America: the land of opportunity? In these challenging times, it is in each of our best interests to get the most from ourselves, plumbing our potential both personally and professionally, in order to turn those opportunities into realized dreams. To this end, everyone hopes to harness all the power they know they have buried somewhere inside them; but the question is, how? Held captive by an all-pervasive media and way-back-to-kindergarten socialization, we learn from the earliest age to look to others to determine our self-worth and deservedness.
Paralyzed by fear, we reduce our likelihood of success and achievement. Instead of being trained to ask, why not me, our minds are trained to ask, why would it be me? Rather than simply living out our unique and individual giftedness, engaging in life with the fervor of a love affair, our brains have developed deeply-entrenched ruts that drag us through baseless anxieties and career-stopping apprehensions. Looking outside the self and treating that illusory reflection as an actual mirror is the first problem. We need to understand that due to years of mental conditioning and pop-culture brainwashing, our negative self-appraisals and knee-jerk self-doubt amount to nothing more than a bad habit, like nail biting. The way to open to new vistas, quite simply, is to break the habit.
The way to free ourselves from such conditioning of mind and behavior, and to achieve liberation from some of our deepest self-constructed obstacles, is to build inner confidence. Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa called it "raising windhorse."
There is an uplifted quality that naturally exists in our lives. It is an innate awareness of our unique and sacred existence, which is automatically stirred in our mindfulness of the present moment. We pay attention to details: We wash the dishes while we wash the dishes, we clean our room when we clean our room, we iron our shirts with awareness, and we purposely fold our sheets. When we pay attention to everything around us, the overall effect is a sense of "upliftedness" or "windhorse."
The best way to raise windhorse, and generate this state of inner self-confidence that makes everything else possible -- that produces the "go for it!" spirit we crave -- is to subdue the doubting mind by disarming its negative thoughts. By working, instead, on developing self-compassion, in time we can extend this positive energy outward to other life goals and potential successes. Any harmful "traitor" thoughts are rendered powerless to sabotage our dreams. Such thinking is eventually simply dismissed as useless and habitual. Discovering a naturally-occurring self-confidence that is inherent in each one of us, faint at first but growing stronger over time, helps us reclaim the power to shape our lives in the ways that we want. Ironically, in order for belief in ourselves to fully blossom into realized dreams, it must be tended to regularly, brought into greater and greater focus, and gently repeated, like a mantra. In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Trungpa says that by cultivating such deep-seated self-gratitude:
We can appreciate the real world on the spot. We can appreciate the bright, beautiful fantastic world around us ... If we don't negate our habitual patterns, we can never fully appreciate the world. But once we overcome habitual patterns, the vividness ... [and] the magic will descend, and we will begin to be individual masters of our world.
When this state of mastery is achieved, untold power, intelligence, and wisdom become accessible to us, like magic. And, just as the shining sun is not gone but simply obscured momentarily by passing clouds, our true, secure self is always right there, too, waiting for us to see ourselves more clearly, confident in our gifts and how to materialize our most cherished goals. With the right viewpoint, we can see that aspirations are attainable.
Much of our inability to access our personal power comes from a fear of suffering, a fear of painful feelings, or a fear of failure. This is another problem: We waste precious time and resources avoiding fear instead of living vibrantly, productively, and fully in the present moment, thereby actually creating the futures we long for. As in the practice of yoga, it is sometimes more useful to slow down and examine our reactions to things, rather than running away as soon as we feel uncomfortable. In Mindfulness Yoga, for example, author Frank Jude Boccio says that untapped potential is available to us once we learn to approach yoga, and our lives, with a greater sense of playfulness and curiosity, like a "child exploring her surroundings":
Sometimes when practicing postures we feel pain. Pain, like other sensations, can be our teacher. Again, approach pain with respect and an attitude of inquiry. Much of our suffering is a result of our avoidance of pain. Our practice is to observe our resistance to feeling pain and learn ways to soften that resistance. Through this practice we learn that much of our pain is merely discomfort with the way things are. One thing we learn through practice is to more accurately sense what is real pain and what is discomfort.
By learning to stay present with the way things are, to observe our resistances rather than struggling against them, we are freer to take the necessary steps to succeed in life in the ways we desire. With radiant self-confidence growing within us, personal power is now at our disposal. We feel empowered and ready to take on the world. Nothing is beyond our reach. We are possibility.
Thus, Trungpa writes, "The direction in which we are going, or the direction we are facing, is unmistakable." By paying attention to our appearance, which contributes to dignity and self-respect; by eating mindfully, to wisely feed body, mind, and soul; by relaxing and exercising regularly, to keep the physical, mental and emotional processes running smoothly; and, by developing courage, fearlessness, and fortitude to deal with the challenges and stresses rooted in the ever-changing nature of life, we can reach our fullest potential. Raising windhorse helps us maintain this important vision.
Self-confidence is our actual, natural state. And, as the petals of a flower open, as the seasons come and go, and as the tides ebb and flow in perfect lunar harmony, we can similarly and quite organically break all negative thought patterns and discover in their place our uplifted human spirit. On the back of windhorse, then, we take flight.
This column was originally published in Ambassador Magazine.
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