I once attended a workshop and at the end of the training, we were all encouraged to say a few words about how the work had impacted us.
Feeling uplifted and happy, I said,
“You all made me believe that there is good in people again, with all that is happening in our dark and rough world today, it isn’t common to find kind and supportive people like all of you, thank you.”
One of the trainers had been staring at me and she said, in front of everyone, “We only see what is inside of us.”
My first reaction was, is she serious? Did she just say that to me in front of 30 other people? What is she implying? She doesn’t even know me! I am a positive and good person, and I think highly of people. It is not my fault that some people suck!
In that moment, my ego blast into defense mode. What she said hit a nerve and I did not appreciate it. There I was saying nice things and she was rather making me feel bad about myself.
It was months later that I understood what those profound words meant.
Before I went on a long-awaited holiday, which included spending extensive time with family and friends, I played out scenarios in my head about interactions with ‘certain people’, specifically those who usually bother me, that were most likely to take place. I got angry just from imagining those situations.
My inner dialogue was something like this:
Oh! I am sure that X will be annoying as usual, and I’ll probably wish that I could leave that place immediately!
Y will definitely bring up ‘the subject’, and this time I will not remain quiet and I will make my point.
XY will be inconsiderate as usual, what a surprise!
I got so worked up even before my plane landed. I prepared myself for what was to come.
Lo and behold, those exact scenarios materialized. I knew it! Ha-ha. I could foresee the future. I was pleased with myself and thought that it was a good thing that I’d geared up and armed myself by predicting these people’s behaviors. I had strategized and been one step ahead.
However, even with that smug triumph, I felt awful, anxious, exhausted and was starting to hate that holiday.
Not to mention, my ‘holiday nemeses’ were hurt too, because they had been caught off guard and were trying to pick up the pieces. I felt terrible.
“Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe.” Muhammad Ali
I traced back to how this had all started, and I realized that it all began with me. Based on my history with these people, I always assumed things were what they were. I did not allow other possibilities to be. I orchestrated this outcome. I anticipated events out of fear, the need to be in control, and self-protection.
The way I saw it, I had two options:
Let things get worse or step into a different attitude.
Making things worse was easier. I was right, these people had wronged me, and it was not my job to make things better. But I chose the unfamiliar route. I decided to change my attitude. I did not understand where this awareness came from or why I was so compelled to do this.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Changing my attitude meant changing the way I saw these people. That included drastically altering the way I felt towards them as well.
Have you ever tried to like someone whom you disliked or maybe even hated? Can you even begin to imagine what kind of effort that takes from you? It means you let go of whatever your ego believes to be true. It means seeing these people as lovable and perfect people just the way they are, without needing them to change a thing. It is accepting them and loving them now, in this moment, just the way they are.
I chose to do that with one particular person first. Boy was it hard at the beginning, but I challenged myself to keep going. I started seeing that person in a new light. I put myself in their shoes. I wondered how they would feel right now. How would they interpret what’s happening? And suddenly, I started understanding that they were doing the best they could! I saw them as beautiful and whole, but also a little misunderstood.
Guess what happened next? That person’s behavior towards me changed completely as well! It was surprising! I did not understand it. Our interactions were now so enjoyable; it was like our bickering had never happened. How could that a person’s behaviour shift so quickly and become the same as what I had been projecting? What was this sorcery?
The moment I chose to see them in a different light, they sensed it, and the situation completely transformed. I still do not understand it. However, I know that it had a lot to do with my perspective and the shift I made in my attitude. It seemed like the unpleasant experience had little to do with the person in front of me and more to do with me.
Turns out, the trainer from the workshop had been trying to tell me to take a look within myself and see what was there, before pointing fingers at those around me.
The questions that popped into my head after this experience were:
What am I projecting to the world?
What am I choosing to see?
What am I intending for myself and the people in my world?
“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” Stephen R. Covey
I tested this theory in different situations as well. It almost never failed. I tried it with my colleagues and in situations at work, and with my family. I changed how I saw and felt about the person or the situation, and just like that, they changed!
I am aware that this is not always easy to do. I can’t always ask myself go all “Dalai Lama” on the world, but I know for a fact, that coming from a place of love and peace, changes things. It takes humility and we also have to quiet our egos. We have to stop thinking that we are always right, that we are victims, and that things happen to us and it is unfair.
I invite you to try it out for yourself. If you find yourself in a situation which you do not like, step back and ask yourself, “What is the one thing I can appreciate about this?”, try focusing on that for a while, notice how you feel, and observe what happens next …
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. ” Dr. Wayne W. Dyer