Saying For Today: We are always more than how anyone sees us.
Autumn Afternoon Old Orchard Beach
* * *
* * *
As to encountering anger directed at you, what I write below does not suggest the arising of anger within us in itself is wrong. Our intent is to remain aware of the anger arising within us, not expecting we are beyond feeling anger. Indeed, if we befriend the anger arising within us, we learn self-compassion and are less likely to wield it as a weapon to hurt the other. Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, offers wise guidance...
If halfway through listening irritation or anger comes up, then you cannot continue to listen. You have to practice in such a way that every time the energy of irritation and anger comes up, you can breathe in and out mindfully and continue to hold compassion within you. It is with compassion that you can listen to another. No matter what he says, even if there is a lot of wrong information and injustice in his way of seeing things, even if he condemns or blames you, continue to sit very quietly breathing in and out.
* * *
She looked at me, and her beloved looked, too. "We liked you from the first day we met you," she said smiling, with her husband affirming. I stood, not knowing what to say, then replied, "Thanks," returning the smile.
Reflecting on this expression of appreciation, recollection of a contrast from two days before arose. I was the new pastor at the church. A member got upset with me. I did not know he was upset. Later, I was on the phone with a friend. When the conversation ended, I checked my email messages; this man had sent me fifteen messages filled with rage. The man criticized my spiritual path - a vowed contemplative - and person. He was sarcastic and expressed delight in slicing me with his word sword. After a time of quiet and discernment on how to respond, I did calmly, kindly, and briefly. I, then, decided to delete both his mailings and my reply, thereby refusing to give credence or power to the online mugging. The man left the church. I never saw him again and never knew what so outraged him. I had met with him but could recall nothing said to provoke the mailings.
* * *
We learn we influence how others regard us, but not as much as we had assumed. Especially as a spiritual leader, I found myself the recipient of unrealistic projections.
Persons often see us through what they wish themselves to be or not to be. We can become a surrogate for their unrealized potentials. We can become the person they are but cannot accept, so they put the intolerable one onto someone else. And, if you are a kind, gentle being, you are an easy target for negative projections and the accompanying rage.
* * *
So, what to do when we experience either a negative or positive projection? Do not attach to it. The couple who complimented me, though they had only shortly before met me, were seeing in me something that was in them; likewise, with the man who wrote the spiteful emails. What they said of me was someone they wished me to be, someone they needed me to be. This does not mean I am not partly what they saw me to be. Neither does it mean we cannot appreciate when others esteem us positively or learn from those who do not.
The couple liking me was an encouragement for me to be my best self. And, with more maturity now, I might better see into the response of the raging church member and find some wisdom as to how I could have related more wisely with him, and he might never have felt so much hurt. I do not know. Regardless, we are going to be liked and not liked. Persons will bless us and curse us, no matter what we do or do not do. And, even with our practicing non-harming, some persons will feel harmed by us, whether we intended it or not. And, likey, they will assume we meant to harm them. Again, however, for our equanimity and intent to be a blessing, we do not attach to how anyone views us. We are not indifferent, we simply do not emotionally grab hold and own their perspective of us. We are always more than how anyone sees us.
* * *
I chose to practice non-violence in reply to the angry man. I could have lashed out at him. He likely would have continued the warring in response, and I would have given validation to his outrage. Also, I would have added to his hurt - anger always is a veil of hurt. What would that have proven?
Jesus provided wisdom on how to reply to such situations, so one does not get caught in warring and only adding suffering to suffering. When Jesus is arrested in the Gospels, a mob arrives with weapons. Peter, or another follower - the Gospels are unclear - pulls out a sword and cuts off one of the mob's ears. Jesus puts the ear back on. He tells his student, "Put up your sword. Those who live by the sword (i.e., violence, harming) die by the sword." Violence received is the karmic debt paid for violence given. Jesus recognized a karmic connection in warring, either with material weapons or with words.
Hence, in our relationships, we choose non-violence. We devote body and mind and speech to non-harming, even when one seeks to harm us. Rather than one who curses, we aspire and pray to bless. This precious human body is a means to uplift others, even those who display dislike of us. This does not mean unwisely allowing another to abuse us. There is a time to avoid someone, report someone, or take a stand face-to-face and say "no more." Still, we seek to live always in a spirit of non-harming and peace.
* * *
Last, I have found wisdom in the truth that others treat us as we treat them. This is not always true. Yet, my experience has been when I am kind, that is more likely how others will see and treat me. To a great extent, we do receive what we give, so let us give what we wish to receive and what we wish the world to be.