The Trance of Unworthiness

Radical Acceptance:  Enhancing your Life with the Heart of the Buddha (pp 5-23)

What is a Trance?

The definition of the word trance as used in Radical Acceptance is a state in which you are not aware of what is happening around you because you are focused on something else. In other words, you are in a state of profound abstraction or absorption   For example, “he was staring out the window in a trance.”  The mind is in a semi-conscious state with a total focus on a single experience.  This has been said to be a dream-like stage because all of the activity is in the mind; there are no external stimuli.

Tara Brach uses the word trance to define a situation in which you have certain fixed beliefs about yourself.   In this trance, you are so absorbed by these beliefs that you are unaware of any external stimuli that might refute them.  You have tuned out!  For example, you might feel unworthy in some way (body, mind, emotions or behavior and you believe this so strongly that you stop looking for any evidence to the contrary.  This is what Tara describes you as being in the Trance of Unworthiness.

Our self image.

Everyone’s intention in life is to be happy and peaceful.  However, as we go through life, we lose sight of what happiness and peacefulness really are.  We seek temporary happiness in the conditioned world through sensual pleasures, gain, praise and fame.  And we avoid pain, loss, criticism, and disrepute.  This strategy does not work and as a result, we are dissatisfied with life and we suffer.

How our perceived self-image plays a role is the subject of the first chapter, The Trance of Unworthiness. Tara asks us to examine our self-image to see in what areas we perceive ourselves to be unworthy.  In the guided reflection, Recognizing the Trance of Unworthiness, we get the opportunity to examine our body, mind, emotions and behaviors for issues that seem to cause suffering and dissatisfaction.,

To alleviate our suffering and dissatisfaction with ourselves, we engage in a number of strategies that inevitably cause more suffering.

  • We hide our self-perceived deficiencies and project what we want others to perceive about us.  This takes a lot of effort and is frustrating.
  • We try to solve our problems (our self-perceived deficiencies) by addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, relationships, work.  This leads to unhealthy behavior and more suffering.
  • We don’t trust that we are loved unconditionally by others.  This leads to alienation.
  • We try to control situations.  This leads to frustration.
  • We try to improve to achieve a perceived ideal.  This is driven by the belief that we are deficient in one or more areas.
  • We withdraw rather than risk failure.  This leads to alienation.
  • We constantly criticize ourselves.  This leads to constant dissatisfaction.
  • We blame the environment and others for our problems.  This leads to constant dissatisfaction.
  • We seek solace in feeling superior, inferior to others or the same as others.  This leads to constant comparing and judgements.

The Roots of Our Trance

The dharma shows us the real cause of our suffering.  Tara notes the Buddha’s insight that “all suffering or dissatisfaction arises from a mistaken understanding that we are separate and distinct self.”  The Buddha noted that our self-image is generated from our attachment to one or more of the five factors of our experience:  what we sense, what we feel, what we perceive, what emotions that we have and our consciousness.  The mind takes all of these attachments and creates a story that is the self.  “Everything we experience is subsumed into this story of self and becomes my experience.” (p. 19). Over time, if we let it, the concept of our “self” drives the way we think and behave.  We are trapped by the concept and spend more time in the trance.


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  Do as Tara recommends: “As you go through your day, pause occasionally to ask yourself, “This moment, do I accept myself just as I am?””  Also reflect on “What is your self-image?”  Can you see that it is just a story?


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice with concentration and mindfulness.

Next: Awakening from the Trance Previous: Reawakening to our Buddha Nature:  Introduction