5 Ways to Overcome Unworthiness (And Soften Your Heart)


Pema Chödrön tells the story of being a lonely six-year-old girl who one day walks past the house of an old woman who was sitting out in the sun.  I know it’s hard to imagine, but the young Pema was kicking anything she could find out of frustration for feeling unloved and alone.

Pema tells the end of the story, “Laughing, she said to me, ‘Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.'”

It’s quite possible that Pema’s life as a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition began that day.  On that day, the six-year-old girl learned that she could make a choice to allow life’s events to harden her or she could  use those events to do the opposite, to soften her heart.

Buddhists call the softening bodhichitta

Pema writes, “Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude.’ Bodhi means ‘awake, enlightened,’or ‘completely open.'”

So, what’s with the lesson in Shambhala Buddhism?

Because the character trait of unworthiness is rampant in our society.  We watch it play out every day in people who touch our lives, in the places we live, work, go to school, perhaps even worship.  Unworthiness may be hard to spot because we’re so used to seeing it every day.

Don’t you know someone who feels inferior?  Who says their work is less than adequate?  Who self-denigrates and then laughs because s/he thinks it’s acceptable to feel and believe those things?

Come on, people!  Have we forgotten who we are?

The process of remembering

We are, depending on your preference, children of a divine creator.  I sometimes call that being GUS (God-Universe-Spirit).

We are sooo much better than the untrue beliefs we hold about ourselves.  Believe me, I need to read this stuff as much as I need to write it.  My feelings of unworthiness run deep and I’ve honed them for half a century.

When we remember our true, authentic selves, we begin to unlock the habit of turning to unworthiness.

In fact, that’s the first way to overcome unworthiness.

1.  Realize that when one of your buttons gets pushed, you react out of habit. Yes, the trigger may be real, but you can change your reaction.

2.  When something happens to upset you, say a co-worker makes a hurtful, mean remark to you, do not respond.  Instead, try to find a mirror and spend a full minute looking into your own eyes.  You’ll know the truth is not what that person just said.

3.  Don’t spend time in maudlin-ville.  It’s a sure track to pity, remorse, and self-denigration.  You deserve better.

4.  Eliminate all “o-u” words from your vocabulary.  No more should (as in, “I should have . . . “), could, would or even ought.  Thou shalt not should all over thyself.

5.  Decide to begin a new spiritual practice.  It’s not hard, I promise.  If you’ve accomplished the other four, this one is a piece of cake.

Just for today–because today is all we have–I want you to feel, really feel, that you matter.  You come first, not because you’re selfish, but because if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, how can you possibly be of any use to the rest of GUS’ kids?

I dare you to write me and tell me your heart hasn’t softened.

May your week be filled with soft landings, my friends.  Peace out.

Photo courtesy of melschmitz

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