How much time do we spend defending ourselves? In the morning, before we are fully conscious, do we begin planning our defense strategy against a variety of imagined critiques, slights, or about our own possible mistakes? Do we start mental lists of things we’ve done for people and ponder the level of gratitude and admiration they may or may not be feeling? Or do we worry that we have not done enough? In either case, we feel that inequities and shortcomings must be addressed.
It is sometimes hard to be sensitive to the difference between when we are feeling uncomfortable and unsafe. Most of us find it even harder to allow a state of discomfort to be a place of exploration and curiosity. Commonly, we find some emotional fuel to throw at this feeling and grow it to a state that we can soon describe as downright scared. Fear robs our ability to be sensible and present. These are extreme states. States in which we often label ourselves most harshly... or just lie.
Identifying our foibles is important, and labelling character traits is vital to honest, fearless growth. Would you label yourself a giver or a taker? Most of us say we fall somewhere closer to one end or the other. Few of us manage a perfect balance of give and take. But, even fewer of us feel we are pinned at an outer limit of the spectrum. We do, however find ourselves occasionally going close to those limits with certain people in our lives. In some relationships we find our self-centeredness to be extreme and in others we may wind up a total enabler.
Mindfulness helps us to find our way to the middle ground. We can slow down and examine our true perspective on self, other, justice and boundaries. By doing this we uncover the values that we really want compelling our behavior in each of our relationships.
It all starts with honesty and humility. Getting curious about what we’re really doing. How is our behavior being perceived? How wrong are people when they criticize us? What if they're right? If perception is just perception, how can it be wrong or right?
Here’s where real courage and self-compassion come in. When we can look at ourselves with the eyes of love. It sounds so easy, right? But, paradoxically we feel more comfortable listening to the inner critic because embodying that critic feels more powerful than embodying the part of us that feels ashamed.
What if we admitted to being that which we are appalled to hear our loved ones say about us? What if the pride that binds us could just be released for one brief moment? What if we allow ourselves to be that which we are terrified of people thinking we might be? Oversensitive. Childish. Grandiose. Self-centered. A bad driver. Inattentive. A lousy listener. Undisciplined. Distracted. Uncaring. Cheap. Greedy. Lazy. A pushover. Stubborn. A bad driver?! I know. You’re thinking, no way. I am and have never been any of those things.
Pause fifteen seconds.
Okay, now you’re thinking, well, maybe sometimes. Sure. I CAN be some of those things on rare occasions. But, it’s only when someone provokes me. Usually when I feel extremely abused.
Pause 10 seconds.
Oh, and maybe when I am hungry, angry and tired. Maybe when I’ve drunk coffee. Maybe when I’ve had too much chocolate or booze the night before.
But, that’s not who I AM! I am a very patient, kind, attentive, generous and an expert driver… generally.
On the other hand, we might have been the caretaker of someone who needed us. Someone who simply could not function without us doing things they might not do for themselves. We may not have given them the opportunity to do them. They may have taken from us more than we had to give, and learned not to trust their own ability to manage without our help. This is called enabling.
But that's not who I AM! I am never controlling or over responsible. I allow people to make their own mistakes and find their own way.
Okay, I did start every other sentence with "you know what your problem is...." But, I advise because I love.
The fact is that each and every one of us has moments when we behave in one of these ways we call inappropriate, unattractive, even harmful to others. Yes, the Dalai Llama has bad days, too. He may be a Llama, but he still has to live in the real world with other annoying people.
The thing about most monastics who spend their days focusing on how to be better people, is that they have time to focus on how to be better people. They encounter mostly others who want to be better people. They may not be provoked as often as you are. We all tend to be on our best behavior around spiritual leaders, don’t we?
Especially when we are in confession.
Because sometimes we DO actually admit that our survival mechanisms resulted in excessive behavior. We generally do this in a sacrosanct environment with someone we trust not to judge us. We trust them to forgive. We trust them to accept us warts and all. The irony is that if we assume that person is spiritually perfect, how can we assume they would understand or accept the foibles of real relationships that happen in our real world? Messy, regretful, selfish, confusing relationships in a messy, stressful, oppressive, dog eat dog world.
We make a real leap of faith here by deciding that this person will get us, accept us, forgive us, keep our confidence. Why? Because we need to experience this state of humility. Humility = of the earth, honest about both our positive and negative traits. It does not mean humiliated!) We need to come clean about who we really are. We desperately want to be right size in our own eyes and the eyes of others. We truly relax only when we pursue humility for its own sake. Not because it might get us more power, prestige and safety. That false state of humility reaps no benefits. We all know this in our hearts. That’s why we go to the confessor.