| Everyday Enlightenment |
By Dan Millman
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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Opening to Life
It is a funny thing about life: if you refuse to accept
anything but the best you very often get it.
W. Somerset Maugham
Road Map: The First Key to Transformation
Aaron and Charlotte, brother and sister, are born into a two-parent, stable, middle-class household. Their parents are educated, hardworking, caring, have no alcohol problems, abusive habits, or guilty secrets. Aaron grows up successful--earns good grades, wins a junior chess championship, plays sports, and later earns a good income to support a family of his own. Charlotte does moderately well in school but chooses unsavory friends, starts using heroin and other drugs, turns to theft and prostitution to support her habit, which leads to jail time and the hell of withdrawal.
Not all siblings are as different as Charlotte and Aaron, but some of us take higher roads than others. In families all over the world, children grow up differently, make different choices, lead different lives. Many factors shape our lives, including beliefs, support systems, motivation, relationships, family dynamics, fate, or karma. But the central premise of the first gateway is that our sense of self-worth is the single most important determinant of the health, abundance, and joy we allow into our lives. In the case of Aaron and Charlotte, his behaviors demonstrated his higher sense of self-worth. But the story doesn't end there.
Charlotte, who had always loved children, later found new purpose, meaning, and opportunity for service in her role as a dedicated mother of two. As her children grew, so did her sense of worth. Charlotte got her life together and is doing better all the time. Not all stories have such a happy ending. Thousands, even millions, of us in all walks of life make self-destructive choices because we have lost touch with our own worthiness to receive life's gifts.
Discover Your Worth is no more or less important than any other gateway. But it comes first because only when you come to appreciate your unconditional human worth will you allow yourself to fully apply and benefit from the gateways that follow. Discovering your worth provides a foundation from which to build, one gateway at a time, a new way of life. Finding your worth is the first step in creating everyday enlightenment.
The purpose of this gateway is to assess your current sense of self-worth, to appreciate the arbitrary factors that created it, to understand how a low sense of worth can generate (largely subconscious) self-destructive behaviors, and, finally, to help you get out of your way and move into a more expansive life. In the first gateway you will learn how self-worth differs from self-esteem; how your sense of worth impacts the choices you make in life; three ways you can discern your own (largely subconscious) sense of worth; the source and mechanisms of self-sabotage and how to overcome it; and, finally, ways to appreciate your own unconditional worth.
In setting out, bear the following points in mind:
No one else can give you an improved sense of self-worth. Self-worth comes from doing what is worthy. As the Talmudic scholar Abraham Heschel once said, "Self-respect is the fruit of discipline." This gateway is about discovering your worth, not raising it. Your innate worth has never been lowered, compromised, or touched by fate or circumstance. It exists as a fact of life, like air and trees, and doesn't need to be raised, revitalized, or earned.
The problem is not your actual worth, but your perceived worth. Nearly all of us have lost touch with our intrinsic goodness--allowed it to be covered over by memories of a thousand transgressions, real or imagined, so that we feel only partly deserving of life's blessings. In the gateways that follow, you will find additional keys to resolving and ultimately transcending the critical issue of self-worth. The twelfth gateway provides the final key. We begin now by clarifying the meaning of self-worth, how it differs from self-esteem, and how it impacts the quality of your everyday life.
The Heart of Self-Worth
At its core, your level of self-worth is your answer to a single internal question: "How deserving am I?" Or, to put it more directly as it pertains to your daily life: "How good can I stand it today?" If you observe your life very closely, you will discover that you don't necessarily get what you deserve. Rather, you get no more and no less than what you believe you deserve. Only to the degree that you appreciate your innate human worthiness will your subconscious mind open up to life's bounty. Success involves talent, effort, and creativity, but first of all, it requires a willingness to receive. To paraphrase a speech I heard Ram Dass give many years ago, rain may pour down from the heavens, but if you only hold up a thimble, a thimbleful is all you receive.
When a window of opportunity appears, do you pull down the shade? Each of us has a specific degree of pleasure that feels right and appropriate. If that level is exceeded, it makes us anxious. At a residential seminar I once taught, I encouraged participants to ask for a standing ovation. As each came forward, I noted the variety of ways they responded to enthusiastic applause. Some people opened their arms wide, laughed, even jumped up and down. Others could tolerate only a few seconds of applause before holding up their hands as if to say, "Enough. Please stop. I'm getting uncomfortable."
Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
Because many people assume that self-esteem and self-worth mean the same thing, it seems important to note the distinctions between the two.
Self-worth (associated with self-respect) refers to your overall sense of value, worth, goodness, and deservedness. Your sense of worth can change over time based upon your actions. For example, my sense of self-worth has increased over time as I gradually learned to be a responsible, loving father and husband, and helped others through my writing and teaching.
Self-esteem (associated with self-confidence) refers to liking or feeling good about yourself, your appearance, or your abilities. Your sense of self-esteem may change moment to moment, based on appearance, abilities, or situation. For example, as an experienced gymnast, I felt high self-esteem (confidence) in the gym, but less self-esteem at parties or social gatherings. Many books offer advice on how to raise your self-esteem and feel better about yourself. Discover Your Worth, as you will see, addresses a deeper and more pervasive issue of your own intrinsic sense of value, goodness, morality, and deservedness. By the time you finish your journey through the twelve gateways, you will understand how to transcend feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. Until then, we focus on self-worth and its impact on the paths you choose in life.
The Choices You Make
The central theme of the first gateway is that you subconsciously choose or attract into your life those people and experiences you believe you deserve. In everyday life pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional--a by-product of poor choices.
Your sense of worth or deservedness shapes your life by creating tendencies. If you feel worthy and deserving, you tend to make productive choices. ("The world is my oyster.") If you feel unworthy and undeserving, you tend to make destructive or limiting choices. ("Beggars can't be choosers.")
At each and every crossroads you are free to choose the high road--by being kind to others, working hard, finding supportive partners, and following good role models. Or you may choose the low road--by burning your bridges, using drugs, or choosing destructive relationships. Your sense of self-worth tends to influence whether you choose to learn easy lessons or difficult ones, to strive or to struggle, to cave in to difficulties or rise above them.
Such choices determine your educational and income level, your health habits--even your longevity. Those of us with a strong sense of self-worth are less likely to get caught up in self-destructive habits with tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, or the abuse of food.
Coming to appreciate your worth can, in some cases, dramatically improve your circumstances by changing the choices you make and the actions you take. And as you begin to treat yourself with more respect, other people begin to do the same, since we subconsciously "train" others how to treat us through messages we send through body language, tone of voice, and other subtle cues and behaviors. Discovering your innate worth and living from that place allows you to make more constructive choices--to choose the higher roads of life.
Since you are exploring this gateway, maybe now is the time for you to take stock, to reflect upon your own circumstances and sense of worth, and to determine if your life is working as well as you would like.
Are you now where you want to be?
A Self-Worth Wake-up Call
There is a danger of studying self-worth from a distance--exploring the issue the way some people explore Africa from an air-conditioned bus. Keeping a safe distance is more comfortable but far less useful than feeling its impact on your life right now.
Since your sense of self-worth (and tendency to self-sabotage) is usually subconscious, awareness of the problem is part of the solution. Here are three complementary methods to become aware of your sense of worth.
Life Scan: Rating Your Own Worth
Remember that your sense of self-worth--of deservedness--is related to your perception of your relative goodness. On the scale stretching from a totally bad person to a totally good person, where do you fall? Take a few minutes to scan your life intuitively, taking into account your relationship with your parents, siblings, and others at school, home, and work--the times you have been kind, courteous, generous, and supportive as well as the times you were less so. I am not asking you to remember many specific incidents, but, rather, to get an intuitive feel for your life as a whole. Then rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 100 as to your overall sense of worth. On a 1-100 scale, how good a person are you? A score of 100 would mean you deeply believe that you are totally good and therefore deserve a life filled with good things--love, joy, health, success, and fulfillment. A score of 1 would mean that you believe that you deserve the pits of hell. (Most of us fall somewhere in between.)
Stop reading until you have given yourself a rating.
This self-assessment has to do with your perceived worth rather than your innate worth. It's important to note that the most sensitive, self-reflective souls among us--those of us with the highest vision, ideals, and standards--often have the lowest sense of self-worth, because we constantly fail to meet our own idealized standards. Maybe that's why George Bernard Shaw once remarked that "the ignorant are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
Whether or not you consciously remember your past behaviors, the fact that you could come up with a number indicates that your subconscious mind has been keeping score. Seminar participants I've asked rate themselves across the spectrum--usually between 45 and 95, with most clustering around 60-80. In any event, if you rated yourself less than 100, you have self-worth issues to address. Welcome to the first gateway.
Self-Reflection on Self-Worth
In order to get a better sense of how your sense of worth impacts areas of your life, consider the following questions, and answer "Yes," "No," or "Sometimes."
When fortune smiles on you, do you think, "This can't last"?
Do you find it easier to give than to receive?
Does your life feel like a series of problems?
Does money seem scarce and hard to come by?
Do you find your work unfulfilling?
Do you find your relationship(s) unsatisfying?
Do you work long hours but not have much time to enjoy yourself?
Do you resent or envy people who take frequent holidays?
Do other people seem to have more fun than you do?
Do you feel driven to work more, do more, be more than others?
Do you overeat, smoke, drink alcohol every day, or use other drugs?
Do you feel uncomfortable when you receive praise, applause, lots of attention, gifts, or pleasure?
Have you turned down or passed up opportunities in education, work, or relationships and later regretted it?
Do you get sick or injured more than other people?
If someone asks the cost of your services, do you price yourself lower than others in your field?
If you answered "Yes" or "Sometimes" to more than half of these, then you stand to benefit from your journey through the first gateway.
In the Mirror of Everyday Life
Perhaps the most realistic way to determine what you believe you deserve is to observe your life as it is right now. The state of your relationships, work, finances, education, and lifestyle reflects your perceived worth--how good you can currently stand it. Of course, not every person living in poverty lacks money solely because of low self-worth. There are conditions, such as where you were born or grew up, over which you had little or no control. But as you grew, you chose your response to your situation--a response that reflected, and helped shape, your sense of worth.
Money and Self-Worth
Your perceived worth is another kind of belief that impacts how deserving you feel of abundance. Other factors being equal, money scarcity is often related to low self-worth and resultant self-sabotage. For example, lottery winners and others who suddenly receive large sums of money (or fame) sometimes encounter (self-created) troubles if they see their good (but unearned) fortune as undeserved, as illustrated by the following story told to me some years ago by a rabbi:
A little tailor lived in a dingy tenement in a small town in the Midwest, earning a meager existence. But each year he pursued a dream and bought one ticket in the Irish sweepstakes. For fifteen years his life continued in this manner, until one day he found two men standing in his doorway and smiling. They stepped inside and informed him that he'd just won the sweepstakes--$1,250,000, in those days a fortune.
The tailor could hardly believe his ears. He was a rich man! He would no longer have to spend long hours altering clothing, hemming dresses, making pants cuffs. Now he could really live! He locked his shop, threw away the key, and bought himself a wardrobe fit for a king. The same day he purchased a limousine and hired a driver and reserved suites at the best hotels in New York City. Soon he was seen with a variety of attractive young women.
He partied every night, spending his money as if it would last forever. But it didn't; soon he had lost not only all his money, but his health as well. Exhausted, ill, and alone, he returned to his little shop and started his life over. Everything returned to normal; out of habit he even bought one lottery ticket a year from his meager savings.
Two years later, the two gentlemen reappeared at his door. "This has never happened in the history of the sweepstakes, sir, but you have won again!" The tailor stood on shaky legs and said, "Oh, no! Do you mean I have to go through all that again?" As the tailor's story exemplifies, how we handle money (or power or fame) often reflects our sense of self-worth.
The Simple Source of Self-Sabotage
If self-worth had no impact on your actions--if it were contained within the feeling dimension alone--its only power would be over your moods. Sometimes you'd feel worthy (a pleasant feeling) and sometimes not (an unpleasant feeling). And that would be that.
However, low self-worth also influences actions, generating tendencies to sabotage your own efforts, so that things just don't seem to turn out well. You may feel unlucky at times or feel as though God is punishing you, when in reality you are only punishing yourself. You do this through behaviors of which you aren't fully aware. Or, like the alcoholic who knows he drinks but doesn't view it as a problem, you may be aware of your behavior without acknowledging its destructive impact.
I have never known anyone who wasn't affected at some time or in some way by self-sabotage or subtle self-destructive behaviors in the arenas of money, relationship, education, or career. The question repeats itself in different forms: How high will you rise? How good can you stand it? To help eliminate any covert tendencies to sabotage your own efforts, let's examine the simple but profound source of self-sabotage. We need to make this mechanism conscious, so let's look at how it was formed and how it operates.
Your Internal Scorecard
One of the most important steps you can take to improve the quality of your life is to become aware of how your self-assessment has shaped your existence and how you can transcend whatever rating you gave yourself.
To understand the roots of low self-worth and the source of self-sabotage, we need to examine a universal dynamic that applies to you and to every individual in every culture on earth. In order to fit into society, your parents (or caregivers) taught you what was considered right and what was deemed wrong.
If you behaved well, you earned your parents' approval and were rewarded with positive attention. If you behaved poorly, you received their disapproval and were punished with negative attention. Thus, when quite young, you learned the two prime moral directives: If I am good, I am rewarded. If I am bad, I am punished.
In an ideal world, these rules would be absolutely fair and consistent. In the real world, however, your parents didn't always notice misbehaviors. Even if they did see every misdeed, they might have been too tired or distracted to respond consistently to your actions.
But there was someone who saw and noted, without fail, every single misstep you ever made. You did, and you still do. Not only that, you also saw and recorded every negative, hateful, petty, envious, spiteful, or cruel thought and feeling that passed through your mind. Thus began your issues with self-worth.
Remember the two rules: If I am good, I am rewarded. If I am bad, I am punished. Your parents, however, didn't always do the punishing. So you end up punishing yourself--sometimes for the rest of your life--in the form of self-sabotage or self-destructive behaviors.
The Subtleties of Self-Sabotage
Self-sabotage takes many forms, such as quitting school, taking low-paying jobs, choosing a spouse who abuses you physically or verbally, spending more money than you make, committing slow suicide with tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs, getting involved in crime, working yourself to illness or death, self-starvation, self-inflicting wounds, running away, dropping out, or engaging in other behaviors that undermine your health, success, or relationships.
Fame and fortune have a downside for those who feel undeserving of the adulation. Think of the celebrities who engage in punishing, self-destructive behaviors. It is important to note that those who have garnered fame and success without self-destructing have at least some of the following characteristics in common:
Someone in their family nurtured them as innately worthy, independent of what they could achieve or do.
Even when they were treated poorly, they had at least one significant person--a teacher or relative or friend--who listened to, valued, and treated them with respect.
They felt deserving because they had paid their dues--had sacrificed, studied, and worked diligently over a period of time.
They developed a sense of perspective and had a sense of humor about themselves; they didn't take themselves so seriously.
They shared their wealth in concrete ways, donating to charities, working for a cause they believed in.
Consciously you may desire success. You may read books and attend seminars, only to undermine your efforts in ways both subtle and creative. Consider those times friends or loved ones you trusted advised against doing something, but you did it anyway because you just felt you had to.
Of course, sometimes it's best to follow your own counsel. (Where would Columbus have been without it?) But if you see a pattern of blindly stepping into potholes despite others' guidance--like buying a lemon of an automobile when a mechanic friend thought it was a bad deal, getting an expensive item you didn't really need, gambling more money than you could afford to lose, or getting involved in a hurtful relationship--consider this: Haven't you already punished yourself enough?
Taking Charge by Taking Responsibility
While coaching gymnastics at Stanford University, I walked into a workout one day and found Jack, the team captain, lying on the mat, stretching--grasping one of his legs and pulling it toward his chest. As I walked by, I saw him grimace and heard him groan, "Oh, God, I hate this--it hurts so much!" I didn't know whether he was talking to me, to himself, or complaining to God, but I felt as if I'd wandered into a Mel Brooks movie. I wanted to ask Jack, "Who's doing it to you? If it hurts that bad, why don't you just let up a little?" This holds true for your life as well: If it hurts so much, why don't you just let up a little?
The moment we recognize the degree to which our difficulties are self-imposed, we begin to heal them. We end self-sabotage only by taking responsibility for the choices and actions that created it. Only when we stop blaming our boss or government or parents or spouse or partner or children or circumstances or fate or God can we change our lives and say with conviction, "I chose where I am now, and I can choose something better."
Of course, not every misadventure, injury, or problem is created by your subconscious owing to low self-worth. For all we know, certain difficulties or challenges are gifts from God or arranged by our souls in order to test and temper our spirit. As the old proverb says, "Take it as a blessing or take it as a test; whatever happens, happens for the best." And as it happens, adversities may sometimes contain their own blessings.
The Upside of Adversity
We have all had our share of pain, illness, and adversity. When I was in college, about to fly to Europe to the World Gymnastics Championships, my motorcycle was struck by an automobile and I sustained a broken right femur--my thigh bone was shattered into about forty pieces, according to the doctor. Looking back, years later, despite all the searing pain, disability and depression, and lengthy rehabilitation, I believe it may have been one of the most spiritually useful things that ever happened to me. It shook me "up" and made me consider the bigger picture of life and death. It set into motion some new directions. (I do not, however, recommend broken bones, illness, or other injury as a method of personal evolution.) It's just that we can, if we examine the bigger picture, find blessings in adversity. If we are psychologically healthy, we do not seek pain, injury, or illness, but we can appreciate that everything contains its opposite--an upside and a downside.
Whether or not adversity is a self-sabotage or a spiritual lesson, when a misfortune does occur, something rather surprising can happen. Many survivors of serious maladies--with all the pain and suffering--report experiencing a kind of inner peace they had not felt before. Pain has a way of clearing the subconscious scorecard, as if the adversity and suffering pays off sins real or imagined. It's as if you finally get punished for all those things you said or didn't say, did or didn't do, and the scales are finally balanced. The psyche finds ingenious, sometimes tragic ways to find peace. I raise this topic to make it conscious, so that you can find inner peace through service (as in the twelfth gateway), not through pain.
Most of us have at one time or another experienced a need to do penance, to pay off debts, or to ask forgiveness for past mistakes. As you discover your innate worth, you come to see that life is tough enough without adding self-created difficulties; you begin to embrace the joys of life and to bring more joy to others.
The Leverage for Change
Self-worth is not a thing; it is a perception. Just as a gymnast begins a routine with ten points and receives deductions for each mistake, so you began life with a natural, complete sense of worth. (Have you ever met an infant with self-worth issues?) But as you grow, you serve as your own judge, deducting points when you misunderstand the nature of living and learning--when you forget you are a human-in-training and that making mistakes and having slips of integrity and mediocre moments are a part of life, not unforgivable sins.
What follows are some reminders that can help you to score your worth higher in the game of life. By shedding light of awareness and compassion on your own life, you can begin to meet your destiny with arms open wide.
Know That You Are Not Alone
The first step is to realize that you are not alone. We have all made mistakes as part of our life and growth. We have all said, thought, felt, and done things we regret. Our worth is not dependent upon being perfect. Many of us have fallen into self-defeating cycles--behaving badly, leading to a lowered sense of self-worth, leading to more negative behaviors. If we can stop judging our mistakes so harshly, we can also stop ourselves from reactively engaging in the negative behaviors.
Know That You Did the Best You Could
The second realization is that no matter what your behavior, you have done the best you could every day of your life. You may not agree with this. So before we tackle that question, consider this principle in relation to your parents or other caregivers: whether they were kind or abusive, they were doing the best they knew how in light of their own limitations, wounds, beliefs, fears, values, and anxieties. Their best may have been wonderful, or terrible, or somewhere in between. In the same way, even though you have certainly fallen short of your ideal many times and made mistakes, you have also done the very best you were capable of at the time.
Apologize and Ask Forgiveness
Most of us have replayed in our minds an incident we wish we could do over. Maybe we could have done better on a job interview, a speech, an exam, or a performance. Or we may wish we could take back hurtful actions--moments of disrespect or dishonesty.
You cannot change past mistakes, but you can avoid repeating them. The past no longer exists except as a set of memories and impressions you keep alive in the present. By focusing on doing what you can do now--by reviewing your mistakes with eyes of compassion and asking forgiveness--you do much to heal your fragmented sense of worth.
If you are sorry for never sending your mother a birthday card, send her a special one now. Even if she has passed away, write the card. And ask her forgiveness. If you hurt a brother, sister, parent, or other person, review that memory; then contact them, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. If they will not forgive you, then forgive them for not forgiving you. Then send them flowers or another gift, perhaps with a letter. Going inside and visualizing those you have hurt, and asking their forgiveness, provides a healing that begins to lift your sense of worth as it heals relationships.
Trust Your Process
The next time you feel that something good can't last, remind yourself that evolution moves in an upward spiral and that life can, and usually does, get better over time. You live and learn, stumble and evolve, rise and fall, fail and grow, expand, progress. If you pay attention and strive to improve, you become stronger, clearer, wiser, and more capable. Life is a process of rediscovering your worth and the worth of all beings.
The Power of Grace
Finally, it comes to this: To discover your worth, you have to reach within yourself and find it there. You have to create it through worthy actions. In the twelfth gateway, Serve Your World, you will find the ultimate means to rediscover the unconditional worth you felt as a child. The gateways that follow will prepare you for that final step. Each gateway will yield new insights leading beyond self-worth to the practice of everyday enlightenment.
The key is to remember that even though we don't feel very kind, or brave, or even deserving, the roof over our head continues to shelter us from storms, the sun shines upon us, our chairs keep supporting us, and so do our lives. Life itself is an unearned gift--and that is the hidden meaning of grace.
Grace reveals that only this moment is real. That past and future exist only in our minds. Your scorecard is wiped clean in any moment of awareness, humility, or repentance. If you have a debt to pay, then pay it in the currency of kindness to the person it is owed, not by punishing yourself, not ever again. It is not necessary. It never has been.
Next, in the second gateway, Reclaim Your Will, you will find another key to overcoming the limits you have placed on your life. Your will provides the power to transcend the tendencies that have limited your choices and your actions, providing your next step on the path to everyday enlightenment.
Excerpted from Everyday Enlightenment , by Dan Millman . Copyright (c) 1999 by Dan Millman . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top