“Excuse me for living!” Remember when this was a common rebuke? Variations included “Pardon me for living” or “Excuse me for breathing.” I used to say this when someone took issue with something I did or said, as a somewhat overdramatized apology for being however I was being, said with an air of exasperation. But I often did feel the need to apologize for being who and how I was. Often still do. In a way, it is out of a misguided kindness for others that I apologize for myself, so as not to inconvenience them, make them uncomfortable, but an unintended side effect is that I am not being genuinely me.
Part of Buddhism’s appeal and relevance is the teaching that I am good enough right now, inherently and basically good, and don’t have to apologize. Still, that impulse to excuse myself remains in subtle ways.
Toward the end of a recent weekend meditation retreat, I sat in a group and listened to our teacher discuss the meaning of awakened heart, how it involved existing in the world with dignity. One woman raised her hand from the back of the room and said something we could all relate to: “Sometimes I just don’t feel so dignified.” We all laughed a little at the uncomfortable truth pouring out of her, at how messy our lives often feel, how we all have our unsavory bits that we hope only reveal themselves when no one else is looking. As part of the response to her question/comment, another participant offered her perspective on dignity, that it could be viewed as not being embarrassed by who you are, by allowing your true self – with all its associated imperfections – to exist in the world without apology.
A similar theme arose in the movie Crazy Wisdom, a film about the life and times of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. At one point in the film, some of interviewees wept at the loss of their friend and teacher who had given them the unparalleled gift of being completely and unapologetically himself. And in doing so, how he helped them to see their inherent brilliance, wisdom, goodness, and perfect imperfection.
In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa writes:
The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time.
This concept of being unapologetically authentic has stayed with me for weeks now. What would it mean if I dropped all of my embarrassment at who I am? How would it feel? What might my mind be capable of if not weighed down by that anxiety and restriction? In addition to the kindness I could extend to myself by living with dignity and without embarrassment, it might also be the most generous and loving thing I could do for others.