The first time I confronted the nature of self-doubt to “rid” myself of it, once and for all, was on my first meditation retreat with my teacher in the winter of 1995, in the godforsaken town of Bodhgaya, in the poorest state in India, where the Buddha is said to have awakened under the Bodhi tree. I wanted to understand, in spite of mind blowing experiences of mystical revelation some months earlier, which had convinced me of the nature of Reality, why I continued to suffer the pain of self-doubt. Instead of giving me a solution I could carry around like a comfort blanket, my teacher said, What if you feel doubt the rest of your life?
Although I nodded my head, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So, instead of letting in what my teacher had said, I continued to put all my energy into overcoming existential and self-doubt, by using my mind to talk myself out of it. It never worked. Except very occasionally as a temporary denial of doubt’s quite real existence.
One day, in 2011, when I was quite ill and couldn’t think clearly enough to read or write, I watched old clips of J.K. Rowling interviews. In her interview with Oprah, she spoke briefly but clearly about believing in her ability to tell a story. And that got me thinking in a completely different direction from the one in which I’d been travelling.
What my teacher had said 16 years earlier came back to me and slowly I began to understand. There would always be a part of me that would doubt. That part of me would never change because that is its nature. Just as it is the nature of a cloud to carry precipitation. At the same time, there would always be a part of me that remains constant and never doubts, because that is its nature. The worst, unimaginable storm clouds will never alter the nature of the sky.
I saw in a fundamental way I could never be the nature of cloud (or self-doubt). For a cloud eventually passes. But Sky, having gone nowhere, remains.