Who among us has not suffered the thought “I’m not ___ enough” at some point or another. Whether it’s physical (not strong enough), or intellectual (not smart enough), or psychological (not sensitive enough)…it all comes down to not good enough. And that’s a pretty awful way to feel. In most cases, it’s just a thought. It’s not true at all.
A few months back, I wrote about a difficult period. A friend had just relapsed and was hospitalized twice. It seemed hopeless. I was afraid he had not yet hit rock bottom. I thought that he might die. At the time, I didn’t even think about it. I got a call. I knew where he was. I got in the car and drove. He was in detox and heavily drugged. I didn’t pretend that I was going to have any influence, I just offered my love and presence. I hit a wall. I thought: I’m not ready for this, I don’t know how to handle this, I can’t take care of myself so that I can be the best friend I can be here. After five+ months of the same friend in active recovery, voluntarily committing to semi-weekly phone conversations with me, these are clearly thoughts proven untrue.
As I was writing that post, I started to go off on a tangent, recognizing my tendency to feel inadequate. To feel not good enough. I realized it wasn’t the time to write it, but I’ve been holding onto it. And while, again, this enters into dangerous territory where opinions and beliefs and egos may come to play, I’ve done enough alluding to this frustration on the sidelines, in personal correspondence, and I think it’s time to put it out there for a broader audience to reflect on and discuss. Basically, I need to get it off my chest.
In particular, I think about my theory of why there are far more men spiritual teachers than women, and I believe it’s our respective conditioning, and the fact that I will always consider myself first a student (i.e., not wise enough)*. And I think many women are similar in that respect. They don’t perceive themselves, much less promote themselves as teachers as much as students. I may be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think it’s so outrageous to assume that this is partially due to the basic biological fact that we receive sexually, that we do not assert. In moments of thinking that, I feel so limited by concept and conditioning, by my sexual organs–almost angry at my womanhood. And yet, I know, that is also what makes me capable of being a nurturer, a caregiver, a rainy-day friend. Probably more so the contemplative practice is the cause of that, but this is where the female conditioning is a plus on many levels–having led me to the path, and made me interested in my emotional life and that of others. Still, the frustration is palpable, as social networks and the free-flow of information reflect the same old biases and habits of human organization, authority and so on. And in general, there’s so much more masculine energy than feminine in these pursuits. I don’t mean male and female here. More like the difference between someone who writes from an academic perspective, or with a professional veneer (whether fees are involved in the offering or not), versus someone who makes themselves vulnerable and shows their weaknesses. It feels imbalanced. It feels exclusive.
A spiritual magazine I know of suggests that 2/3 of its readership are women. And my experience on retreat is that nearly 2/3 of the yogis are women. This is the case both here and in Burma. In my own little sangha at home, we are almost exclusively female. When the men do show up, the whole energy changes–even in silence. And although my teacher here was deeply influenced by two women teachers and incorporates this in his own teaching, it always feels strange to be doing kinhin, to be giving deference to, and to be shepherded by one man. How many classical teachers, how many contemporary teachers, how many people that have a guiding role in your practice are female? It’s frankly, disempowering to be so under-represented by teachers when so many practitioners are women. I wonder what the hell it feels like to be a person of color, where as one friend put it, you always have to go through a white man to get anything. To buy a car, to get a mortgage, to get your education, and so on. Not to mention religious imagery. Oy vey.
Meanwhile there’s so much sectarianism within Buddhism. Perhaps people who follow this blog because they consider me “Buddhist” are turned off by my discussions of nonduality, or people who consider this a contemplative blog are turned off by my more opinion-oriented pieces. We are all attracted to sameness, and I’m just as guilty–it’s just that I tend to feel drawn to wisdom seekers who are non-dogmatic and non-dualistic regardless of culture, religion, gender, and so on. These superficial differences are what make us unique, and yet they are also a part of all of our makeup. We can only begin to truly understand unity when we recognize and affirm difference, when we learn to communicate in ways that are inclusive and cross-cultural. This kind of dialogue is crucial to the evolution of our collective consciousness–our spiritual and emotional development as the human race.
What can you do to help support the development of communities that are culturally diverse and representative? To cultivate the feminine, the masculine, in your self? To encourage the development of serious students into valuable teachers, women and men alike? Who are your teachers? In daily life, what is your best teacher? What makes that possible?
Please do think about it.
In closing, I’d like to offer two different views on the “not enough” syndrome. One which leads to someone going ahead and teaching, and one which leads to someone opting not to. I relate more to the latter, but I also applaud the courage of the former and am hugely grateful that she is bringing the fruits of her practice to a group that may otherwise not have any access. I respect that it takes time to season and develop as a student, as a teacher, as a phenomenal human being. But I also think we need to stretch ourselves so that we can be all three all the time.
Do you ever think that you’re not good enough? I respectfully suggest you question that assumption.
Acceptance is a big thing. When any of us dig down through all the layers of trying to get it right and wondering what others think about us, it’s likely that we’ll stick at a level of the murky but familiar self-judgement: ‘Not good enough.’ Have you ever wondered what it would take to be ‘good enough?’ Would it arise through having more of this quality, or less of that? Or is it a matter of trying harder? However, the likelihood is that all that doubt and struggle is going to hamper one’s performance or cramp one’s heart – so that the end result is more ‘not good enough.’ So it’s just downright pragmatic to begin with self-acceptance: ‘At this time, this sense of being me feels like this.’ There’s clarity and calm in that. Right now we can’t be any other way, but we’ll certainly operate at an optimum and run a lot smoother if clarity and calm replace that nagging ‘not good enough.’
*If you dispute this assertion, just take a look at the 100 most spiritually influential people (I have no idea how they come up with this), or the guests interviewed on say Buddhist Geeks (they actually have a separate category for “female voices”). There are certainly women represented, but they are usually not of the same caliber, or aren’t even teachers per se, and one wonders if they weren’t just selected for their gender as opposed to their wisdom.
Is It Cold in Here? | Cocktail Party Physics, Scientific American (another context–but similar subtle discrimination)
Reflections: Ajahn Sucitto | Spiritual Friendship, Part 1 (source of the “not good enough” quote)
Practice by Barry Briggs at Ox Herding, on the ultimate of ultimate “not enoughs”