This morning I noticed a new review on our book, Just As You Are. It was our thirteenth five star review. I felt a familiar rush of warm excitement – ooh, someone has been impressed by what we wrote! They liked it enough to give it five out of five stars!
Receiving praise is so delicious.
I wanted more. I clicked to see the other reviews this person had written, interested in what else she had read. I was hoping she read scholarly Buddhist tomes, of course, and that she had given them two or three stars each at most. Instead I saw that she read a wide range of fiction and spiritual writing, some of it of dubious quality if I can judge books by their covers, and that she had given raving five stars reviews to all but a couple of the many she’d read. I smiled wryly as the warm feeling started to fade…
Yesterday I was speaking to my psychotherapy supervisor about a book where the (famous) author speaks about how fleeting and empty the pleasures of fame are. Logically, I know this to be true. I have had many lower scale experiences of being famous and receiving praise. When my fourth novel sold well and I watched it rise ever-upwards in the charts, I felt like I was on drugs. I found myself needing a higher and higher chart position to maintain my own high. I became greedy for more and more glowing reviews. The book peaked and came down, as all things must do, and I was left with a huge praise-hangover. I didn’t get to ‘keep’ any of the self-esteem I thought I was receiving from those readers. The praise went into my huge hungry-ghost belly and left me as starving as ever.
The Buddha warns us of the dangers of falling for praise and blame many times. I like how he puts it here in the Muni Sutta which describes the qualities of a perfect sage:
The wandering solitary sage,
uncomplacent, unshaken by praise or blame.
Unstartled, like a lion at sounds.
Unsnared, like the wind in a net.
Unsmeared, like a lotus in water.
Leader of others, by others unled:
The enlightened call him a sage.
When I read the new review I enjoyed it, but then I got my feet stuck in the sticky sweetness. What kind of person was giving me this praise? How discerning were they? How much credit could I give myself for those five stars? I led myself up the garden path and, to mix my metaphors, headed straight into a blind alley.
The next time I receive praise, whether it’s someone liking my new haircut or an excellent review from an esteemed peer, I will aim to be unshaken by it. I will enjoy the taste of it, acknowledging the mix of truth and fiction it will inevitably contain, and then allow it to pass from my sight as I keep walking. Unstartled, like a lion at sounds. Alternatively, in the Pureland Buddhist version, I will get my feet stuck in the praise again and fall on my face, knowing that Amida Buddha loves me just the same. Either way, I am giving myself permission to enjoy the warmth on my face as the sun of praise comes out from behind a cloud.
Reference: “Muni Sutta: The Sage” (Sn 1.12), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.12.than.html