Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Article: The Triangular Base of Training: Wisdom, Humility, and Self-doubt by "The Grindstone"
I would have to say that I agree with you -- that may surprise you since your reply sort of presents itself as a contrasting point of view to the article. I feel there was one section in particular where I addressed the issues you raised, and, like you, I think one would be doing themselves a great disservice to not take heed of what was said there. In that section, I wrote:
"On the other hand, when we are trapped by our ego, and when we hear of all we can be doing, or of others that are doing more than us but that are saying that they are not doing enough, etc., we bounce back and forth between despair and being over-zealous. This works as follows: A teacher tells us we can always do more, and then we feel like we are not doing enough and that we will never be able to do enough -- and then we quit. Alternately, a teacher tells us we can always do more, and then we feel like we are not doing enough, and then we go on to sacrifice the whole of our lives, abandoning the more mature states of harmony and integration for the supposed sake of doing more. Then we quit when the effects of lacking harmony and integration come and hit us in the face."
For me there are two spectrums at work here -- two ways of relating to our training. First, there is the one where we bounce back and forth between despair and over-zealousness. On this spectrum, we wrongly believe that our solution is to find the happy middle ground between doing too much and doing too little. We use our suffering and our capacity for suffering as calibration tools to determine whether we are taking on too much or whether we can take on more, etc. We wrongly believe that when we find this happy middle -- that utopia between despair and over-zealousness - we will have learned how to gain the virtues of harmony and integration. We wrongly believe that the middle of any two things is balance and that such balance has to be considered harmony a priori. In our ignorance, we go on to believe that this false harmony is our chance for integration. In fact, none of this is true. People who bounce back and forth between despair and over-zealousness are people that train mostly out of convenience -- not out of true discipline. When the convenience wears out, all people that train bouncing back and forth between despair and over-zealousness quit.
In my opinion, we should try to understand that the virtues of harmony and integration are not located in the middle between despair and over-zealousness. Harmony and integration are of their own spectrum entirely -- we are talking about a completely different arena for how to relate to our training when we are talking about harmony and integration. Harmony and integration are not the middle of despair and over-zealousness. They are not of the same nature, not of the same essence, not of the same state of being. This is because despair and over-zealousness are of the ego, of a lack of humility and of a lack of self-doubt -- all things that are antithetical to harmony and integration. Despair and over-zealousness is our fear, our pride, and our ignorance making us take stabs in the dark. Despair and over-zealousness are reactionary states of being -- they are not mature states of the spirit. Such reactionary states of being can never lead to anything but suffering -- even if they "succeed" initially or here or there at some level superficial level. On this, I would say you are very correct in pointing out such pitfalls.
However, I would have to say that we part in our positions when, if I am reading you correctly, you suggest that the capacity for self-doubt is, first, somewhat damaging to the Self, and, second, is identical with what is normally thought of as a lack of confidence, a severe case of timidity, low self-esteem, and/or low self-worth, etc. Equally then, I cannot agree with a position that sees the solution to such things as being, "Don't go doubting yourself if you know what's good for you." (my paraphrase)
On the first point, one can read that I noted that what one doubts with self-doubt is not the Self but the ego. Self-doubt is aimed at those parts of us that are the most habitual, the most reactionary (e.g. despair/over-zealousness), because it is those aspects of ourselves which we are the most unaware of precisely because these are the aspects we put most beyond question. On the second point, I think there is a world of difference between what a spiritual practitioner does with self-doubt, humility, self-reflection, self-criticism, and what, for example, little Johnny is doing in the seventh-grade when his pimply face makes him not want to ask anyone to dance -- staying by the wall, in the dark, feeling unworthy, etc. The difference here is a matter of ego-attachment (or lack thereof in the case of the spiritual practitioner). In fact, from a spiritual point of view (i.e. from the point of view of many of the world's spiritual traditions), there is no difference between what little Johnny is doing and what, as another example, sport-jock Biff does when he beats up little Johnny to feel better about himself. Both behaviors are plagued by ego attachment, and thus by fear, pride, and ignorance. Both behaviors are reactionary. Both behaviors prevent one from gaining harmony and integration -- this time between oneself and one's environment. Both reactions then are solved not by trying not to doubt oneself but rather by gaining some distance from one's ego-based reactions -- distance that comes to us through humility, which comes to us through practices like self-doubt, self-criticism, self-reflection, etc. I think this is easy to understand -- all these connections - when we are dealing with the case of Biff, but as subtle as the case of Johnny may be, it is not solved by telling him to stop doubting himself and/to get a spine. Getting a spine in this case would only be more reaction. Rather, what may really serve Johnny well is to ask him to reflect further, to doubt, to be critical of his notion that his reaction to his appearance is "natural," "inevitable," "the only one he can have," "reasonable," etc. In a spiritual tradition, what Johnny is being asked to doubt is his notion that he has little self-worth and that he belongs in a dark corner at the dance, etc. He is not being asked to have others think for him - he's already doing that! So that he can think for himself, so that he can have his own mind, one not so plagued by habit and reaction, Johnny is being asked to see that if he allows himself to be taken in completely by his own disguise, that he cannot help but to be wrong about who he really is.
I'd also like to say here that John has spoken most eloquently on other matters that I also think are relative here -- namely our culture's great efforts to do away with the practice of self-doubt for our own "good."