January 9, 2013

Praise and Blame

The Buddha said, "Just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise and blame." But I'm not always wise. 

Recounting the many Buddhist stories that describe praise and blame is unnecessary. Let's face it: we all know the feeling of praise and the feeling of blame; and we've all faced these seemingly opposite responses to a single action. Perhaps words we spoke resonated with some yet lit anger in others. Or a decision we made received both high-fives and sour looks. As a teacher, I regularly see this paradox--a classroom experience can generate compliments from some students and grumbles from others. Indeed, the paradoxical nature of the reactions is precisely what we must notice; once we see this clearly, we no longer believe either extreme. Attachment to either praise or blame is a cause of suffering.

Sometimes I'm wise; other times I suffer. Recently I noticed my attachment to praise via my blog and Flickr posts. These are places where I grow creatively; I feel both excited and vulnerable. Lucky for me (?), I've received no open blame through these outlets, but I sometimes feel a lack of praise. Occasionally I take a photograph that I love, post it to Flickr with bated breath, not a single person comments, and I fill with great doubt. But that's precisely when I know I've attached to praise in an unhealthy way. I've made my art about the reaction of others rather than my own creative intentions.

With art as with speech as with choices, there will always be praise and blame--always. If I receive 50 effusive comments on Flickr or my blog, does this indicate my work is meaningful? Nope. My work is meaningful when it comes authentically from my heart--a heart unattached to the reactions of others. If I create for myself, based on genuine motivation, with skillful action, then I'm fulfilled. Nothing else needed. Yet I find this a fine line to walk. It's easy for my ego to latch onto praise or to blame: I long for positive strokes, yet they don't actually fill my need for self-love; or I ruminate on a negative encounter to the exclusion of the positives and the bigger perspective. When I'm centered, I walk the middle path.

Some days I am more wise than others. Today I write this post from my heart. No comments required. :)


  1. Well, Joy, I am going to comment on this post not because I want to feed your ego but because I think it's important to acknowledge the content of what you wrote.

    This is a struggle we often have with ourselves, in all sorts of ways, but rarely (if ever) do we admit it or acknowledge it as openly as you just did. You aren't alone.

    I find your words incredibly honest, brave, heartfelt and connecting. This battle (and similar ones) is so isolating, but your willingness to share fosters connection and understanding. Deep Thanks!

    1. Deep thanks right back at you, dear friend!