What does it mean to feel "worthy"?
In Western culture, there is a high value placed on ambition, achievement, and perfection. Those who are (likely unconsciously) bound by these imperatives often end up feeling, at best, empty, despite their achievements and, at worst, full of self-loathing from being unable to reach their pinnacle of perfection.
Revered Buddhism and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, posed the question “what is your take on self-hatred” to the Dalai Lama in the 90’s and the Dalai Lama was perplexed by the question, having never experienced it himself and having never heard of it until that moment. It was almost inconceivable to him that one would have an experience of self-hatred.
It is quite extraordinary that people within Western cultures can achieve brilliant things but feel entirely unfulfilled and unworthy. If achieving our maximum potential is a fundamental need, how are so many high-achieving and decorated people experiencing depression and dissatisfaction in their lives?
There is an old pattern experienced repeatedly throughout history. A person sacrifices other parts of themselves or their lives at the altar of career and achievement and discovers that the single-minded focus on success as a source of happiness is an illusion. Some are able to recognize the artifice and pivot towards a different mindset and behavior. Others sink into confusion, depression, or bitterness.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, an influential figure in the world of mental health and wellbeing, is devoted to helping people grow happiness, wholeness, and worthiness through the cultivation of contentment and inner peace with “what is” in our everyday lives while continuing to have goals and ambitions. Hanson’s unique work, marrying spirituality and science, helps participants develop a felt sense of worthiness through evidence-based practices of building inner resources.
According to Hanson, self-actualization is a process of self-development and discovery and that we are inherently worthy through all parts of the process. Rumi’s beautiful quote sums it up as well….
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.
You could replace the word “love” with worthiness or anything that you may feel is lacking – financial abundance, health, intimacy…Neuroscience shows us that the plasticity of the brain allows us to repattern our thought habits ie. feeling unworthy, and create new inroads to feeling valued, loved, and cared for. We can also influence dopamine and serotonin production through various things like exercise, warm-hearted connection, being in nature, sleep…
What would worthiness and fulfillment feel like to you?
Awareness is essential to start to recognize the inner barriers and to actively shift consciousness away from shame and worthlessness towards self-compassion, kindness, contentment, happiness, and peace.
In Hanson’s book, Neurodharma, he’s identified 7 practices of awakening or self-actualization including:
· Steadying the mind
· Warming the heart
· Resting in fullness
· Being wholeness
· Receiving nowness
· Opening into allness
· Finding timelessness
The practices are both internal (towards oneself) and external (towards that which is outside
of us). It’s also a journey or, to use less of a cliché, a dance. Learning, improvising, plateauing, backstepping, leaping, falling, failing, unlearning, and going back to the basics are all part of the movements toward realization.
Anyone can change from being a prisoner to their thoughts/feelings/sensations/cultural narratives and there is a simple process to start with.
1.) Develop awareness of your personal suffering – where do you feel tension, pressure, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, physical/mental/spiritual pain, discomfort?
2.) Desire to be free from suffering
3.) Have curiosity about HOW to alleviate suffering
4.) Devote yourself to learning how to relieve suffering in ways that do not contribute to more suffering
Ultimately, we do have a choice about how we feel. Becoming free from suffering is a process and takes time and patience but we are fortunate to live in a time with many resources from which to learn. There are countless teachers, books, articles, videos, Ted Talks, retreats, friends, and strangers from whom to gain knowledge and experience.
Feeling good, worthy, and valued ARE choices. As you peel away the layers of shoulds, self-judgment, criticisms from others, fear of making mistakes or looking foolish or losing your friendships/family, and start to gift yourself patience, kindness, self-compassion, and dive into your curiosities, you will discover a rich inner world that is more stable, loving, generous, creative, and peaceful. You’ll begin to see that you are already worthy of belonging, being valued, and being cared about.
This rarely happens in an instance and that’s a good thing. Your nervous system would struggle to adapt to major changes all at once. Dr. Rick Hanson says “drop by drop, fill your bucket” so the effects are cumulative and much gentler than “an awakening”.
What does worthiness feel like?
· Body: rested in fullness, wholeness, and enoughness, the body feels peaceful and calm, steady and ready
· Mind: settled in steadiness and presence, the mind feels open and clear, alert and at ease
· Spirit: nourished with awareness and attention, the spirit feels open, uncraving, unlimited, and boundless
Feeling worthy is like feeling unconditionally loved for me, the author, but perhaps it feels like something different for you.
Barriers to feeling worthy and fulfilled
One of the most potent barriers against personal growth is the dislike of change or the unknown. Clinging to anything – beliefs, dreams, people – is one of the root causes of suffering. Learning to soften your grip on anything or anyone that you are clinging to, is a subtle way to titrate into small, digestible changes that won’t adversely affect your nervous system. It is possible that people in your circles will feel threatened by your growth and evolution but they are also a good barometer to know that you are making substantive changes. A door opens to create space for new people and experiences to enter your world.
Other inner blocks and barriers to feeling worthy can include self-judgment, feelings of shame, comparison, lack of awareness, fear of change, fear of losing one’s “edge”, rumination on the past, or anxiety of what’s to come.
What barriers within you prevent you from feeling whole, loveable, and worthy?
Beliefs, thoughts, ideas, dreams, goals, fears…
Books and videos and articles are wonderful and useful to learn about the causes of suffering. Working with skilled individuals who know how to ask the right questions so that you may come to your own answers is invaluable. It is not advice that you need; it is someone who can help you see your blind spots. As you bring more awareness and presence to all parts of yourself – the dark and the light – being able to experience your own worthiness is a natural evolution of doing inner work.
What Matters To You?
When you live in alignment with what matters to you, you will fulfill your potential every day.
Alignment means not pulling, pushing, judging, criticizing, doubting, craving, denying, struggling with, worrying about, resenting, numbing, or regretting your actions and choices.
Alignment means simplifying and organizing thoughts and actions to increase the flow of energy.
What you put your attention on grows. If your attention follows every shiny thing, then you are distractable. If your attention lands on that which you don’t have, then you are craving. If your attention is placed on being superior or inferior, then you are judgmental. If your attention is caught in resentment or anger or worry or regret, then you are ruminating. If your attention is focused on the positive, then you are happy.
On what or whom do you rest your attention each day?
How much time do you spend…
· On social media or the news?
· On a screen and looking at what?
· Daydreaming or ruminating or wishing for a different life?
· Listening or watching things that don’t nourish you?
Take inventory of your time and attention so that you increase your awareness
around how you are using your time and energy.
It can take a lifetime to learn about yourself, not to mention the fact that we change along the way, so enjoy the process and resist the urge to fast-forward. Ultimately living in deep appreciation, curiosity, and acceptance of the present moment is the key to a meaningful life. Again, this does not displace having goals and ambitions but operates in tandem with it.
We may not even know what realizing our potential means until we meet someone or try something new that sparks something within us. It could happen at age 15 or age 70. In the meantime, take each day to reduce your personal suffering and others’ too, if you can, moment by moment. You may find that by the time you look again, you are satisfied, whole, connected, and peaceful and are able to navigate turbulence with more responsivity and less reactivity.