On struggling to be good to myself

Wooden Buddha 080317I am poorly. My throat is raw, my nose is running and my right eye-lid is twitching.

Today is a work day for us, and so this morning I’ve been dutifully sitting at my desk, dealing with a bit of email, printing out some new leaflets for the temple…

None of this work is urgent. I have been persevering because a part of me that I know as ‘Striver’ is strongly conditioned to Always Forge Forwards, regardless of how I’m feeling or how much work I have. This part is afraid that, if I stop, my Slob will take over and pin me to the sofa for weeks, or people will stop being impressed by my productivity and criticise me, or simply that the entire world will fall into chaos.


My Striver has taken refuge in the identity of a productive person, and the illusion of the control this gives me over my environment and other people. I can understand that. But I can also gently remind it that these refuges are unreliable, impermanent, as all worldly refuges are. I can tell it that, instead, I can rely on something bigger – something that keeps the Universe from falling apart when I spend the afternoon reading detective stories on a work day.

In the Dhammapada, the Buddha tells us:

Easy to do are things
that are bad and harmful to oneself.
But exceedingly difficult to do
are things that are good and beneficial.

Sometimes ‘things that are bad and harmful to oneself’ are obviously so – binge eating, drinking, getting furious at people. Sometimes they are more socially acceptable – over-working, over-exercising, pouring our energy into becoming a ‘success’, wasting the world’s resources by over-consuming material goods… Either way, we do these things because we are taking an easy refuge in them, to keep us from feeling our feelings or from having to face something unsavoury about ourselves or the world.

We can take refuge in something else. It is often the more difficult choice, but in the long run these choices make us happier and healthier. This afternoon I will notice the anxiety as I put my work aside, and reassure the parts of me that are panicky. I will try to feed myself vegetables and not just sugar. I will keep my eye on the big wooden Buddha who represents something I can lean into, painful throat, anxiety and all, and to feel safe and cared for just as I am.

What has been ‘easy for you to do’ that is harming you? What is the alternative? How might refuge help you?

*The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, translated from Pāli by Acharya Buddharakkhita (listen to the original Pali being chanted here).