The Razor’s Edge of Self-Esteem

by Patricia Spadaro

Self-esteem’s a funny thing—a fine balancing act. You’ve got to believe you are wonderful just as you (because you are) AND you’ve got to keep on trying to improve yourself (because you can reach higher and be more).

That’s perhaps the ultimate razor’s edge of life—balancing confidence with humility. Knowing when to stand up for yourself and when to back down because you have something yet to learn. Taking care not to beat yourself up whenever you make a mistake and, at the same time, not becoming so arrogantly close minded that you shut out the message and the messenger who has been sent to teach you a thing or two about yourself.

As tricky as it can be to balance both sides of the equation of self-esteem, it’s refreshing too. Knowing that self-esteem and humility are necessary partners in your life gives you permission to honor the wonderful in you AND honor what is still waiting to be awakened.

Truth is often a paradox, and that both of these states can coexist within us at the same time—the wonderful and the as-yet-unawakened—is one of life’s greatest truths.

The Zen of Self-Esteem

The Zen masters knew a thing or two about the tricky paradox of self-esteem. The teacher Shunryu Suzuki simply expressed it this way to his students:  “All of you are perfect just as you are . . . and you could use a little improvement.”   (I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile and I see a playful twinkle in Suzuki’s eyes as he said that.)

I found the same sentiment put another way in a novel I read recently by Michael Koryta, where one of his characters, a high school football coach, talked about the balancing act this way:  “The attitude you needed to win football games was a difficult balance. Confidence was crucial; overconfidence killed. Success lived on the blade’s edge between.” 

In the game of life, it’s no different, is it?

Some tips for the balancing act:

If your pride (your ego) is hurt, acknowledge that and try this:

  • Ask yourself: Would I do better and feel better if I admitted that I have something to learn in this relationship, professional setting, or way of interacting with others?
  • If so, what specific advice is this situation trying to teach me so I can become better at navigating situations like this?
  • Stand up, close your eyes, spread your arms as wide as you can, and consciously open to the message or lesson waiting for you. What do you hear or see?

If, on the other hand, you feel yourself melting into a puddle from the heat of your own self-criticism, try this:

  • Remind yourself that the problem that’s happening right now does not define who you are. The labels people have given you—and the negative names you may call yourself—are not the real you.
  • Imagine a line on the floor, the fine line of self-esteem separating self-condemnation on one side and arrogance on the other. Physically take a step to stand right on that line as a way of reinforcing to yourself that you choose to wake up to the inner reality that is you and get back into balance.

Share your ideas here. How do you remind yourself of the paradoxical truth that you are wonderful AND you still have some things to learn?


The Power of Focused Attention

by Patricia Spadaro

One of the most significant gifts we can give in this modern, busy time of ours is our time. With so many demands placed upon us, we often find ourselves talking or listening to someone who needs us while we are also driving, watching TV, answering our cell phones, text messaging, making dinner, going through a stack of mail, or taking in everything else going on around us. We’re only half there. Sound familiar?

The sages of both East and West understood the importance of focused attention—of being mindful and fully aware in the now. The Christian monastic Basil of Caesarea, for instance, said, “You cannot succeed in loving God or your neighbor . . . if your mind is perpetually distracted.” To the Zen masters, full awareness of and openness to what is taking place in the moment is indispensable. A famous Zen master put it this way: “When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. But above all, don’t wobble!”

It’s impossible to be fully giving unless we are giving our full attention. That may sound obvious and even simple, but how often do we do it? How often do we maintain an unbroken connection with those who need us?

The Unbroken CircleLearning from Lovers

Giving your undivided attention is a gift that is both nurturing and healing. It breeds that rare and precious commodity of true intimacy and connectedness. To understand this better, think about how you can tell when two people are deeply in love. As the saying goes, lovers only have eyes for each other. Each one’s gaze is fixed on the beloved—so much so that they don’t notice what is going on around them.

When we are locked in that warm embrace of an unbroken circle of energy, we know that at that moment we are the sole object of our partner’s attention. We feel deeply loved and supported. In fact, a focused, heart-centered connection is an essential ingredient for good relationships in any setting.

I watched the transformative power of focused attention in action when I was supervising a large department of editors and researchers. I would be at my desk hearing about issues that needed attention and, at the same time, my phone would inevitably ring, bringing news of some urgent problem that needed to be solved. I didn’t realize how exasperating and even disrespectful my taking those calls felt to my teammates until one of them pointed this out to me.

I started to turn off the phone and let the calls go through to my answering machine when I was engaged in crucial or timely conversations. As a result, I was able to understand and resolve issues more quickly. More importantly, this helped create more connected and compassionate relationships with my co-workers.

Seeing, Really Seeing

by Patricia Spadaro

“The meaning of life is to see.” –Hui-neng

Read the full article ->

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