In order not to get caught in a trap ... that is, affirming what you don’t believe and thus perversely reinforcing that disbelief ... it is of critical importance that part of you does believe what you are affirming. That part of you can honestly say, “yes,” to your affirmation and that you vocalize them with conviction. So any affirmation you say needs to be crafted very carefully. If you see a list of suggested affirmations in a book, make sure that they pass this test as they apply to you.
Recently, a friend told me that he had been reciting affirmations from a book, and that one of them was an affirmation that he is powerful. The book defines power as personal power, or the development of will ... one example given is the power to “fake it until you make it.”
I was horrified to find this in a spiritual book by a learned author. Yes, we have power in the sense that we have the ability to free ourselves from samsara. And that does require awareness and the exercise of discipline.
But to use loaded words like “powerful” and “will” which have very definite meanings in our culture and to which the writer subscribes within the sphere that he is describing ... one’s personal growth ... is I think putting the reader at risk of a negative experience. For we are not powerful in the sense that that word is normally used in our culture.
Indeed, most 12-step programs start off with the recognition that we are powerless over our addictions, and as I have written, our cravings are indeed addictions and we are powerless over them. We cannot free ourselves from our cravings by white-knuckling them, we cannot exercise our power over them. There is a common saying in 12-step programs that addiction is “self-will run riot.”
So if someone recites this affirmation about one’s being powerful, knowing that one isn’t powerful, what will most likely happen is not that the person will say this affirmation is crap and try a different approach. Instead the person will have faith in the affirmation because it is in a worthy book, and so the person will say to him- or herself, “If I’m not powerful, it’s because of something I’ve done or haven’t done, I have failed, I need to do more.” Indeed, this particular book says that if you don’t claim your power, if you don’t exercise your will, you have only yourself to blame. They have been trapped by an affirmation that is inherently false and has no place in a spiritual life, certainly not a Buddhist life.
Instead what we must do is affirm the good inside us. We must affirm our unconditional love and compassion for ourselves ... that is if at least some part of you feels that. If not, my books suggest ways of developing that unconditional love and compassion.
Beyond those affirmations, we must accept ourselves and the world around us as being that way it is. And we must surrender our ego and turn our will and our life over to the care of our true Buddha nature. We must seek to become one with our true Buddha nature, for its breath to be our breath, its senses our senses, its eyes our eyes. That is the Buddhist path to freeing ourselves from our cravings and samsara.
Another lesson in practical Buddhism.