Jim Dethmer, author, coach and founder of The Conscious Leadership Group, says when something about someone bothers you, that something is probably within you. “You spot it – you got it.” After participating in a dozen of Dethmer’s online lectures, I still could not get past the judgment or unease or anger or intolerance of some people’s behaviors.
I first came across this concept in 2010 when Brendan gave me Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Katherine Kenison and Rolf Gates. One of the offerings said that if there’s something you find irritating about a yoga instructor, the behavior is probably one that you don’t like about you.
For years, when I notice that something about somebody really bugs me, I have tried to identify what is happening within me and to reconcile it, to be loving. No go. I still judged: good – bad, like – dislike.
And I wanted to get past this. I want to be all loving, good, kind, joyful. Not liking is not part of my long-term plan.
I took courses which introduced non-dualism taught by Cythina Bourgeaut, Richard Rhor, James Finley, Thich Nat Hahn, and Father Thomas Keating. Hahn and Keating are monks, Buddhist and Catholic. I am no monk.
Richard Rhor often quotes Duns Scotis’ beautiful perspective on “thisness,” being with what is. I can grasp thisness, especially in the realm of the Serenity Prayer. The older I get, the more I know there is very little I can control. Thank God for God. I can trust in what is, and I can be where I am without bolting into future perils.
Ram Das’ Be Here Now is quite the hippy masterpiece on staying in the present. The repeated mantra of being with what is grounds me.
In her Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brene Brown relays her first interaction with her therapist and says to her, “It’s really bad, isn’t it?” And the therapist replies, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.” And Brown says, “This is gonna suck.”
My Aunt Aggie recommended I read Richard Rhor’s Just This, and the tiny text was my companion at my mother’s hospice bedside along with Rhor’s Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount.
Countless resources remind us to stay with what is. Don’t judge (Jesus says this umpteen times in the Gospels). But the stirring continues, the unrest, the desire to understand. Saint Francis said, “Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand.”
I want to understand what is going on when I sense impatience, irritability, dislike. I am not trying to be a saint. I’m trying to figure this out.
Then I read Holly Whittaker’s Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. Whittaker’s book attacks patriarchal systems and Big Alcohol. I plowed through it, and then I got to Chapter 13: “Hell is Other People.”
The chapter begins with words from Cynthia Occelli (I have no idea who she is):
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
My synapses fired to the idea that a grain of wheat has to fall and die in order to bear fruit (John 12:24).
All of this stuff is connected, somehow.
Whittaker quotes, “There’s something about that guy I don’t like about myself” (Unknown source).
She describes interactions with a colleague who does not like her, and she tries everything to change this. She works it. She digs deeper and deeper into her need to be liked, her dislike of this guy, and his dislike of her. She wants to be a good Christian. She’s sober and has come a long way on her journey, and she cannot figure out this obstacle to inner peace. (Whittaker swears like a truck driver, and her booze-driven behavior is beyond. Just sayin’ in case you pick it up.)
Then she has the revelation that in wanting to be accepted and liked by this guy and in wanting to like him, she was “denying [her] humanity. . . . He was a mirror of the parts of me I couldn’t stand. In other words, he was my shadow, embodied. The shadow – a concept in Jungian psychology – represents the things present in ourselves that we disassociate from because we deem them bad, ugly, dark, or inadequate. . . . The more we judge others, the more likely we are judging our own shadows” (271).
“The answer was to use the things I saw in him as unlovable and intolerable as a blueprint for how to love and forgive myself. . . . It helped me to see that the things I can’t stand about other people are little nuggets of treasure in plain sight” (272).
Most of us have learned that when faced with someone who is difficult and challenging, we are given the opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a saying that “comfort and growth don’t sit in the same room.” People can be tough. That’s life. But when I’m triggered, I am curious about what is happening. I have not thought of it as being frustrated with something I see in me – annoying tendencies – or behaviors I wish I could adopt but feel restricted by who knows what.
Stay with me. I’m quoting a lot. I know. But Whittaker really nailed it for me, and maybe this will mean something to you. Or maybe I’m completely wacky.
“When we condemn a behavior in someone else – and recognize that it is simply a reflection of us – we empower ourselves to make peace with what we find unacceptable in ourselves; to remember we are not made only of good parts, that we are all of it, and therefore we must try to love all of it – in ourselves and each other. . . . When we recognize ourselves in others, we discover our capacity to truly love and be loved.”
You spot it, you got it, now love it. I can’t change others. I can change me. Thank God.
Big stuff. Big insights. Big love.
It’s hard to love others when you don’t love yourself or when you’re irritated with yourself. Maybe when Jesus said to take the log out of your own eye before you make a big deal about the sliver in someone else’s, he was inviting us to love the log.