Self-Worth: a Journey
As part of the Religious and Spiritual Life Committee on campus, I was tasked with creating a presentation on self-worth. This umbrella term can be overwhelming. From social media, to environment and upbringing, to personal core values, there are many elements that contribute to the development (or destruction) of one’s self-worth. In brainstorming ideas for this presentation, I began combing through the many factors that have affected my self-image over the years.
Like many people, high school was a pivotal time for shaping my perception of self. I remember preparing to run for student council my freshman year, and becoming obsessed with appearing personable. I strived to be unproblematic and bubbly...no one would have a reason not to like me, not to vote for me. Something I’m still learning is that you cannot please everyone, and trying is equivalent to hitting a self-destruct button. An underrated quality I find beautiful in a person is resilience. I try to see it in myself when I feel unworthy. I look at individuals who inspire me, and a commonality exists in their ability to persist in the face of adversity, where greatness exists not in spite of the challenge but because of it. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Michelle Obama, and Chanel Miller are three unique individuals whose lives and accomplishments deeply impact my perception of strength, power, and resilience.
Chanel Miller is one of my personal heroes. Her memoir Know My Name details her experiences as a sexual assault victim, her very public court case, and her conceptions of identity and self-image before, throughout, and after the trial. Along with a beautiful and vulnerably written text, she has been able to reflect on her ongoing healing process through her art, specifically a three-part
wall mural titled I was, I am, I will be. The mural depicts a loveable cartoon character enduring a series of stages with the hope of healing. While never showing the “happy culmination” of the healing work, the piece focuses on the coping process rather than the end result. In a world so fixed on instant gratification and achieving quick results, the opportunities for self-discovery that develop through embracing your own journey can be easily suppressed. Of course, "embracing" the journey is subjective and easier relative to the struggle. Chanel Miller's ongoing journey continues to inspire me with her immeasurable strength and resilience, which has allowed her to reach past the barriers of her own life experiences in order to help lift those on a similar healing pursuit.
One of the best investments I ever made was buying a personal journal and devoting some time to it around the beginning of high school. Entries continue to be sporadic but relatively frequent, and over time it has been interesting to look back through the years and learn about the issues that deeply affected, fascinated, angered, and inspired me, and how I changed as a person. Interestingly enough, sometimes my younger self offers insight and wisdom I need now, and I’m grateful to have those pieces of myself documented, along with the messy bits.
I recently had a conversation with a friend discussing a silent retreat he had been on over winter break, and how one lesson he derived from those three days is that “you are not your thoughts”. He explained that through this concept, your thoughts are a monologue or even conversation that exists in the mind, but your true self is simply the observer. I was shocked by how incredibly comforting I found this concept to be. But why was I so relieved that my thoughts did not represent me? Are my thoughts building a weatherproof foundation or a fragile structure destined to fall?
So much time
At war with
Myself, I have
I am the walls
Of my home
Sometimes it’s important to step back and assess the common themes echoed through the thoughts in your head. In a Ted Radio Hour podcast about self-image, they discussed how a person spends about 47% of their day lost in thought. With this in mind (pardon the pun), I cannot help but think that though you may not be your thoughts, your actions can certainly emulate them. Just like any action, if pursued enough it will become a habit. How tragic would it be to spend almost half of your day dwelling on negativity, frustration, and insecurity?
Another concept revolving around conceptions of self is the Buddhist discussion of the self, or the lack thereof. Until doing some research, I was under the impression that Buddhism subscribed to the theory that “there is no self”. In reality, the Buddha never mentioned whether there was a self or not, and this misunderstanding is derived from the Buddhist teaching of “anatta”, meaning “no-self”, which is used in order to avoid clinging when the mind creates multiple senses of itself through the process of pursuing desires (Bhikkhu, n.d.). According to Buddhist teachings, clinging represents habits of the mind that inherently lead to suffering ("Clinging"). It is up to the individual to let go of the identities that will not lead to enlightenment. I found this paragraph to be helpful in summing up the teaching:
“Whenever you see yourself identifying with anything stressful and inconstant, you remind yourself that it’s not-self: not worth clinging to, not worth calling your self (SN 22.59). This helps you let go of it. When you do this thoroughly enough, it can lead to awakening. In this way, the not-self teaching is an answer—not to the question of whether there’s a self, but to the question that the Buddha said lies at the heart of discernment: “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?” (MN 135). You find true happiness by letting go" (Bhikkhu, n.d.).
We are all so small in the scheme of things, which make our problems and stresses even smaller. That doesn't mean there aren't problems that impact our lives immensely and transform our perspectives, but perhaps examining events to scale allows for more space to reflect on becoming the person your thoughts influence the most, yourself.
Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. n.d. “‘There Is No Self.’: The Concept of No Self in Buddhism - Tricycle.” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://tricycle.org/magazine/there-no-self/.
“Clinging – Insight Meditation Center.” n.d. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/transcribed-talks/clinging/.
Raz, Guy. Interview with Jia Jang, Andy Puddicombe, Emily Balcetis, Matt Cutts, and David Brooks. TED Radio Hour. Podcast audio. June 16, 2017. https://open.spotify.com/episode/1kNUkQ34tKsdDSOnLWMdUo?si=vxcgWyWYRHGyFYf4UmgNyg&nd=1
“Six Self-Love Poems to Remind You of Your Worth.” 2019. Read Poetry (blog). August 22, 2019. https://www.readpoetry.com/six-self-love-poems-to-remind-you-of-your-worth/.