Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Juice of Life


The Juice of Life

That internal dialogue. That inner voice that is always evaluating and judging the experience we are having. “That was awful.” “He’s such a jerk.” “I would have done it differently.” “I can’t believe she’s doing this to me.” We spend most of our time describing our experience, evaluating it, passing judgement on ourselves and others. What would our experience of life be like if we weren’t reacting in this way? What is life like when we transcend our description of it? The flow of life never stops, only our reactions stop us.

One way that we can begin to work through our reactions is to first become aware of this internal dialogue. To become aware that we are creating labels and descriptions that we attach to people, events and situations. Once we notice this, we can give ourselves a second chance to see what we’ve reacted to in a different light. We look at what we’ve reacted to a second time but this time we go into it consciously and remove the reactive label that we previously attached. We can then ask ourselves, when I remove the label that I’ve attached to this person or situation, what is actually there? When we drop the label we can truly begin to see and experience what is actually there. 

As we work through our reactions in this way we may begin to notice what we couldn’t see before when we were caught in the smoke screen of our reactive description. We may notice the pain and hurt that exists in the person that we’ve just reacted to. We may begin to see the wisdom in the situation or event that seemed so horrific or tragic before. We are accessing our innate wisdom and compassion when we relate to life in this way.

As we continue this conscious work we can remind ourselves that a description of something is not the actual experience of that something. The actual experience of something just is what it is, whatever we add to it is extra. We can also remind ourselves that the moment we start to describe something, we are describing the past. The living experience of something is happening right now. If we are describing the past, we are missing what is actually happening right now. 

Another way we can begin to work through our reactions is to shine the light of our consciousness back onto ourselves when we find ourselves blaming others for how we feel. This is particularly useful when we are caught in the emotional states of anger, hurt or frustration. The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron refers to this practice as “removing the object”. When we remove the object, we stop directing blame at others for how we feel. We do not blame ourselves either. We’re simply abiding with the energy of the emotion in us, experiencing it’s contours and shape. If we notice that we are off in our internal dialogue again, blaming others, we simply come back to the experience of the energy itself. Not the story we’re telling, simply the energy itself.

When we embody this way of being we are not only working through our reactions, we are taking responsibility for our lives. This is true empowerment. When we are caught in the mire of blaming others for how we feel, we truly are giving our power away. We are blocking our innate ability to shape our own experience. We can’t access this ability if our internal dialogue has us believing that someone else is responsible for our life condition. 

As we continue to work consciously in this way, we realize that taking responsibility for our lives is quite liberating. As we move through our reactions, it frees us to experience life more directly. We move closer to the dynamic, pulsating energy that is the juice of life.

Not Taking It Personally


Not Taking It Personally

In the “Juice of Life” article we looked at simple techniques that we can all use to navigate through the muddy waters of our reactions. In this month’s article we’re going to get more specific and look at one of the fundamental constructs that underlies the reaction response. This month we’re going to explore the art of Not Taking It Personally.

Just one caveat. This article is geared more for those sensitive souls who tend to personalize everything and think that everything is “their fault.” This article is not for those who use the world and the people they encounter as a projection point for their assumptions, blame and rigid expectations.

One of the fundamental misconceptions that we all have relates to how we take in information. We think that when someone disagrees with us, judges us, or doesn’t understand us, that it is a reflection of who we are. If someone says, “You make no sense,” “You have a weird way of doing things,” “You’re ridiculous,” we tend to think making no sense, being weird, being ridiculous, are qualities that exist in us. There are two words that are missing from these comments that if included, would begin to change the whole framework for how we respond to people. If someone says “you’re ridiculous,” “you make no sense,” the two words that are missing are “to me.” If people were to say “you’re ridiculous to me,” “you make no sense to me,” then we could begin to see that how people are reacting to us is more a reflection of how they see and value things rather than a true reflection on us.

Let’s look at this more closely. We all make value assessments based on our own unique internal valuation system. A value assessment consists of how we assess things that we encounter in our lives (people, events, situations). David Gorman, who is the founder and creator of LearningMethods, describes the 4 elements that make up a value assessment. 

The first element in a value assessment is the valuer, (the one doing the evaluating). The second element is the person or thing being evaluated. The third element is the evaluation itself. The fourth element is the criteria being used to make the evaluation. The fourth element is key because the criteria that someone uses to make an evaluation is based on their beliefs, their life experience and any traumas they may have accumulated along the way. 

Let’s use the above example to make sense of this. If someone says “you’re ridiculous,” where does that comment come from? It appears that the comment is directed at you and about you but why that reaction and not another reaction? Someone else may have a completely different response to you in the same situation and under the same set of circumstances, they may think, “you’re brilliant.” 

At this point we can begin to see that taking things personally is not an accurate way of assessing our experience. If someone is reacting to you, it may appear that the reaction is being stimulated by you but in reality their reaction is based on their own criteria, someone else may have a completely different reaction to you based on different criteria. Each person assesses what’s happening in front of them based on their own personal criteria. We don’t have to take things personally at this point, we can say to ourselves, this person’s reaction is a reflection of their beliefs, tastes and personal criteria.

One last note, some people reading this might assume that what has been discussed here exempts us from personal responsibility. This is not the case, we are all responsible for our own actions and reactions, this is entirely the point. When we don’t take responsibility for our reactions and actions it leads to the conflicts that give rise to disharmony between people.