The Perils of Imposition (Part 2)

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In so much of fundamentalism we see this compromise being made. An ideology of the ego that is driven by fear, desperation and a perceived lack of control, what else can explain the gross levels of violence, aggression and manipulation that so much of it involves? Only those who feel impoverished and vulnerable would resort to such means of making themselves heard. Disempowered in spirit, they are incapable of using non-violent means to resolve conflict, for they do not understand its real power.

With the spirit comes strength, and with strength comes the courage and willingness to entertain a position that is different to ours. When we feel strong within ourselves, we intrinsically understand that no one can have their way with us without our permission. Holding the power that is authentically ours, we can approach and engage others without drawing any weapons. Coming not to battle, but to understand their position, we empower them to make themselves heard by a more constructive means than violence.

All violence is an extreme response to conflict. Having the ability to communicate and connect with each other at the spiritual level, we can evolve through our disagreements if we listen with the heart, rather than attacking from the mind. The spiritual warrior is one who knows where the true battle is being waged. Being in their own mind with their fabricated conceptions of self, they look not outside of themselves for others to overcome. Knowing where the real work of manifesting true self is to be done, this is where they focus their precious energy. Committed to victory, their preparation is gruelling, and their perseverance ever constant. Taking place in each moment, this evolutionary dance is unceasing, even as death comes to the body. A primary human obligation that prompts us to conscious thought and action, the reward of mastery of the self is the goal that is sought for, as fleeting as that prospect may be.

Far from a master on this path, I have found myself developing this ability to relate to others with a mind that has descended to the heart. A teacher of this spiritual wisdom that I have encountered through my exploration and experiences of life, I am continually reminding myself to afford others the same dignity in awakening to their spiritual self. Being what others had afforded me in my journeying, it is what I must reciprocate, for I know that there is no meaningful education when a student is resistant to learning.

On many occasions, with family and friends especially, I have had to fight the temptation to impose my learnings on others. Wanting to impart these lessons for their benefit, I have needed to temper my expression in circumstances where an open and honest assessment of their situation would not only have been unwelcomed, but greeted with open hostility. The reality is that people will not change in response to something we put forward, if they are not open to evolving themselves.

No matter who we are or where we find ourselves, we are better served by practicing humility rather than righteousness. So often righteousness wears the mask of piety, so we have to make sure that the place we are coming from is adding strength to others, and not only to ourselves at their expense. When we are humble, we are less threatening to those who are finding their way to a more authentic life. Requiring someone to open up to, they will gravitate to someone in whose company they don’t feel judged. Judgment always precedes an attack in one form or another. If we are not to harm those who we wish to help, we should not judge them. Instead, we should empathise with what they are going through, and by so doing relate to them. Their story is our story, if we care to listen.

The art of empowerment is walking alongside others, and cultivating the space for them to find themselves and their course. The best leaders instinctively know this, and they don’t resort to asserting authority to resolve issues. With the conscious understanding that others are an extension of the life force that we are, comes greater relational acuity and acceptance. Give others the time and space to learn their lessons without the pressure of having to do so on our terms. Our task is to love, not impose ourselves upon, those who walk with us in spirit.

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The Perils of Imposition (Part 1)

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We live in a world where many people have trouble with hearing the word ‘no’. Wanting the validation that comes with being listened to, they often go about finding this validation in the wrong ways. Not believing that other people will listen to them willingly, those who are desperate to have their voices heard, will try to impose themselves on others, whether by emotional, verbal or physical means. Set on having their views accepted, they resort to intimidation and force, which can only ever lead to a win-lose or mutually detrimental outcome.

No matter how hard anybody might try, they cannot bully another into accepting their position. Either a person will accept a position willingly, or not at all. Resentment is a mighty barrier to acceptance. Stirring it up in those whom we try to control, their resistance will be all the more intense. Fostering hostility with our unwelcome imposition, we receive it back in equal or greater amounts from those whose boundaries we have violated by our righteous and indulgent actions.

As human beings, we value our free-will. Exercising it, we feel in control of our lives, and that makes us feel competent and secure. Having this treasure chest of possibilities threatened by an intruder, it is only normal that we will rebel in response to their attack. With this gift of free-will being such a crucial component of our very existence, it is not something that we can just surrender, especially in the face of someone who is attempting to rob us of it.

In this context, what is sought to be taken, is better earned. What this means in terms of being listened to, is first listening to what others have to say in the absence of judgment. A primary need that we have as human beings is to be accepted. To be accepted is to feel that we are seen, heard and valued. It is to understand that we matter, are worthy of respect, and that we have something meaningful to offer to the world.

People communicate who they are in many ways, with words being one of the prime instruments of expression. Being open to receiving them, when they are moving from someone who is opening up to us, a connection can be created, which in its willing embrace satisfies the fundamental need that each party has to be accepted. To be open and giving of our attention, requires us to first and foremost listen to what others are attempting to tell us. Practicing this important and selfless skill that gives others the podium, we are presented with the opportunity to see and acknowledge those others for who they truly are.

As John C. Maxwell points out, people do not care how much we know, until they know how much we care. To genuinely demonstrate care for another, we must drop the ego in the moments that they call us to presence. Wanting to establish a connection, and have them receive what we have to give, we must engage graciously and generously from the spirit, not belligerently from the ego. From this, we can see what separates the person who is welcomed into our world, from the one who is denied without hesitation.

In so many of our interactions, the barrier that we encounter is not erected by the other person, but by our own mind. Coming from the realm of the self-centric ego that is always concerned with being right and justifying its own position, we create a divide between ourselves and others when we orient these interactions around gaining acceptance, rather than giving of our acceptance.

Focusing on ourselves and not on other people, we neglect their needs to give priority to our own. A violation of the universal law of reciprocity, it produces disharmony and a reduced willingness in others, to give or share anything of substance. Put on alert as to our attempt to exploit, their ego defences are activated and a battle ensues. Not ending until one of the participants gets their way, these are hollow victories that come at the expense of our shared respect and dignity.

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Picking Our Battles (Part 2)

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There are so many great qualities that others possess, but if we don’t allow ourselves to see the fullness of their gifts, how can we invite them to come and touch our interactions? It is difficult to want to give to others when we are feeling invalidated by them. Faced with this repudiation, we will quite naturally withhold what we have to give, not because we are being punitive, but because we are being offered an experience of pain and unreceptivity as unwelcome rewards for our efforts.

In my experience, people are seldom reluctant to give to others if they are made to feel that their essence is being honoured by those others. When we can perceive the beauty of another’s spirit and honour it without condition, it makes it much easier to overlook those surface level things that we sometimes find irritating or distasteful. Part of the reason why we focus on these things in another is because they are the same things that we most want to change about ourselves. Sure, there might be some variation in behaviour, but it all exists at the same level that grabs the attention of those who are most unwilling to shine the light on themselves.

Evolving ourselves is hard but rewarding, and we will never really appreciate this if our attention is externally directed onto others. Criticising them in the hope that they will change, we are really only distracting ourselves, and in the process becoming more powerless in our capacity to change ourselves. How we orient this power in the direction of progress is giving ourselves permission to be bigger than the ego, and the things that prompt it to express negative emotions.

When we become more of who we were created to be, those things that once agitated us lose their power of control because they do not grab our attention as they once did. Focusing on the spiritual presence in all that which we encounter, we look for good in the world, and not those things that have the potential to take away from our peace. In the realm of relationships, this makes all the difference to their substance and quality.

With greater self-awareness comes a heightened ability to discern what helps our relationships and what hurts them. Observing ourselves in the moment that we are relating, we can bring more to the life of the other person, which only appears to be separate from our own. Connected at the spiritual level of being, we are guided by wisdom when we allow ourselves to learn the lessons that others have come to teach us.

If the gesticulations of others are capable of pulling our strings and leading us to suffer, we are being taught that we have more evolving to do. If we were more evolved, these things would not bother us, for the wise understand that suffering is voluntarily undertaken. Remember this the next time that you are tempted to sweat the small stuff in relationships.

The minor irritations on which we so often base our battles are not worth our energy. Sent here to love, understand and unite, our task is not as inconsequential as the ego would have it be. Being to reconcile the wounds of our unconsciousness, this is what we work towards in each moment that we purposefully relate to others from the heart. Each human being who is formed from the same spiritual fabric that animates our life, deserves our love and mercy, which is quick to excuse others for their misgivings, and never hesitant in its wisdom to forgo battle for freedom.

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Picking Our Battles (Part 1)

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The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook ~ William James.

Scott Peck was right when he said that life is difficult. The opening line to his best-selling book The Road Less Travelled, he was seeking to articulate through that statement, that life is full of challenges that we are called to confront and overcome. With these challenges come conflicts that we must engage in along the way. Being waged both internally and externally in our environment, these tensions are where we must direct much of our precious energy, in order to evolve and reconcile the nature of our humanity.

Rather than resist this reality, we should just accept it, not passively but courageously, holding true at all times to our higher aim of fostering understanding, peace and fulfilment, for ourselves and others. A test of our willingness to become all that we were created to be, this opposition requires us to learn to draw the line between constructive and destructive battles. The former allows us the opportunity to grow and improve the quality of our existence; the latter, if we choose to take them on, can easily produce severe fragmentation, with disastrous consequences for our inner state and the state of our world.

We see this a lot in our personal relationships where we are taught to pick our battles. We will not agree with everything that other people do. Some of what they do will mildly irritate us. Other things they do, we will find completely unacceptable. But through it all, we must have the awareness to know that in each of these relationships, we are the other person to them. Not everything that we do appeals to others. Some things will grate on their nerves, while other aspects of our behaviour will have a harsher impact. The lesson then is to balance our expectations of others with what they would expect of us. Of course, not all expectations are reasonable, but we can assume that those with whom we choose to relate, expect similar things of us as we do of them.

Why then is there such a tear in the fabric of our relationships. So often it is because we hold others to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. Orienting our awareness externally, their shortcomings become the focus of our attention. Being sometimes large but more often minor, these flaws are what we criticise them about, in the vain hope that our righteous observance and accompanying notification will somehow raise their behaviour to a more tolerable realm.

Instead of having the desired effect, this approach drives their determination to not be imposed on, and they become defensive in the face of our attack. Retaliating in kind, their response is just as swift and brutal in their assessment of our faults. Invited to pervade our interactions with one another, these character assassinations will soon doom these relationships, unless one or both of the parties to them can practice functioning from a place of love, rather than ego.

The essence of this entry, we must learn to direct our focus towards what is important and meaningful, and pay less attention to what is superficial or trivial. What is important in relationships is being able to see the essence of who that other person is, and appealing to the best of who they are. It is raising others up by evoking the spirit in these interactions, and not wanting them to change, but to evolve. Relating with love is valuing the other person for who they are, rather than disparaging them for who they are not.

Such a large part of the process that love takes us through, is learning to overlook so that we may appreciate. Never can we appreciate what we criticise in the moment that criticism is being levelled. Focusing our attention on that which we are criticising, we take it away from that which we could and should be appreciating. I know that this can be difficult to reconcile when we are unconsciously acting out our relational scripts, but if we are to maximise the quality of these relationships, it is utterly necessary that we come to understand the connection between what we give our energy to and what we draw forth in others.

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The Relationship Wake

What is your relationship wake? Concerning the people that you share time with, do you leave them in a better position than you found them, or worse off for having encountered you? Do you lift others up by your contribution to their life, or do you tear them down? Do you make them the focus of your attention when you interact with them, or do you make yourself the focus of these interactions? Each of these are potent questions, when you consider that the quality of one’s life is determined largely by the quality of their relationships.

A wake is a trail that is left behind. The mark that we have made on the world, it illustrates the path that we have taken from one moment to the next. The by-product of our being, it attests to the maturity of our character, and our willingness to grow as we were created to. Embodying the thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that have shaped our interactions with others, this wake is what they will remember us by, even after we have long forgotten the dynamics of those interactions.

With this, picture yourself standing on a cliff and looking out into the ocean. Spotting a small boat in the distance in front of you, what is observable to the eye is not only where the boat is, but also where it has been. Moving atop the water by the power of its engine, what it leaves behind is a wash of white water that tells a story of its own. The wake of the boat, it contextualises the picture that otherwise would have remained obscure to an observer with a more limited perspective.

Now extend this metaphor to your relationships. Have the boat represent who you are to those who you interact with, whether they are loved ones, business colleagues or acquaintances. What wake have you left behind? Is yours one that has seen you give to others what they needed from you in those interactions? Has that path been consciously created and expressive of who you truly are, or does it provide evidence that you have not shown up in the world authentically as yourself?

Rarely do we give thought to the kind of relationships that we would like to create as we are participating in them. Most often we shape them unconsciously, and then look back at what we have effected. This is not something to regret if what we have created has been positive and fulfilling from both our perspective and the perspective of others. The real problem comes when we look back and have the realisation dawn on us that we have left a path of destruction in our wake.

Seldom is the case that we intend to cause others to suffer in relating with us, but this is what we nevertheless create when we do not direct ourselves consciously, and make others a part of our focus. Leaving them on the periphery of our concern, what we create is unsatisfying and incapable of nurturing the best of what is both given and received in these interactions.

The beauty of relationships is that they hold great potential for individual and collective growth, but we will struggle to see this beauty and facilitate this growth when we are so focused on ourselves and where we are going that we forget to take the time to look behind at our wake, and the story that it tells not only about the quality of our relationships, but ultimately the quality of our life.

In your awareness, stay on that cliff looking over the vastness of your life, even after you have stopped reading this, so that your perspective is one that adds depth to your ability to relate to others in the here and now, and into the future. We can’t do much about the wake that has already been created, but we can create a new wake from this day forward. Your power, joy and wisdom are that which you give to others as you relate to them from the depths of your spirit. Be sure to integrate this lesson into your wake, so that others can learn from your example when they look upon your boat from the precipice where they now stand.

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