Epictetus, The Encheiridion
It’s interesting to watch one’s own ego in action. A few days back I was having a discussion with a couple of my friends on life’s purpose and the value we place on things we want to accomplish.
Interestingly, these friends have special abilities and can offer guidance on one’s future. One of them is an intuitive and an empath and is capable of doing psychic and astrological chart readings. The other has had a few interesting experiences with perceived reality and has experienced non dual states of awareness.
The three of us were having a serious discussion on how we could team up and offer our services to help people struggling with various issues related to finances, relationships, emotions etc. But somehow the conversation veered into our personal journeys, and I became the subject of their intuitive whacking as they call it.
I have been on a self expansion journey for the last decade. Things have surely shifted within me but I probably have not achieved all that I had intended to. During the conversation, one of my friends started hitting me with some hard truths. He started to list my abilities and my lack of accomplishments. He pushed me outside my comfort zone and before I knew it I was fighting back and justifying my status quo.
I have certainly made some inroads and have made headway into my desired outcome but have not reached my goal yet. A part of me is content in taking the small steps but a part of me feels restless and unfulfilled.
I have been guilty of mental self flagellation but when someone else started making me aware of my so stated under accomplishments I got a bit hassled and like a porcupine had my quills ready to attack.
This was quite eye opening for me and I came to a few realizations.
Even though many of us are very good at preaching others, there is still room for self acceptance and self analysis. We humans have very fragile egos and the moment someone says anything contrary to our beliefs we immediately adopt the fight or flight approach.
I was tempted to leave but instead I decided to fight back. I became defensive and aggressive at the same time. I came up with justifications for my lack of progress in my chosen path. I started listing all that I had achieved and justifying what I hadn’t. I then started to pick on the person who was shedding a light on what he saw. I started to list his shortcomings and subconsciously lashed back wanting to hurt his ego. He however seemed unperturbed. I saw momentary pain cross his face but he immediately came back to a place of calm. Seeing him not lose his shirt, made me realize how quickly I had reacted.
He was doing me a favor but my ego was not ready to be bashed. I was physically unharmed and yet my heart beat was up and my hands were sweating. My physiology was reacting to my psychology.
Fortunately, years of practice came in handy and I became aware of my reaction. I could therefore bring myself out of the downward spiral. I saw the attack as an act of compassion and saw that the motive behind it was love and my betterment.
As soon as I changed my view about the conversation I felt at ease. I immediately sat up straight, took a deep breath and saw the compassion that was driving my friend to whack me. He was coming from a place of love wanting me to become what I am capable of. His approach may have been a bit harsh but his motive was kind.
The same scenario repeated when I tried to say something to my teenage daughter who had a bad day at her golf tournament. I was trying to shed light on how she had allowed her fears to get the better of her and lost some easy puts. She immediately became defensive and started to attack me verbally. This time it was my turn to remain unperturbed and we diffused the situation. In the past we would argue and try and have the last word, but I understood why she was being defensive. She felt attacked and it’s natural to defend oneself when you feel attained. After a few minutes she understood where i was coming from and went on to explain how she messed up and how she could have done better.
Two different episodes with very similar outcomes. In both cases there was latent sadness and regret for not having met self proclaimed goals.
In scenarios where we do not meet our own expectation our self esteem plummets and we become very sensitive. Even when someone is coming from a place of compassion and support we feel it’s an attack and react.
In both the cases the receivers ( i.e. my daughter and I ) put up a shield of self justification and attacked back.
In both cases one person stayed calm while the other expressed painful emotions by trying to hurt back. Due to one person remaining calm the situation got diffused quickly. Had everyone allowed their egos to get the better of them there would have been a lot more pain involved.
As Epictetus rightly said ” We are disturbed not by things, but by the views we take of things.”
Both my daughter and I took offense to being told what was a fact, but the moment we changed the way we saw the episode the feeling of hurt dissipated and we became open to input and suggestion.
The reason for pain is usually a wound. In our respective cases there was an emotional wound at not having met our own expectations. The wound needed healing and just as a doctor sometimes needs to be cruel to be kind, we need to understand that people may say things that may sound very harsh and cruel, but if we can see the love and compassion behind that message we will feel grateful instead of feeling hurt.
In my case, my friend did stir up something in me that needs to be looked at. I do need to get out of my comfort zone and take charge of things I need to do. My daughter too needs to assess her game and see where she could improve. Instead of both of us becoming defensive we may need to take the surgical approach and go through short term pain for long term gain.
Nothing is a failure until
we give up completely. There is temptation to give up and stay in the comfort zone. It does feel easier but the satisfaction we get after achieving what we are capable of is far greater and fulfilling.
So, the next time someone says something to you that may feel like an attack, try and look at the intention behind the act.
See the person as a teacher or a mentor who is trying to wake you up and get you out of your comfort zone.
See it as a blessing and soon it will become one.
Shveitta Sethi Sharma
Chief Happiness Officer
School of Happiness