Magical Confidence and Questioning Our Perceptions

January 17, 2024

Shambhavi talks about confidence in the eternal value of the self, gaslighting, and seeing reality in a fresh way. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

There's really two kinds of confidence. And a third kind that people think is confidence, but it's actually not.

The third kind is the most common way that people approach confidence—which is you have accomplishments, or things that you like about yourself, or things that you're good at.

And that gives you confidence.

But that kind of confidence is an extremely shaky, rocky affair because you always need to be doing more and accomplishing more to maintain it.

Then it has this very dark shadow side, which is nobody is good at everything.

So if your confidence is based on being good at things, or accomplishing things, or being a certain kind of good person, then every time you're not those things you're going to feel bad about yourself.

Everybody has stuff they're not good at. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody does crappy things now and then.

So, if you've defined your confidence—or built your confidence around what you're good at and what's good about you in an ordinary sense, then you're in for suffering.

And your sense of confidence is always going to be waxing and waning.

There's another sense of confidence, which is kind of ordinary sense of confidence, but in a good way.

And this is I think the kind of confidence that one gets as one gets older. If you're lucky. You know, if things are [laughs] going in a healthy direction.

I certainly know being 64 that this is something I've also enjoyed.

So I don't think you're anywhere near my age, but this is probably what you're experiencing. Which is knowing yourself in an ordinary way.

The level of fantasy projection about yourself goes down. You already know what your limitations are. You've had a lot of experience with them over some decades.

And you know what you're good at and you know where you're likely to screw up. And you're already very, very, familiar with all those things, and now you're able to just take them in stride.

So, it doesn't really matter so much what other people think of you. Because you already know yourself so well that there's really not a lot of surprises anyone can throw at you.

And you also have matured in life enough to realize that, hey, everybody screws up, and everybody has strengths, and everybody is basically a mixed bag, as I like to say.

And there's kind of a shrug, you know.

You know, you get to a certain point in your life where the fact that you're a mixed bag isn't really all that upsetting anymore [laughs].

There's a kind of a settling, and taking one's seat, and feeling more confident, because you know yourself so much better than you did when you were younger.

And then there's the third kind of confidence, which you could call magical or non-ordinary confidence, which is what we are trying to gain when we're doing this kind of spiritual practice.

And that confidence isn't confidence in my own self—in the sense of, like, the individuality of the little self. It's confidence in the Self, and it's confidence in the eternal value of the Self that is also part of you.

There's an eternal goodness and sweetness that has no opposite in badness and sourness [laughs].

Not to knock sourness. It's just a taste, but you know what I mean.

So, we gain contact with that eternal Self, that big Aham. That big ahamkara, which really you are a reflection of that big ahamkara.

You don't have your own ahamkara. You have an experience of the ahamkara, which is localized.

When you begin to realize that—then even more, all of your karmas, and your patterns that you show up with, and your deficits—you begin to experience them as just expressions of that one Self.

So, you may still feel burdened by them on some level or—wishing they would not be there.

But on another level, you recognize them as just how you were made by God. And you're just working with it in a practical way, and there's nothing actually to be upset about.

So, that brings this real confidence that at the heart of things there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Nothing.

There's nothing wrong with the things that are wrong with you, if you can understand what I'm saying when I say that.

So, we don't have to worry about a healthy ego.

I try like crazy not to use that word, ego, because it has such deep connotations in Western psychology. You know, in 19th and 20th century Western psychology.

It's hard to use the word ego without it invoking that history for people in a very embodied way.

And that is not what is meant by ahamkara.

What is meant by that is "I sense", just simple "I sense". And it doesn't have all that pejorative baggage that the word ego does.

The "I sense" never goes away. We are actually trying to release this little "I sense" from its limitations and have it pour back into that big "I sense".

And then we can just enjoy how things are, even our foibles and fixations on some level.

I'm not trying to say we don't have any sad feelings, or bad feelings, or wishing things would be different.

I just mean on some level, before we're totally enlightened all of that kind of just becomes matter of fact, how we showed up, and even a little bit funny.

So I think in that sense, a healthy ego is that "I sense", which has become very practical, non-self-critical—but not without self-clarity.

Which is just practically, modestly, going about the business of putting one foot in front of the other and waking up as best you can.

A very kind of plain, bare-foot-on-the-road kind of attitude, without a lot of frills and fancies, without self-declarations, without self-advertisement.

But at the same time, being able to enjoy oneself. What I like to say is having an attitude of practical positivity.

You know, we are God's children, and we are given tools to wake up.

We're given so much help. So we have grounds to be positive.

And to use our tools in just a very practical, kind of apprentice-like way. But to do it without waving the banner of the self, or waving the banner of our spirituality, or waving the banner of what we're doing and how.

You know, we just go along and do things and we can enjoy ourselves along the way.

And we can even, on some level, enjoy the ridiculous things that we do. And ridiculous ways that we behave and think. It is humorous.

Once we get to a certain point in the path when we're not really all that enlightened, but we have enough knowledge of the self to just find this whole thing a bit ridiculous and funny—that we were all made in these wackadoodle ways [laughs].

Really, we're just like— as Anandamayi Ma said, "God has created a madhouse for his own enjoyment and we are part of that madness."

So, there's a sense in which I think a healthy ego, as you asked, would be one that laughs at itself, has a sense of self-irony, and is very practical, forward thinking, forward looking, positive, apprentice like.

And I like to say one foot in front of the other, barefoot on the road.

So something that I'm coming across recently is feeling like I've opened myself to redefining and looking at things in new ways, and really questioning my own perception about a lot of different things.

And I'm noticing how that feels very vulnerable. It feels exciting. It feels edgy. It feels like this kind of free-falling. And it feels great in a lot of ways.

And it also feels like, should I be holding more tightly to my own sense of what is right and wrong?

Great question. Another teacher said, "the bad news is you're falling. You're in freefall. The good news is there's no ground." [laughs]

There's two divergent ways I would ask you to look at this. Choosing what is happening depends on you having a sense of healthiness, and what I like to call wholesomeness.

Sometimes we're in situations when other people are trying to undermine us. Undermine our confidence, undermine our sense of self, undermine our perceptions, and put us off guard. And make us feel that we have no center or ground for unhealthy reasons.

And, especially women tend to listen to those voices.

On the other hand, and this is tricky, it's wonderful if you have the wherewithal to allow yourself to entertain the possibility that your perceptions might not be what's actually happening.

That's really absolutely necessary for being on a path like this, or just being a healthy person.

Sometimes our karmas cause us to have misperceptions of things. And a lot of people cannot bear that.

They're too fragile to be able to go there and reexamine their perceptions. It's too threatening because they've kind of built up a sort of an armored false self. That's the only thing that's keeping them going.

When someone's in that condition, it's very difficult to be in a tradition like this. But if you're finding it kind of thrilling, that's a good sign.

I mean, it is thrilling in a way.

And that sense of adventuresomeness is absolutely germane to the direct realization practices and the people that end up actually staying in them.

People who like a bit of adventure and thrill, a bit of chaos, a bit of groundlessness, who don't mind having their world shaken up every now and then or a lot, really are the ones for whom these kinds of traditions are made.

But again, I would caution you that we do encounter people who do that to us for their own purposes, and it's not healthy. So you need to be in contact with that inner sense of goodness and wholesomeness.

Does whatever situation you're in that is causing you to re-examine—does it feel wholesome? Does it feel healthy? Does it feel sweet? Do you have an inner knowing that it's good?

Or does it have a kind of diseased quality, coercive quality? I just want to bring those two ways of approaching this out, since I don't know the specifics of your situation.

And because you are a woman, and women so often experience gaslighting and undermining in various kinds of different ways. And we tend to take it very seriously, and examine ourselves closely for whatever critical thing anyone says about us.

That is not so healthy.

But, the healthy letting go of self-concept and just seeing what's there in a fresh, green way is really what it's all about.

That's where the juice in life is.

And you can let go as far as you want to. Because whatever is of value and whatever is enduring will always be there. It is indestructible.

This is called in Tibetan traditions your vajra nature. Adamantine and diamond-like essential nature.

There's no one that can do anything to hurt or destroy that.

And no matter how much you let go in the context of spiritual practice, or spiritual life, that will always be there. And nothing that you need will ever be destroyed, or will ever go away.

I just wanted to share that I had this experience that's kind of like what you're talking about right now. Basically, I thought somebody would text me back, and then it turned out that my phone just had a glitch and I didn't see the message the person had sent to me.

And I just saw that I had played out this whole thing and that it felt so real to me, and I was so in it. But that it wasn't even based in reality.

Yeah, that's great.

And, as we go a little further along and we notice those patterns more and more, and we recognize them as patterns—even though the emotions might still feel real—even in the midst of it still feeling real, we can have some distance from it.

And recognize it as one of our karmic hand-me-downs.

Then we don't have to attack anything, but we don't have to respond to that. We don't have to go so far into it.

We could just let it do its thing, and not get so involved in it. And maybe even at some point just drop back into the state of our practice—even while it's happening.

So I'm just like pointing you a little further along from that.

Again, I just want to say that, especially for those that are relatively new, we are not attacking ourselves.

We are not sitting around thinking, what's wrong with me and how can I get rid of it now? Or, that's terrible. How can I get rid of this? I must do something.

This kind of urgency about there being something wrong with us is a very complex phenomenon and a very recent phenomenon historically.

And it wasn't really part of the culture that this kind of tradition was birthed in. This feeling of urgency about the damaged self, or the self that's not performing well in some way.

So, we want to try to re-capture some of that, and recognize that this feeling of urgency we have about ourselves, and damnation, and like we just must get out of something immediately, in part comes from the Abrahamic religious traditions where there's a very punishing God—where God operates on punishment and reward.

It in part comes from Freudian psychology, which has filtered into the culture—to European and US culture very, very deeply. And, it's also an aspect of pride that, you know, I can't have anything going wrong with this. [laughs]

So what we want to try to do is just take a softer, slower attitude towards those things.

If we're doing sadhana, and if we're being practical in our approach, we're getting other kinds of expert help, like with Ayurveda and whatever else we're doing, let things take their time.

Try to let go of the urgency and let things play out over time.

Get the help that you need, try to relax within the knowledge that you're getting the help that you need and you're applying the tools that you have.

And once you do that, then, you just have to let nature and grace take its course. Because how many times have you attacked yourselves over some pattern that has erupted?

How many times have you attacked yourself?

How many times have you felt this desperate urgency about doing something to fix yourself?

How many times have you felt horrible shame and humiliation? Or feeling like, something's horribly wrong with me, I hate myself.

How many times have you felt that? Has it ever gotten you anywhere? Has it ever fixed anything?

No. It just pushes those patterns deeper into you.

So, it's just clearly not the way. And also understand that it isn't natural. It's historically started somewhere.

It's a historical cultural social pattern. It isn't eternal. It's not part of human DNA. This is learned behavior, and you can unlearn it.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.