Sitting on the chair opposite me, clasping his hands, he looked up from his spectacles and haltingly said – I have zero self esteem. Here was this good-looking 17 year oldboy who had a good academic record, supportive parents, a few friends and on the threshold of a new beginning. This boy is not alone. The world over everyone struggles with ‘I am not good enough’. We want to get rid of this persistent drone. We try. We jump from one affirmation to another, drown ourselves in the next distraction, immerse ourselves in work and family but that voice of I am not enough is loud sometimes or a whisper. The voice persists. Which brings us to the topic of self esteem.
Before we dive into what it is, let us look at what self esteem is not.
Self-esteem is not just feeling good about oneself. Self esteem is a more stable disposition over a period of time and situations. It does not depend on feelings which are fleeting and temporary by nature. Feeling good contributes to self esteem but is not a determinant.
Self-esteem is not ego or pride. It is based on a realistic view of oneself. Those who are truly comfortable with themselves and their achievements take pleasure in being who they are. Self esteem is saying, ‘ I can’, Pride is saying ‘I only did’.
Self-esteem is not automatic and does not come with being successful in the eyes of society. Success, power, good looks may contribute to self-esteem but the realistic view of oneself is based on facts and a disposition to deal with whatever life brings.
Self-esteem is not about repeating affirmations or positive statements– Telling oneself ‘I am capable and lovable’ accomplishes little if I am operating irresponsibly in key areas of your life.
Self-esteem is not a western concept. Self-esteem is related to a favourable disposition towards my self-concept.The closest equivalent of self-concept is ahankaara in Sanskrit language meaning conceptual self. Ahankaara’sdiposition towards itself.
Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist came up with a really good definition of self esteem and has written many books about the subject.
Self-esteem is a disposition by which I experience myself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and to see myself as worthy of happiness.
He put it as Self-esteem= Self efficacy + Self respect.
Self-efficacy is not efficacy or competence at a particular skill but a confidence in the ability to cope with life’s challenges.
Self-respect is I experience myself as deserving of happiness, achievement and love. Joy and fulfillment are my birthright. I am not apologetic about it.
Self-esteem is like the immune system of the mind. A healthy immune system doesn’t guarantee you’ll never become ill, but, it does reduce your susceptibility to illness. Immunity provides resistance, strength, and a capacity for regeneration.
The pillars of self esteem are –
- The Practice of Living Consciously
- The Practice of Self-Acceptance
- The Practice of Self-Responsibility
- The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
- The Practice of Living Purposefully
- The Practice of Personal Integrity
This is a secular description.
These practices coupled with the role of Bhagavan in one’s life are really a practical description of Karma Yoga.
A person given to cybercrime may have a practice of living with self-awareness and may even have the practice of living with self-responsibility. There is no sense of life purpose except for a getting by in the short term. How much ever the person tries, her self-esteem will be shaky without personal integrity.
The practice of living with self awarenessand self responsibility– Being aware of oneself is the beginning of any choice one makes and how one relates in the world. Suppose your name is Mala and I call you Gita, you will correct me. And rightly so.
Further I tell you that who you are is not ok, your ways of living are not okay, will you keep quiet? You will either move away or refute me. Why? Because I am imposing my view of your identity onto you. You will be offended and rightly so because you have a unique identity. I or anyone else has no right to disrespect you. Correct?
To function in society we need a strong self-identity – a strong understanding of who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.
The practice of living with self-awareness is paying attention to inner reality of my mind and outer reality of circumstances and situation.
There can be no self-mastery if we are not familiar with the self that is the ahankara, our self-concept.Even a wise person requires an ahankara, enlightened which it is, to interact in the world – to speak, to teach, to walk, eat and so on.
Way into our adulthood, we cannot be like some teenagers who shrug their shoulders and have a default response to most questions asked– I don’t know. What do you feel like doing? I don’t know..
The practice of self awareness is paying attention to our needs and goals. Try to fill this up with the first thought that comes to mind.
My need for love and acceptance is met when..
My need for independence is met when…
My need for fun is met when ….
My need for power and achievement is met when ….
I am connected to….
The values of Dharma that I stand for … fill in the blanks…
The values that I bring in to most situations…..take your pick from straightforwardness, aarjavam, karuna, compassion, satyam, truth seeking and truth telling,dhritih – fortitude etc.
Any quality that you describe about yourself is a subset of Dharma. And so,the practice of self awareness suggests that I am a Dharmika, the one for whom dharma flows into the many actions of life.
Your answers offer you some insight into your awareness of self. Our jnana shakti and iccha shakti is at play. We have the power to know more about ourselves which includes what we want and what we need. These shaktis are given by Bhagavan.
The practice of living with self-awareness is not in isolation. It is relational.
Who I am connected to?
How do I relate to family, colleagues, friends?
How do I relate to money, food and sex?
How do I relate to God?
My responses reveal my awareness of myself – the ahankara, self concept. A simple enquiry into these questions presses the pause button on mechanical reactions.
For example, Mala believes that she is not worthy because she was bullied for being dark skinned in school. Mala could continue her life with that belief until she examines it and sees that
events can never define who you are.
Sure, events can describe what we went through.
The practice of living with self-awareness is an awareness of the three shaktis that one is blessed with – iccha shakti, jnana shakti and kriya shaktiand how we have allowed these to flow into the millions of experiences of our lives. These shaktis, the powers to want, know and do are available to us at every moment.
The three shaktis form the tapestry of any and every karma be it caring for your dog or working on a new project or going on vacation.
The practice of self awareness helps us to respond.
Life is a series of situations of event-response, event-response.
Contrary to what most believe,
our destiny does not depend on situations but our response to situations.
Let’s say our degree of self-awareness and self-responsibility is very high, then it islikely that we will become over-responsible and constantly stressed.So much to be done and so little time. Where do we draw the line of ‘this is enough’?
How do we know that what we did was enough?
What do we do in situations where we are not in charge?
Here is where the teaching about Karma becomes practically applicable.
you have a choice only with respect to your actions. You are at best a contributor to the results, never the controller. You have not created the laws of Karma. Bhagavan has.
All karma has karma phala (visible and invisible results).
Response in a situation is one’s self responsibility.
This is the abilityto respond (not mechanically react) in a given situation.
Self-responsibility is not burden or blame.
Ok..what kind of karma is to be done?
Competence in actions (aligned with Dharma) is Yoga.
Kausalamin karma includes the ability to respond effectively.
In all one’s roles we perform our responsibilities – we contribute with care and support for the other. We also receive care and support from the other. As we see this play of karma, it might make some of us sad. Some may feel guilty that they have only been receiving from the others and barely giving while others may feel hurt because they have only given and not received much. What do we do?
Bhagavan Krishna says –
Samatvam yoga uchyate
Sameness of mind is yoga.
And hence the practice of living with self-awareness and being responsible for one’s actions glides into the practice of living with acceptance. A dynamic acceptance of karma playing out in one’s life in which there is no denial, no evasion, no justification.
Acceptance is seeing what is.Acceptance of the world and oneself.
Self acceptance is not resignation or a false sense of approval. Self acceptance is seeing who I am as a person. Self acceptance is not a substitute for action.
Bhagavan Krishna teaches us
May one lift oneself by oneself, may one not destroy oneself For the self alone is one’s friend and self alone is one’s enemy. (BG 6.5)
Being a friend to oneself is applying both kaushalam and samatvam, offerings of karma and acceptance.
Self-acceptance is the willingness to see what is true or real about me – my feelings, thoughts, fears, desires, values. If I attempt to accept myself and repeat affirmations – I love myself, I love myself..after a while it will become mechanical and lose its significance. Why? The one who is doing the accepting and the one seeking acceptance is the same.I could still feel that I am lacking.
Suppose, I don’t make the effort for kaushalam and then try to have acceptance, it will not work. Additionally if I am only focused on kaushalam, always planning and doing without acceptance, my self esteem will be shaky.
Self-acceptance and Self responsibility acquire a greater depth in the light of Karma Yoga. Not only are the results of my karma, prasada, I am prasaada, I am a gift to myself.
Who I am, is not an entity in isolation. I, the ahankara, is a self-concept based on my karma which has Bhagavan’s presence. The material that makes up this body and its many processes are permeated by Bhagavan. The intelligence by which the body-mind and pretty much anything functions which we refer to as laws of nature is the intelligence that is Bhagavan.
I, the the body-mind-sense-complex is a manifestation of Bhagavan.
Self esteem then becomes a combination of Kaushalam, competence in my actions aligned with Dharma and Samatvam, a gracious and cheerful acceptance of everything including oneself.
I trust the process of life which has Bhagavan’s presence every moment and in every place.
I trust that I offer my best karma in all my roles.
I trust that whatever needs to come my way, will come.
I trust and know that Bhagavan is present in all laws of nature which helps me relax and not anxious.
By being in harmony with the world, my self esteem increases.
As I practice self awareness, self responsibility and self acceptance, my struggle with self esteemstops being a struggle.
The struggle of self-esteem becomes a seeking of the infinite.
The seeking transforms into one learning to be a devotee, the one who has an abiding love for Bhagavan.
The one who seeks oneness.
Why? Because the equation of oneness is Tat tvamasi. That I am.
‘That’ refers to a being – Ishvara or Bhagavan. I want to know the oneness that the wise masters speak of.
I have clarity that my purpose is moksha, freedom from a sense of bondage. For moksha which is in the form of self-knowledge, Karma is both a lifestyle and a disposition. The lifestyle is one of pursuing wealth, pleasure, Dharma along with Moksha.
The disposition of Karma Yoga is offering all karma across roles to Bhagavan as your offering unto him or her and receiving with grace all events and people as prasaada. This disposition is not instantaneous but grows on you as you find yourself becoming more relaxed, more loving, more at ease and more objective.
With a renewed sense of purpose, I practice it in my life by living with integrity, cutting out non-essentials in my day.
Self esteem is not possible without Karma Yoga.
I flow with life.
I am at home with myself.