How to Be Kind to Yourself

Dealing with Loss, Anger and Sadness

 Q: My partner and I just broke up. I don’t want to feel anger or jealousy, but I feel it anyway. I feel anger. How can I have compassion for myself?

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: There are two questions here actually––one about hating someone and one about losing someone. In both cases it’s important to be kind to yourself.

I think it’s quite common that we sometimes experience a kind of hatred toward certain individuals. Hating, just feeling this sense of aggression itself, is not a problem. The problem is when you reify it, when you make it strong and solid, and you spin your head around it again and again with projections. That becomes self-destructive. It causes problems deep in our mind.

So when you experience this element of hatred or anger, if you direct your mind toward this experience, inwardly, then you can see the energy or power of this emotion. You can feel it vibrating. You can see, you can feel mentally, this anger. The energy itself is pure. It’s perfectly fine, just as it is. The question is how you express this energy.

If you express this energy of anger with thoughts––spinning thoughts––or with action, then it becomes painful to yourself and others. One way you can deal with it is to simply experience the energy, and then when your mind starts to go spinning, say to yourself, “Oh don’t do that . . . .” Do this instead of saying, “Don’t be angry.” Because that’s almost impossible. But you can stop the projections.

Our projections based on anger and hatred are not too accurate, that’s the problem. In fact, our thoughts’ projections are usually proven wrong by thought itself. Right? You can see that by taking a look at your thought projections from the past––how you believe this or that is true, or that it’s real or unreal, that it’s a good thing or a bad thing, or “This is really cool. This is a really cool jacket.” You can see how you believe in that, but then the next year, it’s not cool anymore. Right? So your thought itself proves the earlier thought was wrong. When we reify and invest so much in the thought, it’s a problem.

So let’s leave the projections for now and then let’s work with this energy. Just be with and relax in the anger energy. In that way you develop a sense of kindness toward yourself. You’re not telling yourself it is bad that you’re angry. There’s nothing bad about feeling anger.

Sadness comes naturally with a breakup of a relationship. That is difficult, but I think sometimes we miss a certain point here. It’s like the four seasons. No matter how much you like the summer, you have to move into the autumn. No matter how much you dread the winter, you have to move into the winter, too. Similarly, the whole world is changing constantly, and with this change comes the experience of losing.

Losing a friend is part of the nature of change. And I know it’s easier said than done because when you lose your parent or a friend, it’s very difficult. But what really helps me sometimes, though not always, is to think of loss in this way. That this is the changing nature of things. Spring changing into summer, autumn, then winter. So sometimes we have to let ourselves accept that. We have to accept the change then move on to the next thing. That doesn’t mean we can’t have good wishes for our partner, or good feelings about what was lost. But at the same time, to accept that change is inevitable.

Dealing with Self Hatred 

Q: How do you deal with self-hatred?

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: It’s okay to feel self-hatred, as long as you don’t hate others. Self-hatred, or low self esteem, is actually pretty common.

What I understand is that the sense of self-hatred has to do with poverty mentality. You’re always thinking that what you see outside is better than what you see inside. That’s what the Buddha taught was the basic human suffering. I was happy to see that confirmed by the song from The Rolling Stones, I can’t get no satisfaction. I mean, if [Mick Jagger] can’t get no, then who can? There is a sense of dissatisfaction or discontentment, some sense of poverty. We think, “That other person is so good. They’re so relaxed and I’m so bad,” and so on.

When you focus on this kind of thought too much, then self-hatred becomes too intense. Another aspect of it is just a cultural attitude––the sense of an originally negative, sinful nature, as well as the conditioning that comes with your upbringing. Each person’s upbringing is different, of course.

Instead of getting down on ourselves when we see something negative, we must think, “Nobody is perfect. We all have pros and cons.” When you see the negative side in yourself, you can say, “Oh this is a great opportunity for me to see and change this.” So I think the most helpful approach is to see that everyone’s imperfect. We all have habits and attitudes we need to work on.

If everything is perfect, then it’s not samsara, you know. We’re working with the elements of samsara here. That’s why my teacher Khenpo Rinpoche always says, “Erring and Erring, we walk down the unerring path.” That’s a mantra for me.