chi imageIn order to accomplish our life goals we need self-confidence. What is self-confidence, where does it come from, and how do we cultivate it?

Mencius, my favorite Chinese Sage, believed that confidence comes from “ch’i,” the universal source of energy. This power that moves through us has many names — eros, elan vital, libido, kundalini.

The brilliant philosopher, Paul Tillich, called self-confidence “the courage to be.” Possessing this courage means being your authentic self in the face of any danger.

Tillich believed that if we lack such confidence it means we are distanced from our essential nature. Mencius believed this, too. His name for our essential nature was heart. This definition of heart as our essential nature has been found around the world throughout history. In one example, St. Augustine said, “The heart is where I am whatever I am.” Mencius said, “pity the man who has lost his heart and does not go out and recover it.” He, too, believed our lack of strength came from being distanced from what we actually are.

Mencius said that when we are connected to our hearts, we have “free-flowing ch’i.” This means that when we are our true selves we have the ultimate connection to the endless and powerful supply of energy from the universe. It is when we are in touch with this source that we can do anything we set our minds to.

Having this power and confidence is another aspect of our entelechy, that which we are meant to be. We grow this power and self-confidence through being properly parented. When we get what we need from the world, our brain is pumped with chemicals like dopamine, which fills us with energy and confidence. When we are disappointed in life, our dopamine levels drop and we feel like the air has been taken out of our balloon. Getting sufficient positive reflection growing up is the real Popeye’s spinach. When we do not get enough positive support growing up, we chronically have low supplies of dopamine. This can lead us to feel enervated and insecure. We learn that being who we truly are is no good, and so we hide those essential aspects of ourselves. We come to believe that we are not the glorious beings that we are. We live in shame, which is the opposite of having “free-flowing ch’i,” or self-confidence.  Having problems with energy and confidence are sure signs that we have a lost heart.

With self-confidence, we believe in our value and capacities. We can face any obstacle. We can handle the risks of rejection, failure, and mistake. When we live in shame, we believe we are less than, and incapable.

How do we recover our hearts, develop the courage to be, reconnect with our essential being, and find access to our ch’i?

In the fairy tale, Maid Lena, nothing grows in the center of a farm. This is a symbol for a disconnection from heart and ch’i. When we are disconnected from this source of power, there is something in our center where nothing grows. The youngest son, Esben, lives a life mooning about. He is put down by his brothers. He lives in shame, and has no motivation or confidence. After his brothers fail at the task of figuring out why nothing will grow in the center of the farm, Esben determines that he will find out. When his father tries to dissuade him from going, he says, “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going!” When he gets there, he feels fear, but he keeps his feet on the ground, breathes, and determines to face whatever happens. A horrific storm begins. He sees three demons flying straight at him. He looks the demons right in the eye. As they get closer they turn into three swans. Then, just before they reach him, they transform into three beautiful princesses. One of the princesses promises to marry him if he spends the following year completing three impossible tasks. When he returns to the farm he looks completely different. He is filled with power and beauty. After fulfilling the princess’s wish, they marry and he becomes king.

What does this fairy tale have to tell us about recovering our hearts and finding our self-confidence? First, despite the lack of confidence shown in him by others and his own lack of energy,  he determines to find the source of his problems. No matter how frightened he is about facing his demons, he doesn’t run away. When he does, he discovers that what he had been avoiding actually becomes the source of his inspiration. By going to the empty place and staring down his fears, he becomes transformed. This doesn’t mean that his task is complete. In fact, it means that his work now begins. But he now has enough confidence and power to complete the impossible tasks he is given, and in the end he gets all that he desires.

To find our hearts and cultivate our self-confidence, we need to follow Esben’s path. We need to begin by devoting ourselves to a life-long process of growth. Just like Esben, we must say, “I’m going!” We need to go to the empty place within ourselves no matter how scary that seems. We need to learn how to go within, explore and come to understand ourselves. When we do, what we usually find is that we need to heal the wounds of our childhoods that have resulted in the formation of shame.

We must complete the impossible tasks. This means mastering our present. We need to commit ourselves to self-improvement, learning continuously, immersing ourselves in art, spending time in nature, caring for our bodies. We must practice the discipline to recognize and end our negative thinking.

Central to finding self-confidence is acting impeccably. As Mencius said, every time we do the right thing, we come into greater contact with our ch’i. We must take responsibility for our destructive behavior patterns and  surrender to getting help with our addictions and compulsions. We discover that when we do the right thing, we feel good about ourselves and this is the greatest fuel for the growth of our self-confidence.

In order to grow our confidence, we need to have reciprocal, authentic relationships. Like Esben, simply meeting the princess does not win her. He must work to gain her love. We must learn how to communicate and connect with others in true intimacy. This must include both giving and receiving positive validation. Start telling people you know and love that they are extraordinary and you’ll find your own confidence growing.

Another step in growing our confidence is envisioning a better future. By using the examples of the courageous who have gone before us, we call on them for inspiration and help. We must cultivate an image of ourselves as being that which we desire to be. We need to read stories of heroes like Esben, because when we do we realize that we are potentially kings. To fulfill our nature we simply have to follow the path of the heroes who have gone before.

This plan for self-cultivation which provides us access to the “free-flowing ch’i” which is the core of our self-confidence, is known in Asian philosophy as “the Way,” or the Dao. When we live in accordance with the way every day, we find our hearts. By living according to our core truths, we will grow in self-confidence until we can overcome any obstacle, face any fear, achieve any goal, and find true fulfillment and happiness. As Esben learned, that which we fear turns out to be the source of our power. When we follow the way, transformation is guaranteed.

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If you’d like to read an excerpt from my book,

Finding the Lost Heart: A New Path to Growth, Love and Wisdom,

please click on one of the links below.

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Jesus on the mainlineOn the website, personallifemedia.com, Brian Johnson’s podcast tells us about the obscure New Thought guru, Wallace D. Wattles. Wattles suggests that in order to be great we need to be able to read the thoughts of god, and we can only do this when we do not feel fearful or anxious.

This parallels the wisdom of the Chinese classic, The Highest Order of Cultivation. This is the text that tells us that in order to live in harmony with the intrinsic order of the universe we have to cultivate  serenity. It is only when we do this that we find our hearts, which means that we live out our potentials for wisdom, passion, strength genius and love. Through finding inner peace, we do our part to bring our relationships, our culture, our politics and the universe into balance.

The only part that Johnson gets wrong is that all we need to eliminate our anxiety and fear is to do something in the moment, like take a bath, or have a run.

If it were that simple, we’d all be enlightened, and Brian and I would be out of a job. To overcome the intrinsic wiring and life-long conditionings that lead us to experience fear and anxiety require a life-long commitment. As Mircea Eliade explains it in his book of the same name, this is the definition of the word yoga (see page 4-5), which is any intensive, ongoing practice that leads to liberation from our conditioned existence.

In all likelihood no one of us will be wholly freed from that which keeps us from that mainline with god. But it is our life task of seeking that brings us, and humanity, ever closer to that goal.

david_und_goliath_michelangeloIn my work as an ADD coach, I often hear my clients bemoan the fact that what comes easily to others is hard for them. The harsh reality is that they speak the truth. As no one of us can measure the suffering of another or truly compare it to our own, each person deserves the full measure of compassionate understanding. So it is important to my clients that I recognize that this is a painful frustration.

I tell them that naming this difficulty is a good thing, because the first step in overcoming an obstacle is acknowledging it. I then remind my clients of the words of the great Chinese sage, Confucius, who said,

What other men may master in a single try, you yourself must strive to attain with efforts increased a hundredfold;
and what others may master in ten tries, you must strive to attain a thousand times over.
For, one whose efforts reach fruition in the mastery of this path,
be he of limited intellectual capacity, he will gain clear understanding;
and be he of weak disposition, he will enjoy great strength.

What this wisdom tells us is to not be held back by failure, or self-perceived limitation. No matter what we have suffered in our lives to this point or what we haven’t yet been able to achieve, we can succeed. All that is required is the absolute commitment to learn continuously, and apply the lessons learned in how we live our lives in every moment.

This view was backed up this week in the May 11th New Yorker article, “How David Beats Goliath” by the brilliant researcher and synthesist, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is the author of “Blink,”published by Little Brown and Co and “The Tipping Point” published by Back Bay Books . In this article, Gladwell shows that underdogs win by trying harder than everyone else.

Underdogs also succeed by doing what is societally unacceptable. You have to be audacious. David used a slingshot against Goliath. People who live on the ADD end of the spectrum are usually creative, eccentric, unlikely types who live, think and dream outside the box, making them well suited to doing things unconventionally.

If you are willing to put in the extra work, and use your uniqueness to your advantage, you may not be approved of by the powers that be, but you can succeed in life and win.

rapt1Winifred Gallagher, author of the book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, published by The Penguin Press, discusses the benefits of focussed attention in a wonderful podcast. She provides evidence that when we focus on a singular point for 20-40 minutes our focus is improved and when we focus on the heart of comapssion for 20 to 40 minutes, our mood improves.