The other day I was walking on the beach with a dear friend who in recent months had lost a considerable amount of weight. She was both startled and excited when she realized that all of her pants were suddenly way too big. It was a peculiar feeling; one of tenuous pride, success, and satisfaction that came with a sense of fear and unfamiliarity with her own body. Everything looked new and different and unknown.
The morning was crisp and clear, the calm ocean sparkling in the sunlight, the vast beach nearly empty. Perfectly beautiful. At some point a man passed us going the other way and as he approached, my friend said “At least he won’t think I’m fat.” We both came to a stand-still, stunned at what she’d just said, recognizing the painful depths from where that came. It didn’t matter that I think she’s always been perfectly beautiful. It didn’t matter that her husband of many years sees her perfect beauty in everything about her, including the roundness of her belly and puckers on her thighs. It didn’t matter. The ancient voice of doubt and self-criticism was alive and well rearing its ugly head.
In Buddhist lore, Mara is the tempter, the one who personifies unskillful and unwholesome impulses, the evil one. Mara is the one who does everything he can to convince the Buddha to give up his quest for awakening. As the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree determined to meditate until he became enlightened, Mara sent his three daughters to seduce him and try to break his concentration. With each temptation and distraction, the Buddha said “Mara, I see you. I am not afraid.” Finally, it is said that when the Buddha became enlightened, Mara was swept away by a great flood.
But the Buddha’s awakening wasn’t the end of Mara. He appears over and over again in the Buddha’s life because like us, the Buddha was human. And like us, he faced the challenges of living a human life.
In our contemporary culture, Mara is the internalized voice of our conditioning that keeps us stuck in the grips of our old stories, the ones that bind us and shut us down. Recognizing Mara is tool for looking at the parts of our lives that scare us, hinder us, deter us, confuse us, and keep us from believing and trusting in our innate goodness and wisdom. The truth that we are valuable, lovable and precious just as we are, that we have enormous capacities to grow and change and flourish for our whole lives is at the heart of our practice.
When the voices of doubt, fear, confusion or self-judgment surface, try saying to yourself “Mara, I see you.” It really may help you see things for what they are and quiet the storyline before it hijacks you completely. If you can also say “I am not afraid,” because in this moment you are actually not afraid your clarity and courage will kick Mara’s ass.
Watching the moon,
I knew myself completely:
No part left out.
A thousand years ago from a woman in Japan