It often happens that I wake up completely devoid of self-confidence. I have no idea when or why this is going to happen. It drives me mad. I sit down to write and some inner Miss Thing tells me I have nothing of interest to say. I want to call a friend but Miss Things says, "oh, she has no interest in talking to you." I want to ask a colleague to collaborate with me on something and she pops up with "Ha! He is busy with way more interesting people and would have to find a nice way to blow you off." Uncomfortable. Better go back to playing online solitaire. Trolling Ebay for the perfect whatever. Rechecking email for the 11 thousandth time. I procrastinate. I fight with myself. I develop many theories for why I lack confidence and which strategy to employ to combat it.
Then I remember something very important. I'm a Buddhist. I know exactly what to do, and it has nothing to do with self-analysis or strategy, although at the right time (meaning a time I feel confident), such things can be enormously fruitful. But my practice has taught me to do something else instead, and that something is quite radical, almost un-American.
Yes, relax. Don't fight or give in, just slow down with it all. Relaxing here doesn't mean spacing out or even finding some way to rid yourself of the offending negativity. Instead, it means to allow it. Invite it, even. "Lean into it," in the words of the brilliant Pema Chodron.
When you relax with your lack of confidence, something funny happens. You develop confidence. Not because you manage to convince Miss Thing that "hey I really AM OK" but because you see beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what is going on, you can open to it, feel it, allow it--and remain complete. Instead of sitting down to tea with Miss Thing and arguing about your merits (and PS, Miss Thing will always win, even when she loses--it's the engagement that signifies loss), you see that this particular table is one of many in an enormous restaurant. Some tables are empty, others host raucous parties, lonely gentlemen, bored colleagues, sobbing sisters, laughing lovers, and so on. Instead of identifying with any particular patron, you see yourself as the Head Chef, who delights in cooking something nourishing for each one.
OK, I'm not going to belabor this kind of silly metaphor any longer. I'll go to a more traditionally dharmic metaphor. Dharma teachers often suggest considering your thoughts to be like clouds in the sky. Some are dark and stormy, some are beautiful and fat, while others are wispy and ethereal. Sometimes there are no clouds at all. No matter. Just like clouds in the sky, thoughts pass through your mind. And just like the sky, your mind can contain it all.
We are accustomed to identifying with every large or small thought that comes along. But you can train yourself to identify as the sky instead. When you do, tremendous confidence arises. You see beyond doubt that you can accommodate it all--sunshine, storms, mist, fog, hail--and never give up.
What could be a better definition of confidence than this?
Confidence doesn't mean feeling you can handle any situation without flinching, or speaking your mind at all times without giving it a second thought. It doesn't mean thinking well of yourself or feeling certain that your way is the best way. In fact, as your confidence goes up, so do your tenderness and receptivity. Without vulnerability, confidence is mere arrogance. Without confidence, vulnerability has no intelligence.
Meditation trains you in exactly this way, to be with everything that arises, not to avoid experiencing it, but to accept it all fully and without fear. I highly recommend this practice. Through it, you see that confidence and vulnerability are synonymous. Who knew.
Someone once said: "Confidence is the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment."
Oh, crap. I said that. In a book. I still forget it.
Time to get back to the cushion.
Follow Susan Piver on Twitter: www.twitter.com/spiver