Through this spring and summer, we have been investigating some of the painful emotions that interfere with inner peace. This is important work. It is not always easy to face certain tendencies we have been carrying. But until we do, we miss out on our true capacity to feel peaceful, happy, and connected. Today, I would like to take a look at an emotion we may not necessarily recognize as contributing to our pain: that of pride.
We tend to misunderstand what pride really is and how it affects our beings on all levels. Often, we think of it as a healthy sense of accomplishment, such as feeling proud of coming in first place in a race. This is a natural response to praise. The issue with doing so is that if we hinge our sense of self on something external, then when that thing no longer makes us feel good, we are left collapsed and wayward. It is like leaning on a slender willow tree for support. We cannot get lasting strength from it.
We may also think of pride as a way to push back against shame we perceive from others. But when we live our life in opposition to something, we are reacting to an energy of oppression and defining ourselves in relation to it instead of knowing our own value.
In fact, pride has two faces: feeling better than or less than another. Both are egoic tendencies that bask in a sense of “mine”, falsely perceiving ourselves as separate from the whole.
The best-known expression of pride is self-inflation, in which we feel better than and above others. With a sense that you have it all figured out, you may unconsciously see yourself as supreme and everyone else as minions serving you. The vast majority of the time, this is not overt. Most of us do not consciously think this way. Yet, look at your actions. Have you ever assumed you know better than the people around you? Do you ever dismiss a person, a group of co-workers or friends, or even the rest of humanity in one grand sweeping assumption, because you are sure that you know best? When you have deadlines that require the help of others, do you complete your own work well enough in advance that they can contribute without stress, or do you compel them to drop their own tasks on a moment’s notice in order to meet your needs? Does the idea of admitting imperfection in front of others feel unthinkable? Many people suffer in this way. It leaves us distant, out of touch from the fullness of life and who we truly are. It can bring no lasting sense of love, self-love or inner peace.
The other face of pride is self-deflation, putting ourselves below others. We may think of this as humility, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is no humility in insisting that we—loved and welcomed parts of an interconnected whole—are somehow loathsome or inferior. It is like saying we know better than Nature, the universe and the divine. In this self-abasement, we are unconsciously and passively seeking attention and care. If we look deeper, we see that by sinking into a disconnected sense of self, we are actually trying to attract love. Yet this is not possible, as we are not whole within ourselves to meet any lasting love. We cannot find interconnection when feeling disconnected. We become like Gollum, the creature from The Lord of the Rings. Hidden in the recesses of a dark cave, we obsessively polish a gleaming ring of “mine” while calling it “precious”. As we cling to the shiny object, we are closed to our true nature as eternal light.
What Gollum holds onto gives him his sense of temporary purpose. But it does not actually support him. Instead it is like a psychological poison, infusing his perception with a false sense of self. Both kinds of pride are like this. It perversely revels in the idea that you are superlatively good or bad, exalted or lowly. It makes you feel special, yet deeply disconnected. When you feel pride, therefore, you are unable to actually get the lasting fulfilment, joy and love that you desire.
When we identify with feeling “I am so great” or “I am no good”, as though either were who we are, we rob ourselves of the authentic experience of being. Whether we wear a façade glittering with gold medals, or one clad with tattered rags, we eclipse the opportunity to meet ourselves in this moment as we are.
We know deep down that a new coat, pair of shoes or sports car won’t make us feel good. In the same way, if we need to either glitter or be tattered to feel right about who we are, we are attached to something outside ourselves to make us feel complete. We have become constrictive and disconnected from simply being ourselves. When we know we are children of Nature and the universe, we have nothing to prove to anything or anyone. When we feel part of it all, there is nothing to be better than, or less than. We can use anything to feed our sense of being better or worse than another. To the wise and awakened, however, each one of us is no greater than or less than the rocks and dirt upon which we walk, or the stars and sky that expand above us.
PRACTICE: WITNESSING PRIDE
If you feel proud, notice it without judgment and say to yourself, “Pride.” To say, “Pride because…” would be to justify pride in some way. In so doing, you support your attachment to it. Simply say, “Pride,” with as much neutrality as possible.
When you first start to practice becoming aware of pride, you may feel overwhelmed. Think that you are doing repetitions at the mindfulness gym. You are developing a new muscle, which takes time. Just continue to bring your awareness gently back to whatever this moment is for you. The tendency to feel proud, and the resistance to noticing it, will likely return from time to time. Continue to first understand pride for what it is – an expression of your ego that will keep you feeling disconnected from inner peace, joy and love. Then witness it. See it as it is, without any story attached to it. When you no longer give power to pride, release happens automatically.