed mind, and ego. Others also have ego, but even more developed in the West, perhaps. But he was surrounded by, perhaps by monks, and not quite as highly developed mental image. And perhaps he himself never had it. I don’t know. But anyway it was new to him.

And I write about it in the book. There’s a paragraph in there. The end of having a relationship with yourself. You don’t need to arrange certain thoughts in your head that you feel good about. So self-esteem is replaced by something that is deeper and more real.


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