The only way to change what you don’t like about yourself
“Something must be wrong with me,” she groaned.
Her wise old mentor smiled kindly. “What’s that?” he asked.
“I make the same mistakes over and over again, she said. I can’t seem to make any progress. I wish I could change. I try to change all the time, and nothing ever seems to work.”
“I want to tell you a story,” he said. “Listen carefully.”
“There was once a tiger whose parents died when he was a cub. A chimpanzee mother took him in and raised him as her own.
“He grew up thinking he was a monkey. But the older he got, the more and more frustrated he became. He never seemed to fit in. He couldn’t climb the trees and swing from the vines like all the other monkeys could.
“He tried so hard to be a good monkey so he could fit in and be accepted. But nothing seemed to work.
“The chimp who had raised him from a cub observed his frustration. One day she decided it was time to tell him the truth.
“She told him who he really was. At first he resisted forcefully. How could this be? He tried even harder to be a monkey, but his efforts still fell far short.
“One day he was sitting at a water hole, crying as he stared at his reflection. He looked up and saw another tiger approaching. He was startled to recognize another animal that looked like himself.
“‘What are you?’ he asked.
“‘A tiger, of course!’ came the reply.
“The young tiger was flooded with the realization of the truth of who he was. He left with the other tiger, who taught him the ways of being a tiger.
“He was amazed by how easy it was for him to adapt and change, for he had tried so hard as a monkey with very little results.”
He smiled at her as the story ended. “What allowed the tiger to change?”
“He saw who he really was, I guess,” she shrugged. “But I don’t see how it applies to me. I don’t think I’m a monkey.”
“No,” he said, “but you don’t see yourself accurately.”
“Why do you say that?” she said defensively. “I believe in results, and I’m just looking at mine. Something obviously isn’t working.”
“What isn’t working is your perception of yourself,” he said.
“Oh, you mean I should pamper and self-indulge myself like all those liberal psychologists preach?” she said sarcastically. “You think I need higher self-esteem?”
“No,” he said patiently. “What you need is to see yourself as you are, with no judgment and no story. Carl Rogers said,
‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.’
“You will never change what you don’t like about yourself until you accept yourself just as you are, with no resistance, no judging, no self-criticism or self-shame, no story, no wishing you were different.
“Wishing something would change about yourself is resistance to reality, which means you’re not accepting yourself as you are.
“The seventh century Zen master Seng-tsan put it this way:
‘True freedom is being without anxiety about imperfection.’
“The reason why you can’t change until you accept yourself is because until then, you won’t have an accurate perception of what you’re actually changing.
“You’ll be like that tiger, trying to change into a monkey because he doesn’t have an accurate perception of himself.
“Furthermore, you will always be at war with yourself. The energy you will bring to your change efforts will be disappointment, frustration, anger, rejection, and self-loathing.
“Once you truly see and accept yourself just as you are, with no resistance whatsoever, your energy will immediately change to compassion, forgiveness, and love.
“Then, you will change, not through willpower or striving, but simply as a natural unfolding.
“You will stop fighting and working against with yourself. Instead, you will start working with and for yourself.”
She was listening intently now. Her heart was opening. “It sounds magical,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” he acknowledged. “You’ll see. Now go look at yourself in the mirror and see yourself for the first time.”