It’s rumored that when the artist Michelangelo sculpted the statue of David, he observed a singular slab of marble and began steadily chipping away, removing everything that "wasn’t David." His approach wasn’t to shape the stone itself, but rather to reveal the Renaissance masterpiece within.
Incidentally, this same piece of marble had been rejected twice previously by other sculptors of the day. They found the slab to be too rough or too unwieldy, and so it sat untouched for 40 years. It took the right pair of eyes to see what was in the stone all along, coupled with the patience and steady hand to etch it into realization.
From the Buddhist perspective, our self-worth is inherent in this same way. It can take a bit of etching and spit and polish to access it from time to time, but it is always there just waiting to be revealed.
There’s no surprise in our modern world that our relationship to self-worth is tenuous, often pinned to our credentials. It’s something that we’ve been taught to hustle, prove, and purchase our way closer to; often by well-intentioned individuals who fear for our safety and by those who profit from our insecurities. We might even experience it in our bodies as a feeling of pervasive anxiety or restlessness.
Our sense of self inflates with every accomplishment and deflates with self-doubt or critique. In this model, we may find ourselves trading our worth as currency that’s dependent on wins and losses. There is very little room for rest here, and always something more to acquire or defend.
In one word: exhausting. In two words: also unsustainable.
How do we access our inherent worth and belonging, independent of the hustle? A clue can be found in Michelangelo’s approach to unearthing David from the marble. Rather than trying to mold the material into form, what if we simply chipped away all of the "extra" to reveal the worth that is already there?
One simple exercise for accessing our worth is to acknowledge what is, as it is. When it comes to self-worth, revealing and resting offer an alternative to the dominant approach of achieving and acquiring. There is very little effort needed here, beyond bearing witness and offering the sweetness of recognition.
✨ A Practice to Feel Your Self-Worth
First, begin by taking a moment to fully arrive wherever you happen to be. Allow yourself to physically land, and gently close the eyes or keep your gaze lowered and unfocused. Take a few moments to locate yourself in space by opening up the senses. Receive the sound of the room that you are in, resting in its tonal quality. Receive the pressure of making contact with whatever surface is holding you up.
For this exercise, regard the chair, cushion, or floor that you happen to be on as a representation of the Earth; allow the body to relax into this connection, fully supported. Moving the attention to the belly and the chest, feel the breath moving in the body. Again, there is very little effort required here. Simply feel the body breathing. Rest here for a few moments.
Continuing to feel the breath move through the body, take a moment to acknowledge your respiratory system while feeling into its movement. Rise and fall. Expansion and contraction. Acknowledge your lungs for their consistent, rhythmic quality, inflating and deflating without ever being asked. Acknowledge the lungs for their capacity to receive our environment with equanimity; no matter how fresh or polluted, our lungs alchemize air into life-giving breath. Acknowledge the lungs for their continued effort. Very rarely witnessed, they are always on our team.
Send the simple phrases to your lungs: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Move your attention upward to the space in your chest where your heart resides, perhaps even placing one hand on the heart if that feels honest. Take a moment to acknowledge the heart; both the vital organ and the representation of "heart" with all of its tenderness and resistance. Acknowledge your heart for the small and mighty force of nature it is; a muscle no bigger than your fist, pumping hundreds of gallons of blood through your body each day. Acknowledge your heart for its resilient quality. No matter how broken or disappointed it has been, it continues to heal, bounce back, and re-open. Acknowledge the heart for its ceaseless effort. Very rarely witnessed, it’s always on our team.
Send the simple phrases to your heart: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Move your attention upward to the space between your eyebrows where our concept of mind resides. Take a moment to acknowledge your mind for the phenomenal operating system that it is. No matter how cluttered or confused the mind can be at times, its sole purpose is our survival. Acknowledging your mind for its tremendous capacity to receive shapes, colors, and sounds, and make meaning of our world. Acknowledge your mind for being the keeper of your fondest memories, dreams, and desires—all that you hold dear. Acknowledge the mind for its brilliant abilities. Very rarely witnessed, it’s always on our team.
Send the simple phrases to your mind: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Now return to feeling the entirety of the body resting in space. Feel into the shape that the body makes, where your skin meets the temperature of the air and the texture of your clothing. Take a moment to acknowledge your body for the remarkable ecosystem that it is; hundreds of systems and processes all working in perfect unison without us ever needing to know how. Its sole purpose is our survival. Acknowledge your body for its instinctive intelligence for healing; it’s ability to take a cut, make a scab, and create a scar, without ever being asked. Acknowledge the body for being your home this go-around. No matter how complex our relationship to our body may be at times, it’s always with us and always, always on our team.
Send the simple phrases to your body: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Close out this contemplation by feeling your body supported by the representation of Earth below us and feeling the body breathe for a few more moments. Perhaps sending thanks to ourselves from ourselves for bearing witness to our worth. Allowing the practice to close when you are ready.