I REALLY like the concept of emptiness. No, I LOVE the concept of emptiness. As I have continued to read and understand it, I feel like a big hairy monkey has been lifted off my back. I think my problems started in high school. I attended an academic all boys school in Philadelphia. My sense of self was all wrapped up in academic achievement. My identity and self worth relied upon achieving scholastic excellence. My parents were okay with that but didn’t push me. They didn’t need to. As I grew into adulthood I carried that over-achieving behavior into my professional life and then even into my recreational activities. Nothing short of perfection was acceptable. My deluded reasoning said if I set the bar at the very top I didn’t need to worry about what other people thought of me. Anyway, I was my own worst critic. Needless to say, I was wracked with a lot of anxiety and stress which ultimately had some effect on my physical health.
Basically I was like a pole-vaulter who set the bar at the very highest rung. Sometimes I was able to make it over that bar which would give me a brief period of elation. But more times than not, I fell short. This would cause frustration and a feeling of inadequacy. Whatever “happiness” I derived from my successes would quickly fade when the next bar presented itself. It was like being on a merry-go-round that never stopped and I couldn’t get off.
So, what has emptiness done for me? It has not just lowered the bar, but it has actually taken the bar away completely. I no longer feel that I constantly need to prove something to myself or others. I can just be me. Now that “me” does need some work. I could be a lot less selfish and self-centered and I could have a lot more love, compassion, kindness and generosity. But I am no longer beating myself up about my weaknesses and strutting around prideful and arrogant about my strengths. Realizing that all my successes and reputation were thanks to the kindness of others is very humbling. Also, realizing that my constant need to satisfy my self-image is a losing battle has been very liberating. It is like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. It will never become filled.
One interesting thing that I am noticing is when I direct my focus outward my personal worries and concerns seem much less important. And when I am careful to watch my motivation, I can actually help others and not use it as yet another way to enhance my ego. Boy, the ego is so sneaky. It wants to be satisfied even when I am doing something charitable. Obviously this is a work in progress.
I want to thank you and the sangha for helping me in this epic battle with the “I.”
This article is available in Spanish: Soltando la necesidad de ser el mejor (y la ansiedad que conlleva)