The Trance of Unworthiness- Audio & More

Here’s a short audio reflective exercise that can help you awaken from what Tara Brach calls “The Trance of Unworthiness.”  Below the audio link is an excerpt from one of her articles that I found on the internet. And if you want to know a lot more, read her book “Radical Acceptance.”

Audio Link:

Excerpted from her article; the full text is  located here.

Almost two decades ago, author John Bradshaw and others enlarged our cultural self-awareness by calling attention to the crippling effect of shame. Since then, many have recognized the pervasive presence of shame much like we might an invisible toxin in the very air we breathe.

Feeling “not good enough” is that often unseen engine that drives our daily behavior and life choices. Fear about failure and rejection feeds addictive behavior: We become trapped in workaholism–an endless striving to accomplish–and we overconsume to numb the persistent presence of fear.

In the most fundamental way, the fear of deficiency prevents us from being intimate or at ease anywhere. Failure could be around any corner, so it is hard to lay down our hypervigilance and relax. Whether we fear being exposed as defective either to ourselves or to others, we carry the sense that If they knew…, they wouldn’t love us. A winning entry for the Washington Post T-shirt contest highlights the underlying assumption of personal deficiency that is so emblematic of Western culture: “I have occasional delusions of adequacy.”

During high school, I consciously struggled with not liking myself, but during college I was distressed by the degree of self-aversion.  On a weekend outing, a roommate described her inner process as “becoming her own best friend.” I broke down sobbing, overwhelmed at the degree to which I was unfriendly toward my life. My habit for years had been to be harsh and judgmental toward what I perceived as a clearly flawed self. My attachment to self-improvement transferred itself into the domain of spiritual practice. While I realized at the time that kindness was intrinsic to spiritual life, in retrospect it is clear how feeling unworthy directly shaped my approach to spiritual life.

I spent twelve years trying to be more pure–waking up early, doing hours of prayer and meditation, organizing my life around service and community. I had some idea that if I really applied myself, it would take eight or ten years to spiritually awaken (i.e., to be perfect). The activities were wholesome, but I was still aiming to upgrade a flagging self. Periodically I would go to see a spiritual teacher I admired and inquire, “So, how am I doing? What else can I do?” Invariably, these different teachers responded, “Just relax.” I wasn’t sure what they meant, but I didn’t think they meant “relax.” How could they? I clearly wasn’t “there” yet.

During a six-week retreat, I spent at least twelve days with a stomach virus. Not only was there physical discomfort, but I found that I made myself “wrong” for being sick. Having already struggled with chronic sickness, this retreat made it clear just how harshly I had been relating to myself. Sickness had become another sign of personal deficiency. My assumption was that I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I feared that being sick reflected unworthiness and a basic lack of spiritual maturity.

A teacher said, “The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.” For me this rang incredibly true. I had been hitting that boundary repeatedly, contracted by the almost invisible tendency to believe something was wrong with me.

Wrong if I was fatigued, wrong if my mind was wandering, wrong if I was anxious, wrong if I was depressed. The overlay of shame converted unpleasant experiences into a verdict on self. Pain turned into suffering. In the moment that I made myself wrong, the world got small and tight. I was in the trance of unworthiness.

Carl Jung describes a paradigm shift in understanding the spiritual path: Rather than climbing up a ladder seeking perfection, we are unfolding into wholeness. We are not trying to transcend or vanquish the difficult energies that we consider “wrong”–the fear, shame, jealousy, anger. This only creates a shadow that fuels our sense of deficiency. Rather, we are learning to turn around and embrace this life, in all it’s realness–broken, messy, vivid, alive.
Yet even when our intentions are to include the difficult energies, we still have strong conditioning to resist their pain.

The experience of shame–feeling fundamentally deficient–is so excruciating that we will do whatever we can to avoid it. The etymology of the word shame is “to cover”. Rather than feel the rawness of shame, we develop life strategies to cover and compensate for its presence.

We stay physically busy and mentally preoccupied, absorbed in endless self-improvement projects.

We numb ourselves with food and other substances.

We try to control and change ourselves with self-judgment, or relieve insecurity by blaming others.

We are so sufficiently defended that we can spend years meditating (Cliff’s comment:  Or even years in therapy!) and never really include in awareness the feared and rejected parts of our experience.

Excerpted from Tara Brach’s article; the full text is  located here.

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One Response to “The Trance of Unworthiness- Audio & More”

  1. thoughtful and pointed questions. a lot to take to heart.