Happy New Year! This is typically the time for “resolutions” and I propose instead, a “revolution.” I mean, the idea I share here is revolutionary and one I’ve been hearing, studying, and doing my very best to put into practice for many years…and it works!
As part of a mandatory class I’ve been reading the Dalai Lama’s “Ethics For a New Millenium,” where he proposes (from long-time observation) that humans have a greater capacity for love and kindness than they do for hurting others. He further states that the greatest human emotion is empathy. Most people demonstrate an aversion to seeing the pain of others.
So often in our day to day lives, it is easy to be offended, to react and feel hurt by something someone says or does. Considering my own experience along with the ideas of the Dalai Lama, I invite you to reconsider where your offended feelings are coming from. Quite often my own reactions to the actions of others, stem from unresolved hurts in the past. As children, most of us were in some way shamed, humiliated, and in varying degrees told we were stupid or worse. We grow to believe such lies, incorporating them into our being, usually unconsciously. When someone comes along to say or do something that triggers the original pain, we react…perhaps more strongly than is called for by the actual situation. Their words and actions may have come from their own pain, striking out at the nearest target, which happens to be you. Or perhaps the person you perceive as hurting you had an entirely innocent intention and had no idea they would be causing you hurt. I’ve been in the situation of having unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings and felt the frustration of being wrongly accused of intentional hurt when that was the furthest thing from my mind.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz suggests four guidelines for getting along “consciously” in life:
Be Impeccable with Your Word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using words to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love. Impeccable means “without sin” and a sin is something you do or believe that goes against yourself. It means not speaking against yourself, to yourself or to others. It means not rejecting yourself. To be impeccable means to take responsibility for yourself, to not participate in “the blame game.”
Don't Take Anything Personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering. We take things personally when we agree with what others have said. If we didn't agree, the things that others say would not affect us emotionally. If we did not care about what others think about us, their words or behavior could not affect us. Even if someone yells at you, gossips about you, harms you or yours, it still is not about you! Their actions and words are based on what they believe in their personal dream.
Don't Make Assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. When we make assumptions it is because we believe we know what others are thinking and feeling. We believe we know their point of view, their dream. We forget that our beliefs are just our point of view based on our belief system and personal experiences and have nothing to do with what others think and feel. We make the assumption that everybody judges us, abuses us, victimizes us, and blames us the way we do ourselves. As a result we reject ourselves before others have the chance to reject us. When we think this way, it becomes difficult to be ourselves in the world.
Always Do Your Best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. Have patience with yourself. Take action. Practice forgiveness. If you do your best always, transformation will happen as a matter of course.
Another wise man, Tibetan monk Thich Nhat Hanh, told the following story to demonstrate how easily misunderstandings can escalate if we act unconsciously. I heard the story at a retreat week called, Creating Peace Within the Self, Family, Community, and the World:
A young man and young woman met and fell deeply in love. The two were joined in marriage and produced a beautiful son. They were faithful to each other and to their religious tradition, setting out offerings of flowers and food and lighting incense and candles on their bedroom altar each night.
Not long after the birth of the son, the husband was called to war. He kissed his beloved and their infant offspring goodbye, and left to fulfill his duty.
As the boy grew, each night his mother took him to the bedroom to continue the offering ritual and the burning of incense and candles. To comfort the boy, the mother pointed out shadows cast on the walls and told him, “See there? That is your daddy. He is with us always!”
When the boy was three years old, there came a knock at the door. The mother was elated to see her husband, returned from the war. She called for the boy and the three set out for the market place. So that they could finish their errands more quickly, and to give her husband time to get re-acquainted with the child, she suggested that her husband take the boy in a separate direction from her own.
The father took the boy by the hand and when they were alone he told him, “I’m so glad to be with you again! I’m your daddy!” The boy tried to tug away exclaiming, “You’re not my daddy! My daddy visits us in mommy’s bedroom each night!”
The father became furious. He ran with the boy to find the mother. When they returned home, the man would not listen to his wife who pleaded to explain. He gathered his things and left, never to be seen again.
The woman quickly sunk into despair, so deeply did she grieve the loss of her beloved. Though she tried to go on without him, she eventually was beyond consoling and jumped to her death into the icy waters of the sea and drowned. The boy was sent to an orphanage to live out his days without parents.
The story is drastic and dreadful, as it was meant to be in order for Thich Nhat Hanh to make his point. How easy it is to misunderstand. How many quarrels between individuals or between countries start with misinterpretation of events or actions? How many times is one person in error for lack of giving another the benefit of the doubt; the necessary conscious understanding that humans are basically good, and for the most part intend no harm…especially toward those closest to them?
It may not be so easy, but the next time you are tempted to take offense, I invite you to take a deep breath and stop for a moment. Is this person someone who is known for intentionally and repeatedly hurting others or could you be misinterpreting their intention or mood? Stop to consider their good qualities and bring to mind your good experiences with them. Does their hurtful action remind you of a long-ago hurt – a hurt that you may find yourself experiencing over and over again? Feeling hurt about the same type of things repeatedly is often a clue that the perceived offense is based on something old rather than an actual attempt to hurt you. This exercise will only take a few seconds and just may stop an argument and/or hours of dark feelings in their tracks.
In conclusion, let’s all work together to make 2013 a year where we bring forth the best in ourselves and others. Celebrate your strong aptitude for empathy and when faced with feeling offended, call on empathy to help you see the other person as a kind and loving being. Help create a Revolution of Peace in the world by being an Evolution of Peace from within!
Happy New Year and Much Love,