September 28, 2012 by blogmasterjdeam
Impediments to happiness (yes, more!)
I have spent most of my life being one of those kind of people who take things personally. Here is an example:
About ten or eleven years ago I was at a retreat in Austin, Texas. I can’t remember what the retreat was called, but the headliners were Ram Dass, Sharon Salzberg and Krishna Das.
Before going to the retreat I’d spent a lot of time thinking about a question I was hung up on: WHAT IS GOD? Having been to one or two of Ram Dass’ retreats before, I knew the routine. Ram Dass speaks for an hour or so and then opens the floor for questions. There are so many questions, it is hard to get your question answered, so I decided to stand up right away and just ask.
Ram Dass gave me a beautiful, eloquent answer that put to rest all the ideas I had been hung up on, and answered the question in a way that made sense. He used my understanding of Einstein’s theory of E=mc2. Somehow Ram Dass knew I would need a more scientific answer.
With knowledge in hand, I went off merrily to dinner, greatly anticipating kirtan with Krishna Das later that night.
While the retreat group was waiting in the hallway outside the room where kirtan would be, Krishna Das and his band were on stage doing sound checks, and the usual things that happen before a concert. From our group, someone yelled up to KD: “what are we going to do tonight?” KD, using the mic said “we’ll chant, maybe dance and, if we have time, I’ll answer questions.” A man standing not far from me said: “LIKE … WHAT IS GOD?” The man did an excellent imitation of my voice, only he did that sort of imitation which suggests someone not understanding something very basic. He and a bunch of people burst out laughing. It was a surreal experience — standing next to these people, knowing I was the butt of their joke. I left and went back to my room. I called my husband on the telephone and told him what happened and said I was humiliated and wanted to come home. I was crying and angry. Mike counseled me to just stick it out for another day or so and see if it got better.
The next morning I determined I would put this man in his place. I decided I would tell him exactly what kind of a jackass he was, I would shred and humiliate him in front of other people the way he had me. My brain was on fire with witticisms and nastiness I would use on him. I waited outside the meditation room for about twenty minutes for him to show up so I could deliver the much planned retaliation. I waited and waited, but he didn’t come to meditation. I finally went into the room and sat down. I certainly didn’t meditate, in fact I was bubbling with anger the entire time.
I decided I would find this awful man during lunch, but over the next two hours of sitting, I slipped from anger into sadness, and started down the dreaded victim path. If you’ve ever been on the path, you know how overwhelming it becomes and how very dramatic. Being a self-made victim is downright exhausting.
I got my lunch and went outside, in order to sit as far away from other people as possible. I was sitting there sulking in the furthest corner of the patio when two men came over to my table and asked if they could join me. I thought — you are freaking kidding me. Can’t you see I want to be alone? — but instead I just nodded my head. The men introduced themselves: one was a lawyer, my age, from Dallas and the other was a 75 year old psychiatrist (M.D.) from California. Both were named Jim.
Jim, the lawyer said, “you look like you have a bee in your bonnet. Is there a problem?” I was barely able to answer, but said, “yes, there is.” I almost spat out the words. Lawyer Jim said “so, what’s the deal?”
Although I didn’t want to talk, I started telling them about what happened the night before. My voice choked with tears when I told them how “stupid” I felt. Both men smiled broadly and lawyer Jim said, “That is so great! I’ve been coming to these things for years wanting to get my shit handed to me and you got it on the first day. You are SO lucky!”
M.D. Jim explained further: “We come to these retreats to learn about ourselves, to learn what needs to be fixed in our personalities, so that we can get on with our work of coming awake. This is obviously a weakness you have that needs to be addressed or it wouldn’t be bothering you so much.” M.D. Jim got my attention with that statement.
Over the next two hours, both Jim’s went on to explain (using poetry books they just happened to bring with them, plus the knowledge that comes from many years of being on a spiritual path) that the words said by the stranger the night before had absolutely nothing to do with me, that I couldn’t have controlled them, that the words reflected not at all on anything about me and that those words had everything to do with the man who spoke them. By the time the two hours had passed, I went from detesting this stranger to being filled with compassion for him for giving me such a valuable lesson. It was all perfect and the kind of gift that comes around rarely. I was shown one of my weaknesses in a way no actual words could have taught me.
I can’t say I never took anything personally again, but I never did to the depth of that occasion. And when I did, each time I caught on more and more quickly and stopped taking whatever it was personally.
Then, during this last retreat, I had an opportunity nearly as big. An incident happened when I could very well have reacted in the exact way as the time in Austin, but this time I didn’t. I smiled, nodded and completely let someone’s disparaging words and actions go. It was what my therapist friend, Teri, calls “the cartoon version.” When we’re ready to finally get something, it comes to us in such an absurd way; it appears to be cartoon-like. It was a huge test for me and, thankfully, I didn’t take the bait. I smiled, nodded, and let the words simply float past me, not catching, or sticking to me at all. It was an amazingly wonderful feeling: I had fixed a part of me that was broken.
I think I’m finally up to 4th grade in Earth school.
From Ram Dass:
My experiences have been that my own suffering has turned out to be grace and that I often see other people’s suffering as grace even though they don’t see it that way, but I don’t say to them “it’s grace.” Because for them it’s suffering so I do what I can to relieve that suffering, but at the same moment my understanding that they will gain wisdom through the suffering does not in any way make me denigrate the nature of the suffering.
My wish for each and every one of you is an end to suffering and a life filled with joy, Chris