67 – Never Enough

In this podcast episode, I will discuss how the attitude of “never enough” can lead to a form emotional abuse that we inflict on our selves. I will discuss the idea of how letting go of the unhealthy views, ideas, and beliefs we have of ourselves can lead to a form of liberation where we are finally vulnerable and free to fly.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 67. I am your host Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about our tendency to feel like things are never enough. So the title of this podcast episode, Never Enough comes from a song in the musical, The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman. If you have seen it, there is a song in that movie called Never Enough and I really like that song. I think it has a really powerful message that to me quite honestly seems like the anthem of our society, it’s a way of thinking that seems to permeate our societal views and our expectations towards life, towards others, and towards ourselves. If you think about this when it comes to physical things like having a house, there is this mentality of never enough.

You can have a great home and you’re always daydreaming of what that bigger house would have or, “This house is great but it would be better with the pool.” Same with our jobs, “This job would be great but if I could just get paid more, or I had a better title, or if I could get moved up to the office with the corner window view.” Whatever it is, there’s this tendency to think of never enough. We’re always seeking after more. We do this with our relationships, we do this with our experiences and our feelings. You can be feeling great about something in life but that’s never enough, we’re always looking for the next thing. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I think this tendency has driven us as individuals, but also collectively as a species, as a society to be able to make leaps and bounds in terms of comforts, technological innovations, because there is this drive that seems to motivate us for a better life and it’s always happening.

So I don’t want to give off the impression that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it can get tricky if we just have a habitual tendency to react to this desire to have more and more and more. When we understand it, when we understand ourselves, we can see this in ourselves and we can become more skillful with how we handle this natural human tendency, where we can pause for a moment and say, “Is this a worthwhile pursuit or has this become an unskillful habitual form of reactivity where I’m just never going to be content with what I have.” We can be more skillful with how we handle this natural human emotion. So I do want to be clear about that. But in the song, if any of you have ever heard it, she’s talking about how all the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough, never be enough. Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough. That’s the message conveyed in that song. It’s a really catchy tune.

Like I said earlier, I really like that song and I like belting it out in the car, which is hard to do because it’s really high notes. So it would be embarrassing if anyone ever heard that. But again, I think we live in a society where we view life as never enough. And what I want to talk about in this episode is specifically, how does that start to influence how we view others. I think that can be one of the more dangerous ways. I want to correlate this notion of never enough, to how some people end up getting entangled in a much bigger and more serious problem, and that’s the problem of emotional abuse. The abuse that we receive from others or that we give to others. And I would assume most of you know of someone who has gone through some form of emotional abuse, I was just talking to someone about … So I was talking to someone who heard from someone who had been confided in by a dear friend of that person, who’s going through a difficult time with emotional abuse in a relationship.

And hearing this conversation unfold, it was interesting to be able to feel a sense of anger and frustration towards that situation, because you care for the person who’s going through this. But what was interesting to me was how this person who was telling me about this experience and seeing in this person the anger, and the total unacceptability on behalf of this friend who was going through this. And I think that was great to hear in the sense that, Wow, we don’t we don’t put up with that, we we want what’s best for our friends, for our loved ones.” But it did get me thinking a little bit, because so many of the things that were being described in this specific situation, in this relationship in terms of an emotional abuse, seemed to stem from this notion of never enough. This spouse was being … is emotional abused because the abuser has this mindset that this person is not good enough, a good enough spouse, or a good enough parent, or a good enough partner. In all these different realms and aspects of the relationship there’s the sense of not being enough, so then there’s the intimidation and all the other emotional abuse that was unfolding.

But again, what I started thinking about as I was listening to all this is, “Man, a lot of the symptoms seem to be very common in how we deal with ourselves.” So it got me thinking … I looked up what is the definition and the symptoms of emotional abuse. There are tons of resources online for people dealing with emotional abuse, but this stood out to me because one definition of emotional abuse is, any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation or any other treatment, which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth. And I really paused for a moment thinking, “Oh man, so many of us do this to ourselves all the time. And how fascinating that we would be so indignant hearing about somebody else enduring this from somebody else, but rarely do we pause and feel that same sense of indignation when we realize how guilty we all are of doing this to ourselves at one time or another.” It mentioned some of the specific signs and symptoms of emotional abuse. And listen to some of these and just imagine … Imagine yourself, have you ever done any of this to yourself? Yelling or swearing, calling names or insults, a form of mockery, mocking, any kind of threat or intimidation, anything that is humiliating.

I thought, “Man, we all talk to ourselves in these tones, swear at ourselves.” You, “Blah, blah, blah,” talking to yourself, or calling insults. I’m sure everybody listening to this has called themselves an idiot or felt, not just called yourself that, but genuinely felt like you are such an idiot because of something you did or didn’t do. Threats and intimidation, “Man, if you ever do this again, I don’t know.” Any kind of threat. Some people punish themselves, “I wont buy this thing that I want, or I’ll take this back,” or I don’t know. So I wanted to change the direction of that topic because I think all of us can immediately identify that if we had a friend come to us and tell us about the type of emotional abuse that they were enduring, we would all feel incensed and a form of outrage and we would want to do something about it. But when change that direction and we look inward, and ask ourselves, “Are we emotionally abusive to ourselves?” I think it gets a little harder. And if you listen to that list again of symptoms and signs, and you genuinely ask yourself, “Do you do this to yourself?” I think a lot of people would have to acknowledge that yeah, they do. If not from time to time, maybe all the time, I always talk to myself that way.

And this correlates going back to Episode 57, I quoted something from Tara Brachi’s book, Radical Acceptance. And I want to spell Tara Brachi’s name, T.A.R.A. B.R.A.C.H.I. I had feedback from a podcast listener that I think was excellent feedback, to mention the spelling of names when I’m referencing people or their books, because not everyone has heard of these people. So I’m going to try to do that from now on. Thank you for the feedback. But she mentions, and I quoted this in Episode 57. She says, “Our culture’s guiding myth is the story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. And we may forget it’s power because it seems so worn and familiar, but this story shapes and reflects the deep psyche over the West. The  message of original sin is unequivocal, because of our basic flawed nature, we do not deserve to be happy, loved by others or at ease with life. We are outcasts and if we are to reenter the garden, we must redeem our sinful selves. We must overcome our flaws by controlling our bodies, controlling our emotions, controlling our natural surroundings, controlling other people and we must strive tirelessly working, acquiring, consuming, achieving, emailing, over-committing and rushing in a never ending quest to prove ourselves once and for all.”

I think that sentiment correlates pretty well with this notion of never enough. It’s like we’re striving tireless to prove ourselves. And when I have all these incredible things, the car that I have, or the house, or for the relationship, it’s like, “I’ve got to have more. It’s got to be better, it’s got to be a newer car, a faster car, a bigger house, or a house with more amenities,” or the relationship, “It’s got to be even more and more perfect.” So this sets us up to be in a position where it’s easy to be emotionally abusive to ourselves, because we don’t see ourselves as worthy. I want to correlate this entire conversation with another teaching, another notion that I think goes really well with it. And this is something I shared earlier this week on the Secular Buddhism Podcast Community Facebook group. So this is a teaching that comes from Pema Chodron and her name is P.E.M.A. C.H.O.D.R.O.N.. And there’s a little book called The Pocket, Pema Chodron and I’ve been sharing daily teachings of hers on the Facebook group. But one that I share that she wrote is called, Everything Has To Go.

And I want to read it to you really quickly because I think it goes well with this topic. But she says, “All of us are like eagles who have forgotten that we know how to fly, the teachings are reminding us who we are and what we can do. They help us notice that we’re in a nest with a lot of old food, excrement and stale air. From when we were very young we’ve had this longing to go see the mountains in the distance and experience that big sky and the vast ocean. But somehow we got trapped in our nest, just because we forgot that we knew how to fly. We are like eagles but we have on underwear, and pants, and a shirt, and socks, and shoes, and a hat, and a coat, and boots, and mittens, and an iPod, and dark glasses and it occurs to us, that we could experience the vast sky but we better start taking off some of this stuff. So we take off the coat and the hat and it’s cold, but we know that we have to do it. And we teeter on the edge of the nest and we take off. Then we find out for ourselves that everything has to go. You just can’t fly when you’re wearing socks, and shoes, and coats, and pants, and underwear. Everything has to go.”

And to me this teaching that she shares is about the vulnerability of being naked in terms of our ideas and our our beliefs, specifically about ourselves. The underwear, the coat, and the boots, these all represent the comforting concepts and ideas that we cling to. Maybe comforting isn’t the right word, I guess you could say comforting in the sense that we’re used to them, but really they’re hindering us. I think often the emotional abuse that we inflict on ourselves comes through our deeply held views and beliefs that we have about who we are, or who we think we’re supposed to be, or who we think we’re not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to look or act a certain way, we’re not supposed to be lost or confused or have doubts about things, we’re supposed to have it all together. And I think that’s why in our society we tend to portray our life in a certain way on social media. And I think all of you have seen this or know what it’s like to see an Instagram feed or a Facebook news feed where everything just looks peachy and hunky-dory.

Thinking about last week’s podcast episode, The Layers of Experience. I think this happens in how we portray our lives. We may be feeling a certain level of discontent with how we think our life is, but then there’s this other layer, the secondary layer is when I share a certain image of what my life seems like and people seem to respond to that, now there’s a sense of satisfaction in the sharing. And that tends to cover up the discomfort of the actual experience of living. So there’s the experience of living that may not be very comfortable, but then I’m sharing the life that I want you to think that I living, and that gives me a sense of comfort because at least I feel like you think I’ve got it all figured out. But we’re still in the same boat that I talked about last week, which is the layers of experience. So it takes an incredible amount of courage to be able to take it all off and to just be there, experiencing life as it unfolds without the comfort of what we’re used to in terms of our concepts and ideas and beliefs. But just letting go and being ready to fly.

And you have to let go of an idea or concept of belief to be able to feel that sense of feeling lighter. I would assume many of you have felt this before, what does it feel like when you’ve let go of a view that you had about yourself or about someone else, and then you can just be around that person and you feel lighter. There’s no more judgment, there’s no more measuring of who they are in that moment versus who you think they should be, but you can do this with yourself. Imagine the sense of lightness that you would feel if you felt worthy of being who you are, there’s no scale anymore that’s saying, “Well, I’m good but if I could just be this or that I would be better.” You can go back and listen to that podcast episode called, We Don’t Need To Change Ourselves. That’s what this message is alluding to.

So where does this process of everything has to go, where does that start? We can start with looking at the views and expectations that you have for yourself, look at your pervasive or recurring thoughts and emotions, because they come from somewhere, they come influenced by views. And it’s really about letting go of thoughts in the sense of changing the relationship we have to our thoughts. I think there’s a misconception here that what we need to do is stop thinking about ourselves a certain way. And I want to give you an example from my own life that has been a very powerful way for me to experience this sense of introspection. So some of you know that one of the catalysts for getting into mindfulness in the first place was going through a really difficult phase in life where I had experienced a hardship. And in my experience there was a pervasive thought that arose out of this experience. And for me this thought was the thought of, “You’re not lovable, you’re not wanted, you’re not I guess likable.” But really it was … It’s been a pervasive thought for me.

And it arises and it complicates aspects of my relationship at times because an argument or things that can be very natural and normal in a relationship for me can trigger this pervasive recurring thought of, “You’re just not lovable. You’re not loved and no matter what you do, you’ll never be worthy of being loved.” And that’s been a difficult recurring thought for me, a very difficult emotion to deal with because it’s easy to believe your own thoughts. An  for years my meditative practice was built around the idea that if I could get mindful enough, if I could meditate long enough, somehow I could finally eradicate this thought. Like it’s a weed in my mind and I could finally pluck it or pick it and it’d be gone. And to my frustration, years and years of practice, it wasn’t going away. I mean I think to be honest it minimized it, it wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it used to be, it used to be a recurring thought and then it would become … from time to time it would take a certain thing to trigger the thought.

But man, once the thought was there, the thought would immediately induce a certain emotion. It would cause certain memories to arise, it was like a spiral of feelings thoughts and emotions that would build on each other. The thought would trigger an emotion, which would trigger a memory, and the memory would trigger another emotion, that emotion would trigger another thought. And there I was spiraling in this form of disturbing or uncomfortable feelings. But what I found with time was that, the problem wasn’t the pervasive thought, the problem was that I believed my own thought. So what changed over time was the relationship that I had with the thought, but not the thought itself magically going away. And every now and then it still surfaces as a recurring thought for me, but when it does what’s changed again is the relationship I have with the thought. Now I almost smile and just see it for what it is. It’s that pervasive thought, there it is again and I see it with a greater sense of compassion and fondness, almost a softer tone to it rather than feeling aggressive like, “I need to get rid of that thought.”

I see it for what it is, I get why it’s there. Past experiences, past feelings and emotions cause this thought to become a recurring thought. And I can see that, I see it for what it is and when it arises I see it and it’s like I say, “Well, there you are and that’s fine. You can be there, I don’t believe you anymore. Just because I thought it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s reality.” And that has been an incredibly powerful transformation for me in terms of the relationship I have with my own thoughts. I don’t believe my own thoughts anymore. I’m very cautious about what I believe or what I don’t believe, just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true and that was where the power of that specific pervasive thought, you’re not lovable, lost a lot of it’s power. So I would hope that anyone listening to this would … If you heard about somebody going through emotional abuse, I would hope that you would feel a tremendous sense of concern to want to do something about it to help a friend get out of a relationship that’s causing where there’d been emotional abuse.

I think most of us would. I don’t think we’d be like, “Hey, well you know just deal with it.” I think most of us would say, “Hey, this is a very serious thing. We need to look at this, what can you do to get out of this relationship? This is unhealthy for you.” I think we would have a lot of genuine concern for that person. I would hope that you would have the same level of concern about your own emotional abuse if you were to detect … if you were to be honest with yourself and detect any of those signs and symptoms of emotional abuse coming from yourself directed towards yourself. And I think there are a couple of tips to get started with this process of being more vulnerable, this process of recognizing everything has to go and that is, first recognizing it’s going to take enormous courage. It takes small steps. For me it was something as simple as asking a loved one, what are they thinking about, becoming more comfortable with not knowing how that answer is going to unfold or what it’s going to say about me or where are they going to think about me and being proud about the bravery of being willing to take those little steps. And being more vulnerable, more exposed so to speak.

If you tend to worry a lot about other people … What other people think of you, which I think is a lot of people. Most of us have that. Recognize that tendency and just remember most people are probably feeling that exact same fear that you have, and really they’re just focused on their own internal struggles and not necessarily on you. What they think about you, says more about them than it does about you. It’s helpful to remember that. Now that doesn’t magically make this feeling go away, but it is a helpful reminder that they feel the same thing. Most of us we’re hard wired for this as humans, as social creatures to be very skillful at reading what we think others are interpreting of us. It’s normal and it’s natural but it’s helpful to recognize they’re feeling the same thing. And when things are feeling a little bit too overwhelming, you can always focus your attention inward on your breath, on the sensations in your body for a few moments and just try to visualize what would life be like for you once everything has gone, once the coat, and the shoes, and socks, and everything. Everything that’s holding you back from being free to fly, free to be you.

I’ve talked about this before Buddhism is often referred to as the path of liberation. It’s not called the path to happiness. It’s called the path of liberation for a reason because what we’re bound by in so many instances is the poisons of greed, and hatred, and delusion. And in this case I think delusion specifically around the views that we have about ourselves and others and about life, and thinking that there’s always things are supposed to be. Being able to live a life where we’re liberated from that, where we’re free as Pema talks about that, “To be the Eagles that we realize that we are capable of flight, capable of of souring but oftentimes grounded by all the unnecessary weight of the unnecessary accessories that come in the form of ideas, and beliefs, and and concepts that we hold about ourselves. So that’s the topic I wanted to share in this podcast episode.

I hope that you’ll be willing to take a few moments this week and just look inward and be honest and ask yourself, “How do I talk to myself? Am I emotionally abusive to myself? And if so, what am I willing to do to make a change in this relationship that I have with myself, the relationship I have with my with my thoughts, my recurring thoughts, the thoughts that can be aggressive towards myself. Do I believe those thoughts? Like I mentioned earlier the belief that I had about me. That belief or that thought, it’s a recurring thought but I don’t believe it. And just to spend some time being introspective about yourself, how are you towards you? That’s I guess the question that I hope you’ll sit with this week and I hope you’ll be able to experience a sense of lightness as you start to let go of things, as you start to realize everything has to go in order to have that liberation to fly like Pema talks about.

So that’s all I’ve got for today. I mentioned last week that I am trying really hard to have weekly episodes, and I’m excited because I did one last week and here I am doing another one on Sunday evening. I’m going to make Sunday the day that I record these. And I’ll either release them Sunday night or Monday mornings, because statistically during research on the website I realize Monday, there’s a huge spike in searches online for mindfulness, which I think is really telling. Monday everyone wants to be really mindful. And guess when it drops? It starts to drop on Friday. So Friday and Saturday are the two lowest days for podcast listens, for downloads, for web searches everything, and not just online, but keywords on Google like mindfulness or how to meditate or anything along those lines, drop dramatically on Friday and Saturday. They start to increase Sunday evening, which I just think is so fascinating. Sunday evening and Monday we are in full force looking for how to be more mindful.

So I want to release podcast episodes either Sunday night or Monday morning. Mindful Monday, we could call it, and give you something that you can think about for that week, that can be a lesson or something that you keep with you throughout the week. So I hope this podcast episode has been enjoyable and beneficial to you. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode feel free to share it with others. You can read a review, give it a rating in iTunes. And if you want to join that online community I was talking about, you can visit secularBuddhism.com/community and I have a link on that page to the Facebook group. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit SecularBuddhism.com, and then click on the link up at the top that says Donate, it’s on the menu. And that’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

About the Author
Noah Rasheta is a Buddhist teacher, lay minister, and author, as well as the host of the podcast Secular Buddhism. He teaches mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy online and in workshops all around the world. He works with others to make the world a better place as he studies, embodies, and teaches the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, integrating Buddhist teachings with modern science, humanism, and humor. He lives in Kamas, Utah, with his wife and three kids.