There Is Nothing Wrong with You
By Cheri Huber
Keep It Simple Books, 2001; paperback $12
I’ve owned and read my share of self-help books over the years (and probably a couple of other peoples’ shares too). But I still get fidgety, uncomfortable, and slightly judgmental when I settle in, grab my pencil for underlining, and get ready to be helped. I feel disdainful of the soft language, roll my eyes at the clichés that populate the book’s pages, and wonder if I’d be better off reading some real literature. And yet, I keep reading. Because I need help! Many of them have brought me comfort when I most needed it, a little fleeting hope, some inspiration here and there, but very few of them actually helped in any lasting or influential way. There Is Nothing Wrong with You by Zen teacher Cheri Huber is one of the exceptions.
Admittedly, the subtitle makes me want to run up and over East Mountain and never come back. “Going Beyond Self-Hate,” it says, then continues with an even better subtitle for the subtitle: “A Compassionate Process for Learning to Accept Yourself Exactly as You Are.” Gross! Get me outta here! Cue the running shoes!
My responses are, of course, exactly why I need to be reading the damn thing, and I have — many times over the years. I’ve given it to numerous friends, and I pick up my copy not infrequently to revisit my pencil marks, the sentences I’ve marked with little stars, reminders for how to talk to myself as I navigate life, love, work, loss . . . everything.
Huber’s words (printed in a fun and accessible handwritten font) are those of a serious and well-worn traveler of the interior, who sees self-hate as the greatest obstacle to being a truly awakened person, and I trust her. “Almost nobody wants to grow up,” she repeats several times throughout the book, “we would rather focus on what’s wrong with us and why we can’t do anything about it.” But we can do something about it.
It’s vital, she says early in the book, to understand that “self-hate” is not a feeling we have, not an emotion. It’s a process. We don’t hate ourselves, she notes. Self-hate hates us. It’s a scam — cooked up by our conditioning, our childhoods, our culture — that we’ve become addicted to. “It is very important” for self-hate, she writes, nearly personifying it, “that something be wrong so we can continue to survive it.” We spend a good chunk of our time creating suffering that we then spend the rest of our time trying to get out of. “When [we] find that all that trying to be good doesn’t work . . . the only thing [we] know how to do is TRY HARDER. It’s like . . . going in the wrong direction but making really good time.”
Self-hate’s greatest talent is convincing us that if we play it’s game, at some point we’ll be able to stop playing. “The person at the Bank of Self-Hate DOES NOT LIKE YOU!” she writes. “It’s really important to get this . . . This person will never give you a dime.” It’s when you stop listening to what it tells you to do that things can really transform. “Anytime you hear the voice of self-hate, do something for yourself that will make it crazy.” Anything self-indulgent or lazy will do, she says, go on a long walk, whatever it takes to quiet the voice/s and come back to the present.
In addition to a list of practical writing exercises and activities, as well as topics for reflection, Huber suggests a regular meditation practice as one way out of the process of self-hate: “Through paying attention in your meditation, you begin to suspect what’s really going on . . . [and] that [it] has nothing to do with what you think is going on.” You begin to wake up. You begin to not take it personally. You begin “to see that life isn’t anyone’s fault.”
Her suggestions are simple and practical, and while they sometimes make this reader roll her skeptical eyes — I can’t deny that no matter how uncomfortable they might make me, they do help. “The only way out of this life of suffering is through the doorway of compassion,” Huber says. I hate that she’s right! I mean, I love that she’s right. “You can’t find [the doorway] because you ARE [the doorway].” Oh shut up! I mean, thank you.
There Is Nothing Wrong with You is available at your local independent bookseller. To find an independent bookstore near you, click here.