Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Self-Esteem

From the Actual Freedom mailing list:


I do not know how much longer you will be communicating on this board, Richard, so I wish to grasp the opportunity while there still seems to be one to converse with you about an issue or two that's been bugging me as of late.

I am beginning to realize who and what God is for me personally. It seems that society, humanity, and its various and particular individuals have dominance and authority and power over me. I desire to please these people, gain their graces, get their approval. I feel so good-and-high when I accomplish that (a yummy carrot). I live in constant, living fear of falling from their graces, or not being good enough (a painful stick).

These people have power over my sense of self-worth, my pride (why do I I need to have a sense of self-worth in the first place?), they have power over my sense of shame and embarassment.

My sense of security and insecurity is in their hands. I have given them the power. I don't know when I did because it seems as if they have always had it ... since my earliest memories.

Feelings of duty, responsibility, obligation, loyalty, shame, pride, superiority, inferiority, security, insecurity, lust, beauty, anger, fear, tenderness, family, friendship, community, love, union, terror, terror, and more terror ... can be traced to the relationship I have with my fellow human beings.

I also suffer from the pining and longing for amd missing those beautiful feelings that are the result of relationship.

I want to end, for good and totally and completely, this relationship. This relationship with my fellow human beings is not and has never been a healthy one. (why this pervading need/instinct to maintain at all costs this relationship?)

My relationship with my fellow humans is the cause of so much strife, and conflict, and disharmony.

(I have to go now for powerful feelings of duty, repsonsibility, and obligation are welling up inside me ... driving my every move).


As the operative-word in all the above is 'self-worth' (and self-worth as derived from others' opinion at that) perhaps a personal anecdote may be of assistance. (If nothing else it will provide some light relief/entertainment).

Many years ago, back when I was a normal bloke and making my living as a practising artist, a minor art gallery in a major city approached me with a proposition to stage a one-man exhibition of my idiosyncratic ceramic work - with the selection to be entirely of my own choice - complete with metropolis-wide advertising, an opening night with the usual razzamatazz (wine and cheese, etc.), invitations to various art-critics, quite liberal terms of commission, and a guaranteed-to-be-exclusive three-week run.

I was a big frog in a small provincial pond, at the time, and this was an opportunity to be a small frog in a large urban pond - to put one foot on the bottom rung of a potential ladder of national success - so the rather generous offer with its opportune entrée into the inner-city art establishment was readily accepted and a firm date was set for three months hence.

Without any thought at all it was obvious to me the exhibition would comprise entirely of fresh pieces - even though there was already more than enough high quality items at hand (which the art gallery had in mind) - as that way a cohesive body of work, with a yet to be discovered theme, would bring about the integrity necessary to carry the day.

Now, with ceramics there is normally a five-to-six week lead-in time (due to the process of making, carving, drying, first-firing, glazing, decorating, and second-firing) yet the days became weeks until, despite the frequent reminders and promptings of my then-wife, only three weeks remained before the big night.

And three weeks was the absolute minimum time-span; if the eighty-odd pieces were not formed today then the afore- mentioned hodgepodge stock-at-hand would have to be pressed into service.

Not that the art-gallery would mind, of course, but I would. For most of the morning I wedged, kneaded and balled the highest quality (the most-aged and ripened) clay from my extensive stocks of hand-dug and hand-mixed local clays; it was one of those quite marvellous days of lightly overcast skies and a gentle, misty rain; there was no wind at all, not even the slightest zephyr of a breeze; the quietly gleaming hand-made copper kettle was sitting, steaming gently atop the cheery pot-bellied stove in my studio; music from a nowadays-superseded four-track cartridge player was piping through all its strategically placed speakers; the dank, swampy aroma of the well-matured clay was filling the nostrils as it began to bounce elastically beneath my well-practiced kneading hands; and soon all was well, within my world, as any and all stress from time-pressure softly ebbed away.

Settling myself onto my home-made pottery wheel, and kicking it into action, I swiftly and easily formed a few small throwaway pieces so as to get my hand in.

Then, without any further ado, I reached for the first of the eighty- odd different-sized balls of finely-prepared clay; dropping it onto the still slowing-turning wheel-head I kicked up the momentum of the heavy wheel beneath my feet; moistening my hands in the bowls of warm, muddy water to either side I then centred the clay ball and began throwing the first of the many individual pieces which would eventually comprise the whole.

Being well-dug, well-prepared, well-aged, well-wedged and well- kneaded the clay, whilst supremely elastic, was taut and springy beneath the hands; there would be no slumping, no sagging, no bulging, just this easy pulling up to maximum height; just this graceful setting of bellied form; just this elegant rolling of lip just this effortless forming of the base; just this ready pass of the cutting thread detaching it from the wheel-head; just this gentle placing of it on the ready-to-hand shelf-tray nearby; just this regular reaching for the next ball; just this easy kicking keeping the momentum rolling.

Upon placing the third or fourth newly-formed piece alongside its predecessors, and whilst reaching for the next ball, it is evident the clouds are clearing a trifle; the sun is shining fitfully through a gap onto the translucent full-height screens immediately to the front; some chickens are clucking and scratching around in the ground just beyond them; ducks are quacking and nosing into the mud of the small pond nearby; off in the near-distance the pigs are snorting and snuffling for roots; one of the goats is bleating; a couple of the geese are honking; and ... and a by-now-familiar and oh-so-subtle shift is occurring in the brain-stem.

All-of-a-sudden there is a vast stillness - there is absolutely no movement of time - and in that perfect peace the piece of pottery is making itself.

The foot is kicking the massive wheel of its own accord; the hands are dipping themselves into the warm, muddy water; the eyes are eying the bellied form all on their own; the hands, one on the inside and the other on the outside just below the former, are gently coaxing the perfect shape without command (or is the perfect form gently coaxing the hands to its bidding); and the whole world - nay, the entire universe, itself - is a magical fairytale-like wonder- land where nothing, but nothing, ever ultimately goes wrong.


And then, with the sun sinking spectacularly in the west behind banked clouds, the one-hundredth pot has made itself (so much for the planned eighty-odd) and the one-man exhibition is in the bag ... guaranteed to be a fantastic success.


It is now three weeks later: all the pieces have been carved, dried, first-fired, glazed, decorated, second-fired, packed, transported, unpacked and selectively placed upon their pedestals in the major city art gallery.

It is opening night and the place is packed with peoples from many walks of life; all milling around, glasses in hand, seeing and being seen. Being the star of the show I am, accordingly, a trifle late in arriving (as is the fashion). With orange juice in hand I mix and mingle; a word or two here; a tilt of the head there; a small chat here; a wink and a grin there; a murmured response here; and all the while noticing those little red stickers appearing, first on this piece, then on that piece, more on those pieces, until almost every single piece is snapped-up.

It is shaping up to be a sell-out ... and all on opening night! The curator is tapping on his glass, calling for attention, and the speechifying begins; soon it is my turn to speak and every eye is turned toward me, every ear is listening to me, everybody's rapt attention is directed towards the ... well, towards the star of the show, of course.

But I am not the star of the show - the pieces made themselves, remember, back in that magical wonderland - and yet all of the accolades, all of the applause, all of the (yes) adulation, is centred solely upon me.

It was at that moment I understood something so profound it is permanently etched into the memory banks ... to wit: I did not and could not value their collective/individual opinions one iota, one jot, for they knew not of what they spoke.

And even if they were to be told, that the pieces magically made themselves, they would lavish praise for being so gifted/so blessed/so whatever.

Moreover, they did not, and would not ever, comprehend that the esteem they bestowed so lavishly slid straight off me like that proverbial water off a duck's back ... as, at that very moment, self-esteem and all its associated vanity and humility vanished out of my life forever, never to return, even unto this very day.


And so, Rick , as we come to the end of this quaint little wonder- land tale, just what value is self-esteem, eh?


Logink said...

It's no doubt a well written piece but the profundity escapes me since what he seems to be saying is that we merit no credit( which would naturally imply the converse) for abilities which we posses naturally. Its like fatalism and karma turned inside/out and a denial of free will. The decision to create the ceramics and implement it in actions is a plus . To deny all + and minus is to land in an wilderness of irresponsibility, which a world weary traveller may well crave. Escapism pure and simple.

axtan said...

i quite agree with Logink on this, the piece did not make much sense to me. The notion that 'the pieces magically made themselves' is poetic, but pointless. The idea seems to be echoed in this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert as well:


Harmanjit Singh said...

It is rather pointless to lavish praise on, and ascribe greatness to, a human being when the universe is there.

I mean, just look at this picture, and if the infinite blackness stretching beyond the planet earth doesn't make one's self-esteem seem rather petty, what will?


The effortlessness in the art and creations of the artist in this article has a more profound and implicit basis than the artist's skill or experience.

That basis is the experiencing of that flesh and blood body (that of the artist) of the stillness and the freedom pervasive in the universe.

It is puny to lavish praise on the skill or creativity of the artist when something far greater is implicit in our living and existence.

Logink said...

With a spectacular solar eclipse at hand may I share this video about the vastness of the universe as observed from the Hubble telescope:

The vastness of the universe should not make us oblivious of the fact that the human brain is the most amazing chunk of matter so far known. As Walt Whitman said " I contain galaxies". There is nothing puny about a human being. To belittle man is to belittle the universe.

Anonymous said...


There seems to be some misunderstanding here. It is one thing to acknowledge what humans with their sophisticated brain (that are part of the Universe) are capable of, and other thing to feel pride of one's "worth" .. and that is self-esteem.

The 'self' in the self-esteem refers to ego and soul (not actual) rather than the flesh and blood human being (actual).


TT said...

et tu Srid???!!!

Logink said...

Does whatever you call the soul exist somewhere outside the universe?

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Logink,

The soul (the feeling of being a "me" inside the body) is a felt illusion and as such does not exist in actuality. But it is a very real feeling.

Moreover, since universe is all that is, nothing exists outside of it.

Logink said...

Whereat one of the loquacious Lot-
I think a Sufi pipkin-waxing hot--
"All this of Pot and Potter--tell me then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"


Logink said...

The universe includes not just matter but thoughts and emotions, which are as real as matter.Illusions also exist, even as illusions, and are a part of U, which by definition is the universal set, and which you find wonderful. A part of something wonderful is wonderful. Without illusions the universe will be incomplete hence less wonderful. Ofcourse this is if we assume for arguments sake as you say that the "me"--ego, superego, are to be shunned.

Di said...

Lets abandon all the gurus and gods...go after Rick and Richard.


Did you hear Harivansh Rai B's poem of Gautam Buddha???

Its is a must read, to understnad my above comment!


Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Di, what is the name of that poem?

Many of HRB's poems are archived at:


Di said...

Harman the poem is on my ipod *sung* by bigb. I will try to find it.

"The soul (the feeling of being a "me" inside the body) is a felt illusion..."

Harmanjit, have you noticed the feeling "I" that we have at age 6 and again at age 30, doesn't change. IN other words it doesn't age with us (our bodies). Interesting naa.

Even in west, scientist/people accept higher intelligence that created (the creator/god) us. While we from east are running away from concepts of god/soul and towards atheism.

Di said...

This poem goes well with story...sp. attention to the 4th line:

अग्नि पथ! अग्नि पथ! अग्नि पथ!
वृक्ष हों भले खड़े,
हो घने, हो बड़े,
एक पत्र-छॉंह भी मॉंग मत, मॉंग मत, मॉंग मत!
अग्नि पथ! अग्नि पथ! अग्नि पथ!
तू न थकेगा कभी!
तू न थमेगा कभी!
तू न मुड़ेगा कभी!-कर शपथ! कर शपथ! कर शपथ!
यह महान दृश्‍य है-
चल रहा मनुष्‍य है
अश्रु-श्‍वेद-रक्‍त से लथपथ, लथपथ, लथपथ!
अग्नि पथ! अग्नि पथ! अग्नि पथ!

Redskey said...


Di said...

On one hand you think that Chris wasted his life (the other blog), and then go on to praise Mr UnaB. I guess I am confused.

Harmanjit Singh said...

I admire the spirit and the dedication, but not their solutions or the path they chose.

A said...

Life is an absolute and killing unacceptable unconditionally. Many enlightened states have abolished the death punishment. Terrorism is repugnant and abhorrent per se.

Anonymous said...

Is this post consistent with your current thinking of Actual Freedom?