This will be a very helpful and practical book for many people, dealing as it does with how we can work with our feelings of unworthiness in order to transform them through awareness. It’s a much needed book as well, since this is a topic that traditional Buddhism scarcely touches on, self-loathing being a particularly western phenomenon (the Dalai Lama was completely perplexed when told that many westerners had problems with self-hatred, and had never come across this amongst eastern Buddhists).
Brach introduces various tools to help deal with the scourge of self-hatred, and incidentally introduces the very moving stories of some of her patients who have worked through these issues using those same tools. I really was close to tears as I witnessed people accepting feelings that they had been running from for years, and making strides towards self-acceptance.
First and foremost amongst the tools offered is of course mindfulness, which introduces into our experience what Brach calls a “sacred pause”. Mindfulness is a nonreactive state of mind that avoids running away from or indulging in our problematic emotions, allowing us to fully acknowledge what is present. Brach teaches how to use an awareness of the body to escape from the “trance of unworthiness”. She teaches the metta bhavana (development of lovingkindness) and the closely related Tibetan Tonglen meditation practices, in order to cultivate more self-love, as well as the karuna bhavana (development of compassion) to help us become less self-absorbed. And lastly she touches on the Tibetan practice of Dzogchen, or “great perfection” which involves relaxing into an awareness of the mind’s inherent purity.
Over the course of this book then, we are taken from learning to acknowledge and accept who we are, including our self-hatred and sense of unworthiness, to seeing the inherent purity of the mind that Buddhism says is always there beneath the surface. At every stage of the way, Brach supplies meditation exercises (sometimes more than one per chapter) to help make the material experiential rather than merely theoretical.
And in making her points she quotes widely; from Sufis, modern western poets like David Whyte and T.S. Eliot, and from teachers from all of the Buddhist traditions — Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen — from past and present. In fact the breadth of her knowledge is quite astonishing, and I felt privileged to be given a glimpse into so many different worlds, all unified within a single perspective.
The tone throughout is compassionate and confessional, and in showing how she has worked through her own difficulties Brach gives one of the highest teachings that anyone has to offer — that of exemplifying the path.