Self-Esteem (Day 3 India Retreat, The Power of Not Knowing)
The following transcription is a partial excerpt from
Eckhart's talk on day 3 of the India Retreat in 2002.
Question: By dissolving the ego, won’t I be
dissolving my self-esteem. Do I not need self-esteem to love myself
Eckhart: Yes, self-esteem. Many people seem to have a problem
with that - lack of self-esteem.
I read a while ago, when the Dalai Lama was younger he was meeting
with a group of Westerners and they were talking about lack of
self-esteem, and he just couldn’t understand that, what that was.
And they tried to explain it, and then he went around the group and
asked everybody, “do you have that?” And most people said, “Yes.”
[And the Dalai Lama said,] “Oh, very strange, self-esteem”.
Now the human species is the only species on the planet, of course,
that has a relationship with itself. Where [when] you have a
relationship with yourself - that’s normal. But the cat doesn’t have
a relationship with itself. Or the bird doesn’t have a relationship
with itself. Or the tree doesn’t. So, birds, cats, trees, monkeys,
flowers none of them have a problem with self-esteem. And even the
most ugly looking cat wouldn’t have a problem with self-esteem. It
hasn’t created a secondary, an “image self” - mind created. And once
that’s created it walks with you, next to you, or behind you, or
wherever it is. You always walk with a mental image of “me” and you
have a relationship with that. And, often you don’t like what you
see. That “image-self.”
That’s poor self-esteem. And then you may be in conflict with it.
You may be talking to your self in the head. Telling your self
something about yourself. Some people talk to themselves in the
first person, buy many more people talk to themselves in the second
person, as “you”. [For example:] “You see.” “You failed again.” “You
see, you’re not as good as…” “You see, you...” “Why can’t you...?”
And then at times, the self feels suddenly great about itself. Some
people predominately have low self-esteem, in other words, feel bad
about the mind made image “me” [“little me”], feel bad about that.
And then realize that, some realization comes in when they realize
it is mind created. And they realize, and usually in the West, it’s
connected with New Age teachings, and they realize they can do
something about their bad self-esteem, their image. You can actually
change your thinking about yourself.
First you discover that the thinking about yourself is
predominately, or to a large extent, negative and then you see a
little bit of Presence is arising. It must be, because you’re able
to stand back a little bit and watch and see what you’re creating
with your thoughts. And then the possibility comes of changing
your thoughts and self-esteem - through workshops, affirmations,
visualization, and all those practices. And then after awhile that
image looks a little bit more [enhanced], and you feel more
comfortable with that thing walking along side you.
But since everything in form, all mind creations, thoughts are
subject to polarities, you can’t walk with a high [sense of self]
continuously, with high self-esteem and feel great about your self,
there’s always a polarity to it, and its usually bound up with what
happens or not-happens in your life, what feedback you’re getting
from others. And it is usually comparative, the self-esteem is
[You ask yourself] How do I rate myself in relation to others? And
that gives you an indication where you are on 1 to 10, or whatever
it may be. So, self-esteem is connected with the mind made “me”,
lack of it, or in good self-esteem [the enhancement of it]. But it
exists in polarities: if you spend a whole year affirming
continuously, “I love myself, I love myself”, and maybe until now
you hated yourself. Your house is full of little stickers, and
wherever you look you see, “I love myself”, and you look in a mirror
and look into your eyes and repeat that, “I love myself.”
To some extent it works, to some extent. You have a better
relationship with your self. But there’s always a down side. It’s
hard to sustain that, because the other polarity will manifest also
in your life. And you go through life, when in order to know how you
feel about yourself, you need to compare yourself with others. And
then you say, “Oh, I’m actually better looking that this person, and
so I feel quite good about myself.” “I’m actually much more educated
that that person, and I feel good about that.” Or whatever you can
get. “Well, this person is ill and I’m healthy, so that’s good.”
[What] you need for self-esteem, if you look, you need relativity.
So you need comparison. And ego is always comparing itself.
Is it possible to live without having a relationship with yourself,
neither good nor bad? It is possible to be so completely your self
that the mind made image of me, dissolves?
And yes, this is why we’re here [at the retreat in India, or reading
his book, or reading this]. This is the essence of our gathering.
The mind made image is connected to thought, to continuous thinking.
It’s fueled by, perpetuated by, upheld by the continuous thought
processes many of which are about “me”, and my “self.” And so
through thought I have a relationship with a thought made entity,
which sometimes feels quite comfortable and sometimes feels not
pleasant, I don’t want to live with that person. And of course, it’s
true, many people live with a self that is very unpleasant, that
creates a lot of problems, a lot of suffering, that continuously
criticizes them, that continuously blames them, that tells them
they’re not [good] enough. And they live with that entity, mind
made, conditioned mind movements, conditioned in such a way that
they attack you continuously. And that’s the self that they have a
relationship with. They would never live with a person like that.
You would run out of the room. You couldn’t live with the person for
more than a day. If somebody you lived with did that to you, what
your self-image is doing to you through thought, you would have
filed for divorce long ago. But you can’t do that because it’s your
own mind and it walks with you. And there you have this complaining,
and whining and accusing. [And you say to yourself] “Ah, get away.”
And a large part of that is because you’re identified with thought.
There isn’t the ability to step back from thought and watch thought,
watch that. And here, the mind-made entity, because that self that
you have a relationship with is part of the story based self. The
That was the self that I had a very unpleasant relationship with for
many years. I had an extremely painful relationship with myself. I
couldn’t live with myself anymore. And so, I somehow said, “That’s
it! I can't live with it anymore, that's it!” But that was so total,
that I no longer sustained, fueled the self through thought. I
didn’t know anything about it, it just happened. So the mind made
image dissolved. The self that I couldn’t lived with, that was so
heavy, dissolved. And what was left was simply, “I”. So the “I”
shifted, whereas before when I said “I”, I was referring to my self,
the unhappy “dense-I”, the “story-based-I” - that dissolved. Then
the true “I” emerged (had always been there). Presence, I am,
nothing in particular anymore.
A simple sense of Presence or Beingness. And for the first time I
could walk and Be without having a relationship with myself. And
that, there is something so precious in that “I” or Presence, so –
it’s beyond words, you could say, it's like a diamond. It’s
something that’s extremely, very-very precious.
That’s why perhaps Buddhists have the image of a diamond. But this
is not comparative. It’s a sense of that deepest Self, not the mind
made self. It’s so precious, it knows itself to be that in a
non-dualistic way, without needing to compare itself to others. It
has nothing to do with a form, or any mind form. As Presence arises,
you don’t need self-esteem anymore, you don’t depend on that any
more, because what dissolves is the mind-made-entity, with which you
have a relationship.
And its so, self-esteem is an intermediate thing that for a little
while makes your life more pleasant, and then after awhile you see
the unsatisfactory nature even of that because you cannot uphold
continuous self-esteem, its hard work, all these affirmations. And
then things come into your life that tell you the opposite [about
yourself], inevitably, sooner or later.
So, then suddenly [when you go beyond mind made self-esteem] you
don’t love your self any more, nor do you hate yourself, because
there’s no self to love [or hate]. There’s simply the state of
Bliss, which is love. It emanates. But you don’t create a fiction
that now you have a good relationship, and love. So that is moving
And now we see why the Dalai Lama couldn’t understand. He only
learned about self-esteem from Westerners who have a highly
developed mind, and ego. Others also have ego, but even more
developed in the West, perhaps. But he was surrounded by, perhaps by
monks, and not quite as highly developed mental image. And perhaps
he himself never had it. I don’t know. But anyway it was new to him.
And I write about it in the book. There’s a paragraph in there.
The end of having a relationship with yourself. You don’t need to
arrange certain thoughts in your head that you feel good about. So
self-esteem is replaced by something that is deeper and more real.