Friday, October 30, 2009
Being Peace : The Inner Skill of Not Taking It Personally
The key to remaining peaceful and non-reactive when others are behaving in ways you do not like is the inner skill of not taking it personally. Behaving non-reactively when you are triggered by another's actions comes from the cultivated ability to choose your response consciously, based on your vision of coming from compassion, rather than automatically and habitually reacting from anger or fear. Responding consciously rather than unconsciously requires that you move out of victim mentality or grievance mentality, in which you judge, blame and resent others for behaving the way they are, instead of the way you want them to.
There is no way to free yourself from victim or grievance mentality as long as you take it personally when others treat you in ways you do not like, when others somehow fail to meet your needs. Taking it personally makes it impossible to come from a place of detachment or compassion when the behavior of others displeases you. Taking it personally means that you believe that the way you are being treated indicates something bad about who you are, about your fundamental value or worth. Somehow the behavior of the other triggers unresolved issues concerning your own intrinsic goodness and worthiness to be loved. You are out of touch with your own inner wholeness and are dependent on the other to behave a certain way so that you can feel good about yourself.
This is what children do when they receive less-than-nurturing parenting. They internalize the hurtful behavior of their parents and blame themselves, concluding that there is something wrong with who they are, with their needs and feelings. They develop an unconscious self-hatred for being unable to get their needs met, for being human and vulnerable. The injury causes them to reject their own humanity, to judge themselves as somehow bad or wrong. A child is not able to see that their parent's behavior is not about them. Rather it is the parent's very human limitations, pain or woundedness that causes their unkind or negligent behavior. As the child matures it is possible for him or her to heal from the losses and unmet needs of childhood , to understand that any mistreatment or neglect he or she suffered was never about his or her fundamental goodness and worthiness. This healing process requires that the child integrate the experiences of childhood by completing the grieving process and releasing the layers of suppressed emotions - in order to accept one's own humanity and to forgive the humanity of one's parents.
So when people treat you in negligent or hurtful ways, you could practice seeing the lack of kindness as a symptom of their own inner tension and distress, and nothing to do with your fundamental goodness and worthiness to be treated well. This requires an ongoing commitment to be there for yourself when you are hurting inside, to give yourself empathy and to release your hurt and anger through the power of your own accepting loving presence, without giving in to the tendency to blame yourself or the other. There is a powerful psychospiritual principle at work here . Hatred never ceases through hatred but by love alone is healed.
Not taking it personally does not mean that you do not set healthy boundaries that honour your personal limits with people whose behavior is hurtful to you. It just means that you never have to throw people out of your heart, even if you decide not to have them in your life. It is always wise to be assertive in safeguarding your own wellbeing in relationship with others. Not taking it personally is not about being a doormat or allowing yourself to be exploited by others. Rather it is the internal reframing that you do to prevent yourself from blaming and judging others when their behavior is not to your liking. Mastering this ability to stay nonreactive allows the kind of deeper communication that can lead to conflict resolution.
The man who tailgates you and insults you as he passes in his car is simply acting out his own inner turmoil. He is unconsciously taking his pain out on you. Unloading his anguish and stress on you is his best attempt to reduce his tension and find some relief inside. If you take it personally, then you are allowing his emotional turmoil to enter your system and poison you. On the other hand, if you don't take it personally, you free yourself from the victim mentality, and you can send him a blessing of healing instead. You are being peace. As the song says " Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me".
With awareness and practice you can acquire increasing mastery over your own inner life, not being controlled by how others are behaving toward you. You start taking greater responsibility for your own happiness and peace, instead of depending on people and things outside of yourself to make you happy. This may not always be easy but it is the only path to inner peace, and peace in your relationships with others.
Sometimes pain or anger will still manage to surface despite your best intentions not to take things personally. Welcome to the human condition ! It is simply a signal that you have some more inner work to do before you are able to come from compassion in this situation. Every time you get triggered by another person's behavior is an opportunity to heal a charge that exists in your body/mind from past unresolved hurts. It is important not to beat yourself up for experiencing hurt and anger. It is equally important not to take your feelings out on others through blame and judgment.
The embodiment of compassion is the ability to keep your heart open to both yourself and others when painful feelings are triggered. The more we can learn to allow these feelings to pass through us without either self-blame or other-blame, the more freedom we will have over these feelings. We do not cling to them or push them away. We simply allow them to pass through us, all the while cultivating gentle lovingkindness toward ourselves and others in the process.
There is a famous teaching story about an empty boat that rams into your boat in the middle of the lake. While you probably wouldn't be angry at an empty boat, you might well become enraged if someone were at its helm. The point of the story is that the parents who did not validate you, the friend who betrayed you, the driver who tailgated you - are all in fact empty, rudderless boats. They were compulsively driven to act as they did by their own conditioning and unexamined wounds; therefore they did not know what they were doing and had little control over it. It is wise here to remember the words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross, "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do."
Just as an empty boat that rams into us is not targeting us, so too people who act unkindly are driven along by the unconscious force of their own wounding and pain. Until we realize this, we will remain prisoners of our past hurts and our grievances in the present, both of which keep us from opening our hearts to the compassion that is possible when we refuse to judge and blame. Not taking it personally when someone hurts us is a profound act of compassion, for ourselves first of all. We get to realize that there is nothing wrong with us even if we have been treated badly. Also we can learn to relax and let be in moments when our first impulse is fight or flight