The issue of self-esteem is perhaps one of the greatest determinates in creating a life of freedom and abundance, or feeling inhibited and “just getting by”. Self-esteem is defined as “a feeling of pride in oneself”. It is how you feel in relation to yourself rather than how others see you. It’s between you and, well… you. Therefore, it’s not necessary to be so concerned about what others think to determine your level of self -esteem, as the definition does not include any “others”, just you. So where can you help yourself to better understand you? There are so many aspects of you but one that is of great importance is that of your mind.
In the ancient wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there are five hindrances or afflictions of the mind that are collectively known as the klesas. An understanding of each of these hindrances can help play a part in the discovery of self, leading to a feeling of well-being, connectivity, and greater self-esteem. The hindrances are as follows: ignorance (avidya), egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and clinging to life (abhinivesah). Encountering the afflictions without being aware of them creates stumbling blocks on the path to self-realization. The afflictions will arise at different times in life, but if one has spent time studying them, one may be able to recognize them for what they are and move through them with a certain level of personal understanding.
The first hindrance is ignorance of the true self which is the building block for all of the other afflictions. It can be described as an incorrect understanding of oneself that is the culmination of years of unconscious actions, thoughts, and words that one has become dependent upon as part of one’s being. Sound familiar? How many times have we replayed old tapes over and over in our head until they become so embedded in our persona that we begin to self-realize these false beliefs? From ignorance, derives judgments of oneself and of others. By understanding the various afflictions and where they originate, one may transcend a lifetime absorbed in ignorance.
The second hindrance is egoism which is the identification of the self with what one is not- the body, mind, personality, emotions, senses, accomplishments, failures, and possessions, or lack thereof. You may be thinking, “People with low self-esteem are certainly not showing an ego problem.” Well, it actually is an ego problem, as the concern over what others think dominates many choices and actions in daily life. In egoism, the practice of remaining in the moment and being a non-judgmental witness comes in handy. In truly observing what is happening in life as it is, rather than placing violent judgments on self, others and situations, one may experience life with a limited ignorance. Imagine viewing the world through a camera lens and just seeing what is-nothing else.
The third hindrance is attachment which arises from the ego’s idea that more is better and of the fear of losing what one already has in his/her possession. Are you keeping up with the Jones’? Do you really need to be? More stuff just means more upkeep; right? As one progresses on the life path, experiences occur that cause feelings of great pleasure. One may cling to these things in hopes of experiencing the feelings over and over again. Attachment is looking outside of oneself for validation and bliss. The reality is that external factors come and go; it is the internal true self that remains a constant. “Happiness is found within”, is a timeless phrase and it is unconditional and independent of any outside circumstances or people. Freeing, isn’t it?
The fourth hindrance is aversion which is also a form of attachment, but in the negative sense. The experiences or circumstances that one does not want to have, or is repulsed by, comprise aversions. Aversions are typically based on fear of the unknown, unfamiliar, or years of subconscious mechanical thought. Fear plays a big role in issues of low self-esteem. Attachments and aversions are both relative in that what is a good/bad experience or feeling for one may not be so good/bad for another. Any attachment or aversion springs from the imagination and can be construed as clinging, and therefore, in turn, suffering. By practicing detachment to either aversions or attachments, one can see a situation for what it is rather than what it is perceived to be.
Clinging to life or the fear of death is the final hindrance. It is self-preservation and the fundamental will to live in one’s body on this Earth. This affliction is said to be experienced even by the very wise. It is ultimately the understanding of this affliction that will set us free. Each individual would come to terms with this hindrance by their own accord in relation to their own belief system regarding death and what happens when we leave our physical body. It is my sense that we are eternal in spirit.
The klesas are complex and interwoven. By increasing the understanding of each affliction, one may begin to identify them when they surface in life. In knowing where the reaction, situation, or behavior is derived, the individual may be better able to experience the true sense of the moment in awareness and without judgment. By remaining open, one is able to receive the perfection in every moment.
It is a daily process to connect with oneself in understanding, but one that can create a life that is, for the most part, joyous, peaceful, and full of love. With practice the sense of self-esteem will continuously improve and the feelings of a life connectedness will deepen. Try it for yourself as this all begins and ends with you. For, it’s what you think that really matters.
“The mind is everything; what you think, you become.” (Buddha)