Getting Free Of Self-Importance Is The Key To Happiness: Polly Young-Eisendrath at TEDxMiddlebury


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Hello there. I’m really happy to be here. I might need a prop. Because what I’m going to talk about today
involves being here with you, I would like to say hello
and hear you say hello to me. So, I’m going to say hello. Can you say hello to me? (Audience) Hello. So I know you’re there, you know? It’s like ‘om’ing together or something. It’s true that the better part
of my adult life, I have been spending
trying to put together the wisdom of Buddhism
and the insights of Western psychology. I do that in my day job as well,
I just wanted you to know that, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m speaking about the subject
that I’m speaking about today. On an everyday basis,
I meet with people in psychotherapy, many of them are very much
like the presenters here at TED; others are just slightly
neurotic Buddhists; and others are people who have, in many ways, done incredible things
in the world and in their lives. And yet, to a person, and over all of the years
that I have been doing therapy, I would say that the biggest
suffering that I meet is people not liking themselves. And so that underlying
sort of self-hatred, whether you’re a Buddhist
and you’ve been meditating for years, or you have done wonderful
projects in the world, seems to be a very troubling situation
in our society today. It’s something that actually made
the Dalai Lama weep at one point when he heard that Americans
don’t like themselves. So I thought that it would be important to talk about the issues
that surround what I’m going to call ‘self-importance’ and happiness. Self-importance, as I’m defining it, is actually the tendency that we have to make ourselves
the center of our experience. That is, that we imagine
that we control our lives; we imagine that we can manage things; we imagine that our consciousness
comes from, somehow, inside ourselves, from our brain or from
our awareness or whatever. And then, with this sense
of self-importance, that is, this focus on ourself as center,
we don’t feel important at all. Instead, actually, we often feel
haunted by negative commentary, like judging ourselves
in terms of the way we look; what we are capable of doing; we compare ourselves to others
in terms of our thinness, our wealth, our fastness, our smarts, and we always come up lacking. Even if we feel superior, we come up lacking
because we feel superior. I had a young man come
to see me in therapy one day, and he sat down across from me – very nice looking, graduated
from a college like Middlebury, it wasn’t Middlebury –
and I said, “So what’s up?” And he said, “I am suffering
from feelings of superiority.” And, of course, those feelings
made him feel very bad about himself. So, this tendency
to feel that we control our lives, and that we manage things ourselves, actually has been enhanced
in this period of time; you must recognize that. And it is a very big mistake. We are not the fixers
or the fashioners of our own lives, but it’s a mistake
that we’re making a lot, and pretty much, I think,
untroubled by reality in making it. So, let me look at happiness, then,
in the way that I’m defining it, because I think that happiness is something you all recognize
from your own experience. And I’m defining happiness
as that state of being in which you do not
want to be in another state. When you’re happy, you’re not restless,
you’re not distracted. You don’t have a desire
to be doing something else. In fact, you’re completely engaged
and involved in your direct experience. And you recognize this
from your own experience: it occurs when you’re making love – not always, but sometimes – it occurs when you’re,
maybe, rock climbing – maybe again, not always,
but a lot of the time – sometimes when you’re
doing yoga, meditating, problem-solving certain kinds of problems, certain kinds of creativity. It’s been widely studied,
and sometimes it’s called ‘being in the flow’
or ‘being in the zone.’ So what happens to your self
when you’re really happy is that that sense of self
drops away altogether, doesn’t it? You know, you forget yourself. You’re certainly not comparing yourself
to someone else at those moments or you lose that flow. We all know that in our experience. Also, when we’re in this state
of happiness, as I’m calling it, we don’t have the experience or the sense
that we are fashioning our own world. Instead, our ideas come to us. And they seem to come in a way
that’s kind of like a flow, in other words,
whether we want them or not. And so, instead of having this sense
that we’re thinking things up, or we’re making something happen, it seems as though
things are happening to us. So, you can see right off
that there’s a real contrast between this kind of self-importance
in which we don’t feel important at all, and happiness, in which
the sense of self disappears. I became a Buddhist a long time ago – it seems embarrassingly long, actually,
I think I may be 105 up here; actually I’m older than I look,
and I don’t like to talk about my age, because I feel there’s a lot of prejudice,
so I’m not going to tell you how old I am; you can find out easily. (Laughter) Everything’s on the web these days. So, I did take vows in 1971, and I practice something
called Zen Buddhism and also something called Vipassana, and I’ve been practicing for many years; I’m now a meditation teacher
as well as a lot of other things. Also, I became a psychologist,
in 1980 I finished my PhD. And in 1986 I became a Jungian analyst, so I did a lot of ‘becoming’
for a long time. And then I’ve done a lot
of practicing of those things. And over these years I’ve really wondered
about trying to put together two things that come from these practices
that are hard to convey. One thing is a self – the sense of
what is an individual self? If I ask you guys,
“What do you think a self is?” I’d get as many answers
that there are people in the room. And the other thing is this Buddhist teaching
of no-self or non-self – very hard to convey to people, even though it’s kind of available to you
when you’re having direct experience, as I implied a moment ago. So, I have actually
brought along a painting that could help us a little bit in putting together these two concepts
that are hard to teach. This is actually a contemporary replica of a fifth or sixth century
type of Chinese landscape painting. As you see, the world is presented
as a vast and mysterious place. And over here, on a cliff, those are us, there; that’s you. Tiny little being, intense little being,
little story-telling being that stands on the edge of the cliff and looks out at this vast world
telling stories. Now, the Chinese meant to indicate that we should pay much more attention
to this vast and mysterious world than to this little point over here, because they believed that nature
was actually making us conscious, that it was teaching us. Now, in this period of time, we have a much more complex sense
of a lot of things than the Chinese had. But I think this painting helps
in one very important way, which is that the world
as it is appearing to you and to me, in this moment,
we are in this space together, all together and all at once. That means I’m not over here
with my little separate self, and you’re over there with yours; we are participating in a fabric of being
that we do not understand. And if you are not fascinated
by that all of the time, it is because you’re collapsing
back into this tiny little center, and you are worrying yourself to death
with your self-consciousness. So, why do we do this? Well, psychology has helped us understand that there are certain emotions
that motivate human beings, that do not motivate the other animals. We often talk about how we’re animals,
and how we’re like the other animals, but there are some ways
that we’re really different. And one of those ways
is our self-conscious emotions. These emotions begin to develop
in the second half of the first year – 18 months to two years. By the two year time,
we have what we call the ‘terrible twos,’ because the toddler is saying, “No. I’m in here; the world is out there. This is mine; and no.” And that’s the beginning of the birth
of the ego in the human being, and then that development
of the self-conscious emotions, it continues, particularly
through our maturation, until about 25 years old, and gives us what we call
‘executive functioning’ – our ability to govern our lives,
to make decisions for ourselves. At the same time,
these self-conscious emotions do not drop away once
they’re no longer needed for motivation, but they actually organize our being,
moment to moment, when our, you might say, ego is aroused. And at that moment,
we’re motivated to feel that we are separate
from everything that’s out there and to compare ourselves to others. That’s what these emotions do. They do many good things for us,
but they also load onto us an enormous load of negativity,
if we engage in them. So, I’ve put four of the self-conscious emotions up here that are an example
of the way that they motivate us. This is not the whole list. I will just say that the others
that are often talked about are pride, and self-pity,
and embarrassment, but these four are biggies when it comes
to how you feel about yourself. So let me focus
especially first on ‘shame.’ Shame is one of the self-conscious
feelings that the very best people that come to see me in therapy
generally feel a lot of; and this is the desire
to hide, cover up, lie, or die because you feel defective, because you feel like
there’s something about you that you cannot change, that is just you, but it’s different from other people
in a defective way. And of course, it might
be feelings of inferiority – more often it’s that – sometimes feelings of superiority, as the young man who sat across from me
and said he was suffering from that. But the feeling of shame is not
the same thing as the feeling of guilt. Guilt is the desire to repair wrong-doing. Shame is the desire
to hide it, to cover it up. And so when you feel shame,
when you feel defective, the only thing you can do is
stay at home, cover up, lie, disappear. And when you feel guilty, you can repair
your wrong-doing or your bad action because you feel responsible
for what you’ve done. But even then, guilt is an uncomfortable
self-conscious emotion. Many people feel responsible
for having created a life in which they feel they’ve made
the decisions that led to this or that. Now, I’m going to say a few things
about responsibility in a moment, but let me just touch
on envy and jealousy. Envy is the motivation to destroy
or attack what someone else has because you don’t feel
you can get it for yourself. And jealousy is the desire
to compete with someone else who has what you want
because you do feel you could get it. So envy and jealousy,
in these self-conscious emotions, motivate very different things, but in both cases they make us restless. Envy makes us restless in terms
of attacking what someone else has, like putting it down,
belittling it, minimalizing it, or even sometimes
attacking the other person outright. And jealousy, to compete with others,
and to see ourselves, really, always as not having enough, somehow, to succeed. So, these self-conscious emotions
motivate us in a way that make us feel like we can control
our lives and our decision-making, and that we should manage everything. Now, of course, we are
responsible for our actions, and we’re responsible for our speech, but we are not responsible
for all the contingencies in our lives and that sort of mysterious universe that, actually, is always
a point of fascination. So, what to do
in order to arrive at a point where you can feel genuine happiness
on a moment-to-moment basis without years of sitting meditation, without having a direct
experience of the no-self: how can you shift your view a little bit
and come back to a point of view that I think people
have had traditionally? So first, I would recommend
that you experiment, and experiment with these three things
that I’ve put up on the board. The first one is to go back
to that Chinese painting and imagine that you are tiny
and the world is large. And at any moment that you feel bored, that you feel bored with yourself, stop, and be in contact
with the world in a simple way: feel the air on your face; look at the light in the room; see the colors, they’re not personal. But you can be in contact with the world in a very simple
and fascinating way quickly, and it will change,
it will shift your point of view. Second, spend a day or two or three
without looking in a mirror. We are obsessed with the way
we look in this period of time. People did not live
with mirrors or photographs or anything like this,
certainly not Facebook, for eons of time, and so they weren’t removed
from their experience by looking at themselves. Thirdly, become engaged
in your immediate world. People often talk about, and many wonderful things
have been said here today, about how to help in the world out there. But also look at the immediate environment in which you are arising,
moment to moment. That is, the room that you’re in
when you walk through a door, when you look up from
what you’re focusing on within yourself, look up and see if someone needs help,
if someone needs a smile, if a door needs to be opened. I guarantee, if you do that, you will find
that the world is reaching out to you all of the time. And so if you put
these three things together, and you recognize how fascinating
this world is, always, and you stop looking
at yourself in the mirror, and you open yourself to the way
that the world is reaching out to you, happiness is guaranteed almost 24/7. Thank you very much,
I hope that you find it, and I wish you blessings. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Getting Free Of Self-Importance Is The Key To Happiness: Polly Young-Eisendrath at TEDxMiddlebury”

  1. Well the human condition is no matter what success you achieve and how high your rank or rating is you feel like you're an underachiever and you should be at the next level that's called the human condition

  2. strange I felt like watching this was almost like reading a resume. For someone trying to teach about the selfless, she spends more of the presentation than I'd like referring to herself than was necessary.

  3. Go for a walk in your bare soles and stride with happiness. If it does not work….Then run bare sole until you can run no more and then begin dancing and chanting. If this does not bring you happiness in the moment. The go home, get in bed, pull the shit up over your head and die.
    mick
    Nat Geo
    Legend Of Mick Dodge

  4. ទាំងអញ្ញនិយមទាំងធាតុសៅហ្មងទាំងឡាយផ្សេងទៀតនឹងរលើងដាច់ឫសគល់អស់ តាមការប្រតិបត្តិសីល សមាធិ បញ្ញា ជាប់ជានិច្ច។

  5. Agree 100%, getting rid of self importance is the key, so how you do it?.

    By 100% service to people around you.

    I am trying, not easy.

  6. She talks about letting go of control to be happy. Like just "BE", man…. but she's scared to say how old she is. WTF, lady. You can't control your age.

  7. “You can choose to fight your journey every step of the way.

    Or you can embrace it, recognizing each stumble or setback as an opportunity to strengthen your character, finesse your craft, and deepen your passion.

    This journey can be beautiful, if only you allow yourself to enjoy the rain!”

  8. Getting rid of self importance was also were Don Juan from the Carlos Castaneda Books talked about

  9. I actually wish that people who write negative comments under other people's openly shared ideas would ask themselves what is realistically driving them to push a spike into another person's tyre. The desire to criticise must be motivated somehow… To me it looks like a supreme sign of us exhibiting our own superiority.

  10. Remember when we just followed Christs lessons. Of course we felt no shame…as He had forgiven us. Of course we were humble… as Jesus was & He commanded us to be servants of others.Knowing God loves us unconditionally gave us purpose & joy. He taught us whatsoever we do for the least of our brothers, that we do unto Him. Read the sermon on the mount….better than any TED talk.

  11. Yet another TED talk that convinces me that everything that takes more than 10 minutes to explain is a waste if time…

  12. Also, I would like to add that I think Polly Young-Eisendrath offers wisdom and learning through her great inner learni8ng experiences as well as her studies. There are not any 'sign up with me' deals advertised here. Therefore, I think she's in it for the sharing of wisdom, ie.for the good of mankind!! THANK YOU SO MUCH Polly Young-Eisendrath!!

  13. This just reminds me of the childlike happiness and wonder I felt while I was on psilocybin mushrooms. All of my anxieties just melted away because I was so enamoured with the nature around me. I was splashing in water, squishing my feet in clay, picking the glass and litter out of the creek with my friends. Nothing mattered and I really didn't care what people thought of me and I definitely did not feel self-absorbed and anxious as I usually do. My emotions just swung from left to right, moments of extreme energy to moments of silence and reflection, occasionally moments of extreme emotion that made me want to cry. I wonder if that's how a child feels. I would recommend shrooms when you are in a good mindset to find clarity in your life because I sure did.

  14. I love this message of focusing on others and not self. In my work with others and in my own life, I focus tremendously on self-concept and self-esteem…I believe that our sense of self is at the center of everything. But my beliefs and Polly's message align, I believe, wherein understanding my own sense of self (self-awareness) is what frees me to not be concerned with myself. The idea that I accept myself exactly as I am, with all my flaws, enables me to focus my energy on others. When "I'm ok" – it stops being about me, and that is where joy is born. Excellent message.

  15. The entire modern, western education seems to be based on uniqueness, where personal identity in the form of ego takes centre stage and sense self-importance deemed to be a virtue.

  16. You are late 60s/ early 70s…you don;t look "young" for your age (more self-importance?) you look very good for your age.

  17. I didn’t care how old she was until she said she wouldn’t tell me , now I must scour the Internet for the answer for no other reason except that it was made a big deal :p

  18. Her budhism doesn’t really work all the way, since she is still (after all those years being a budhist) not comfortable speaking about her age.
    Internal blockages (related to her interpretations/thoughts about her self, people and the world are still burdened with some kind of the unresolved past wounds/feelings that led to feelings of inadequacies of her self/people/the world)

  19. Why cant i just accept me and feel good enough? Hsp and free spirit that people have a hard time “figuring out”.

  20. Humbling yourself and stopping your ego can bring out vulnerability and happiness. I agree. The egotistical and depressed person play the victim and are very self absorbed. Intentionally or unintentional. It's isolating and lonely. A place based off of fear.

  21. NEVER understood what the TED conferences represent( actually WHO) I'M thinking left wingers and liberals mainly college kids with VERY little experience in life lol THIS lady is ACTUALLY opposite of REALITY lol YOUR SUCCESS lies ALMOST entirely upon YOUR value of YOUR importance ( it's the driving force behind motivation itself lol) and SUCCESS is the ONLY "key" that will EVER fit the "lock" of "happiness" because " happiness " depends entirely upon a multitude of different "variables" and it IS the SUCCESS or failure of these "variables" that inevitably determine the results PERIOD lol

  22. I'm underwhelmed by this speaker. This is what you get when Western individuation meets Jungian Mindfulness, a confabulation about how you alone are to be responsible for fixing the things about you that others broke.

  23. I feel what you're saying. I am a student of such things as Zen, Jungian Psychology, and the like.

    However, as strongly as I may feel about these subjects, I also feel equally strongly about the way of life, as it's represented now, in our contemporary experience.

    And so, I challenge spiritual beliefs to be truly pertinent…and relevant. It's easy to cast spiritual premises about, but the true indicator is how well they work.

    I'm a huge fan of spiritual underpinnings for the life that we live. But for that to be effective, it MUST show us that those underpinnings have to help us in some way.

    So, the indicator of how well a certain dogma may work is this:

    How is it working right now, in 'your life'?

    I hope that to be spiritual is the be more human for you.

  24. Any suggestions for a simple way to temporarily block the functionality of mirrors without having to remove them from their places?

  25. Happiness is a byproduct of giving of yourself to GOD and your fellow man.
    Read your Bible, it's all there.
    Christ said that the most important rule was to Love GOD with everything you have. And he included a second law and attached it to the first.
    Love your Neighbor or in another place in the Bible it defines it as treating others as you would have them treat you.
    Nowhere in the scriptures does it command anyone to Love themselves but it doesn't say it is wrong either. i.e. Love your wife as you Love yourself.
    But GOD knows you will naturally Love yourself.
    The focus should be to look to the needs of others around you wherever you happen to be at the time. Take care of others around you and be a blessing to them and GOD will bless you as you seek him and read his Word and Pray to him for direction in your Life.
    GOD calls us his priceless gems when we attach ourselves to him.
    Importance comes from learning to serve now so we can learn to be Kings and Priests in his future Kingdom on this Earth.
    Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven…
    Read about your future and all he has planned for those who seek him and I have seen long term suicidal people healed for good once they start to find why they are here and where they fit in the grand scheme of things.

  26. Some time ago, I left the country I had lived in for 30yrs, I'd lived in a 6 bedroom house with a pool, sold everything for almost nothing, gave some of it away and returned to my city of birth with one suitcase and a few sentimental small belongings. I felt a sort of calling to do this, in the knowledge that everything would turn out fine. People I knew at the time, told me I was crazy, I knew I wasn't, whatever the 'calling' was about, I had complete faith in it and nothing would persuade me otherwise. On my return, I lived in one room, no TV, I read a lot and went to work every day, it was the happiest time of my life! No stuff. A small living space, a bit too small, so I moved to a small apartment which would have fitted into the living room of my previous home. I love it, I was fortunate enough to find a little apartment that looks directly onto the river from the kitchen, sitting room and bedroom and it's heaven. I watched sunrise and sunset, hear the wildlife on the river as I go to sleep and would not change it for anything bigger. I work in mental health, though not as a doctor, a secretary. I greet patients every day and in the walk from greeting them to the waiting room, I always hold a brief conversation and treat them like they're a friend, as a result I often am privileged to be told deeply personal stories, that they often don't tell their doctors. I reached retirement age 10yrs ago, but don't want to retire, I enjoy engaging with people who are at a crisis or low time in their lives and can laugh with them, listen to them and genuinely care for them. Life has little meaning if it's all about 'stuff' and we are bombarded with advertising, facebook, etc. etc. telling us we need more and more and more. We don't.

  27. Attune to the vibration of nothingness and happiness will begin to naturally grow from within.
    I feel nothing. I see nothing. I am nothing.
    The vibration of nothingness is the true vibration of everything.
    By experiencing nothing you begin to experience everything.

  28. Love this woman ,I am glad to say I have many mirrors in a small flat to bring the outdoors in ..like trees and nature. I will watch this again as she is wise and I want this to sink in ..Thank you .

  29. Great speech, the people leaving negative comments are probably self absorbed themselves, which is the root of the problem to begin with.

  30. Oh this is brilliant. I’m so happy to have found this talk again. Maybe a year ago I listened to it for the first time and it really helped me. Now I’m listening to it again when going through a rough patch. Suprised this video at the time of me writing only has 700 comments despite being up for a while. Must say something about our society.

  31. Just to be clear, the Buddha himself never adhered to the concept of no-self OR to the concept of self. "No-self," or "anatta" is a doctrine adopted by the religion of Buddhism.

    Why not find out for one's self? (pardon the pun)

    …… Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Lord Buddha and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Lord Buddha: "Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?"
    When this was said, the Lord Buddha was silent.
    "Then is there no self?"
    A second time, the Lord Buddha was silent.
    Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left. ………

  32. How did you get on Ted talks if you didn't feel self important. Bullshitress like most therapists. Who ruin people's lives. As you get older you NEED to focus on self preservation. The Jewish people want to control everyone and everything so they want to make others less.

  33. You are so beautiful and look too young for your age! Amazingly beautiful inside and out. You should be proud of your age.

  34. I was really really happy on the boats some times.the pilot hit the sand bar, and every body else hid in the deck locker. I ran out on the barges and looked at the pilot, he saw a hero coming and you could see the tension falling out.I looked in his eyes and we thought "the pilot doesn't want to kill me and i don't want to be dead" I ran and danced in the breaking cables ducking and weaving, I loved the pilot and I was gonna get him out of a jam, and he loved me becasue I had so much skin in the game it went clean to the bone.

  35. You are engaged with yourself and contented.Creativity in your mind, you feel fulfilled.Ideas come like a flow and we feel important.Happiness disappears.Mysterious universe, enjoy

  36. i’m going home today to paint my deck because it needs it and it will look nicer. but i’m not fashioning my own world? DIYers would disagree with this lecture

  37. The world is definitely changing. It's time we all take
    action, and you're doing just like that for one's growth. Likewise, to be more inspired
    and properly informed, just type: ‘gritheart’ on your YouTube search bar and click
    the desired video clip. Happy learning!

  38. All wrong. You absolutely DO create your life and your reality. Epigenetics. Science. The way YOU FEEL is the way you ALLOW yourself to feel. YYYOOOUUU.

  39. A brilliant talk that sparked off many thoughtful comments. I don't think one can be creative unless the great "I am" is silent and one is immersed in the process of discovery and connection of disparate elements that ultimately lead somewhere. I'm in a 12 step recovery program (several years) where the concept of an inflated ego which needs to be punctured is key. But this is viewed as a malaise; a healthy sense of self and boundaries brings one back into balance. The problem of competition comes up. Is winning important? Or improving one's own achievement level. If I only did things I excelled at my world would be much smaller. With due humility, attempting a new skill is always good and it matters not at all if you're going to be good at it or not. My Dad had a quote from, I believe Nathanial Hawthorne that seemed trite but no, not at all. "Happiness is like a butterfly; which cannot be caught except with a net, ending its life. But if you keep skill, one will alite on your shoulder." My Dad was an extraordinary man, and growing up in the '60s it was unusual to be told to reach for the stars as a young girl. I went to a girls school where being the captain of the debating team and swimming team was natural. You can imagine that my first 2 lovers came (no pun here) as a shock; it wasn't adaptive behaviour to seek connection and affirmation in that cultural climate. It was a long time ago. But not much has changed; it just doesn't matter much to me. I live in a senior's building where a sense of community is vr important. A neighbour on my floor Is a hairdresser; I'm an amateur but 2x a month we do makeovers for our fellow tenants. A wonderful way to get to know people and share in their joy and sorrow. Wonderful talk. And a shout out to Kimmeh Face; Mindfulness meditation is an amazing discipline, harder than other forms of meditation, but one day at a time, everything changes. I value honesty highly; I was in a position to have a long-running conversation with someone in the limelight who passed away not that long ago. He was so candid about the gap between the public persona he needed to adopt to survive what was a kind of prison — high price for celebrity — and his fears about the future as it would affect him and people he loved. This honesty and vulnerability made him loveable. Sorry for length, the talk was so, so good.

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