part 32. permanent worth
To move on to another idea, there is the whole matter of one’s personal worth. Personal worth doesn’t mean self-worth. Where do you get self-worth from? Do you get it from success in your work? Do you get it from having a lot of money? Do you get it from attracting a lot of men (if you’re a woman) or a lot of women (if you’re a man)? How fragile all that is, how transitory. When we talk about self-worth, are we not talking, really, about how we are reflected in the mirrors of other people’s minds? But do we need to depend on that? One understands one’s personal worth when one no longer identifies or defines one’s self in terms of these transient things. I’m not beautiful because everyone says I’m beautiful. I’m really neither beautiful nor ugly.
These are things that come and go. I could be suddenly transformed into a very ugly creature tomorrow, but it is still “I”. Then, say, I get plastic surgery and I become beautiful again. Does the “I” really become beautiful? You need to give a lot of time to reflect on these things. I’ve thrown them at you in rapid succession, but if you would take the time to understand what I have been saying, to dwell on it, you’ll have a gold mine there. I know, because when I stumbled upon these things for the first time, what a treasure I discovered.
Pleasant experiences make life delightful. Painful experiences lead to growth. Pleasant experiences make life delightful, but they don’t lead to growth in themselves. What leads to growth is painful experiences. Suffering points up an area in you where you have not yet grown, where you need to grow and be transformed and change. If you knew how to use that suffering, oh, how you would grow. Let’s limit ourselves, for the time being, to psychological suffering, to all those negative emotions we have. Don’t waste your time on a single one of them. I’ve already told you what you could do with those emotions. The disappointment you experience when things don’t turn out as you wanted them to, watch that! Look at what it says about you. I say this without condemnation (otherwise you’re going to get caught up in self-hatred). Observe it as you would observe it in another person. Look at that disappointment, that depression you experience when you are criticized. What does that say about you?
Have you heard about the fellow who said, “Who says that worry doesn’t help? It certainly does help. Every time I worry about something it doesn’t happen”! Well, it certainly helped him. Or the other fellow who says, “The neurotic is a person who worries about something that did not happen in the past. He’s not like us normal people who worry about things that will not happen in the future”. That’s the issue. That worry, that anxiety, what does it say about you? Negative feelings, every negative feeling is useful for awareness, for understanding. They give you the opportunity to feel it, to watch it from the outside. In the beginning, the depression will still be there, but you will have cut your connection with it.
Gradually you will understand the depression. As you understand it, it will occur less frequently, and will disappear altogether. Maybe, but by that time it won’t matter too much. Before enlightenment I used to be depressed. After enlightenment I continue to be depressed. But gradually, or rapidly, or suddenly, you get the state of wakefulness. This is the state where you drop desires. But remember what I meant by desire and cravings. I meant: “Unless I get what I desire, I refuse to be happy”. I mean cases where happiness depends on the fulfillment of desire.
By: Anthony de Mello