A leg in a trap…

“It’s inevitable that we’re going to be imperfect. We all cause harm. We sometimes cause harm in ways that are very, very hard to forgive ourselves for. But it’s not until we can be with ourselves in a forgiving way that we can do the healing that actually inclines us toward being more helpful and healing for others in the future.

There’s a metaphor about this that I often use when I’m teaching. Let’s say you’re going through the woods and you see a dog by a tree and you reach down to pet the little dog, but it leaps at you with its fangs bared to attack you. In that moment you go from being friendly to angry at the dog. But then you see that the dog’s paw is in a trap. Then you shift from being angry to saying, ‘Oh, you poor thing.’

It’s just like when we’ve caused harm, or when someone’s caused us harm. There’s a leg in a trap. People do not cause suffering unless they’re suffering in some way. Being able to see that doesn’t mean that I then stand there and let the dog attack me. We still do what we need to do to protect ourselves, but it gives us the quality of heart that lets us respond to the situation in a much more compassionate and intelligent way.”

— Tara Brach

Wise discrimination versus punitive self-judgement…

“We all need wise discrimination. We need to be able to move through our lives and look at our own behaviors and others and know what is creating harm and what is moving us toward healing. We need to be able to discriminate and say, “No, when I act like that—when I speak in that tone of voice to my child, for example—that causes shame.” That’s wise discrimination.

To say, “I’m a goddamn asshole. I can’t believe I did that.” That’s aversive judgment. And it does not serve to make war on ourselves for what we feel is harmful. In other words, if I have spoken in a shaming tone of voice to my son, for me to then shame myself does not make me more likely to be respectful in the future. Punishment doesn’t work. We know that. We know it doesn’t inspire our children or show them a way to grow and learn when they’ve behaved in ways that aren’t wise. It doesn’t work with criminals either.”

— Tara Brach

Our self-awareness grows…

“Our self-awareness grows in the relational field when there’s mutual attentiveness. If you say something, and I really am listening, then I can have an understanding that I can mirror back that can actually enhance your own experience of who you are. That kind of relational feedback process is so juicy! I mean, that’s what we’re in it for: to become more of who we can be. And people can help us unfold when they both see our goodness and create a safe space that lets us express it.”

— Tara Brach

“Wake up from Unworthiness,” Tara Brach, PhD