Below is an (heavily-edited) excerpt from Cupside Down. It comes from a chapter titled “Know Thyself” in which I discuss the importance of self-cultivation and getting to know who we are as individuals before rashly judging everyone and their brother for not behaving as we think they should.
Looking back on this piece I’d written about two years ago, I’m now reminded of a question I’d learned from Neale Donald Walsch just a few months back:
What hurts you so badly inside that you have to try to hurt me in order to heal it?
I think this is a fitting question to ask ourselves when we choose to judge others and also to directly ask others should we feel a given situation calls for it.
I have an acquaintance who, for the sake of this discussion, I will call “James.” I had once been James’ scapegoat. During that time, James was a tough guy with a big ego. I knew it and all of his friends knew it. He had a foul attitude with foul language served gratis. He could be physically and verbally abusive. Sadly enough, but not surprisingly, James fed off of the fear of others.
When sober, James and I usually got along quite well. However, when we’d gather with mutual friends in a larger group, which typically involved drinking, things had a way of turning out for the worst. For it was on these occasions when James would attempt to show off his “manliness” by venting 90 percent of his negativity in my direction.
One night when a bunch of us were at a party—yes, a drinking party—let’s just say that an “incident” occurred. A friend, we can call him “Wilbur,” and I did something on the foolish side of things. While this act had the potential to create harm, no harm came to anyone. Even if it had, on a physical level, it would only have come to Wilbur and I.
Shortly after the incident had passed, although Wilbur was “free,” James’ reaction toward me in regard to the incident was particularly harsh. Hypocritically, because James had been in a similar situation at least once before and taken an even more foolish path, he began reprimanding me as though he were the perfect role model of All Things Sacred (…assuming ATS were into the complete demoralization of others.)
At one point, James berated me telling me over and over that he couldn’t even imagine how stupid I must be to have done such a thing. Angry, I listened to him while trying to defend myself here and there, but all to no yield. After quite a bit more of the same had passed, I got an idea. I said: “James, why is it that every single time I do something wrong you instantly try to make me feel like I’d be better off dead, but when you do something wrong everyone is just supposed to look in a different direction, forgetting that they’d ever seen anything?”
[James: Exit stage left.]
Proud that I’d finally stood up for myself, I thought maybe things would be different after that. Because James was still highly intoxicated and James’ ego had just taken a major blow, my thought was totally inaccurate. Thus the miserable night that followed.
From Ignorance to Awareness.
After going home, like so many days previous and after, I complained about James; sometimes to others but more often to myself. I continually mulled over the above instance and many other instances when James would push me to the point of me wanting to punch him square in the nose or break his teeth. Day in and day out, I would get myself worked up over the wrongs done to me by James (and others). This was all due to what I later learned was my inability to understand and healthily integrate negatively perceived experiences into my life.
At the time, I didn’t know myself. Nor did I realize that I could know myself any deeper. I assumed that by repeatedly telling myself or someone else that James was an “inconsiderate asshole” maybe I could change the world for the better. Not only did those words not have any such effect, but they served only to make me more miserable. I had little insight as to why James behaved the way he did and my personal “insight” was not any greater. Although I knew something had to change, it was still a bit premature for me to make the realization that James (or anyone else) was not the source of my problems so much as I was the source of my problems; that change would come from within, not from without.
When I finally did realize this, I began all sorts of self-cultivation practices to make my life into something worth living and demanding respect for. And why not? After all, why should I expect anyone else to respect me if I’m not respecting myself?
I’ve now come to realize that, whether me or James or Joe Whoever, we have not actually been behaving in conscious awareness. Instead, we’ve been acting on the dictates of unintegrated emotion which is triggered by subconscious beliefs about past experiences we’ve rejected or suppressed which were similar to the experiences we appear to be facing in any given moment.
I would suggest rereading that a few times, because its implications are astonishing. It means that each of us is our own worst enemy and only as individuals can we do something about it.
Sure others may have “caused” us difficult experiences. Others may have “caused” us to feel emotions we’d prefer to never have felt. But we are the only ones who can determine what we do or don’t do with each. Suppressing our pain, particularly if we then force it on others (which is usually what we do), cannot heal anything. It never has, and this we know. If something hurts us within, that’s our clue that the issue is ours and only ours to take care of. To recognize such a profound piece of wisdom and incorporate it into our lives can change our experience exponentially toward the positive.
To live with this conscious awareness is to live with a sense of personal power. And because this power comes from within, we realize that no outward source can have influence over it—unless we allow it. But why would we? It’s our own, after all.
Looking back, although I certainly don’t appreciate the way James would randomly strike or curse me out of anger, I am able to laugh to myself about it. This laughter is not in a way that abuse is funny, because it certainly isn’t; but rather at how we humans spend our whole lives fighting so hard to maintain an identity: the same identity which fights desperately for the desirable qualities of life that would come peacefully and naturally if only the egoic fighting would cease.
I look back on the party incident and find it humorous that I took offense to what had been said. If I could go back now, as James shouted his problems at me, I would just sit there (if not walk out) in silence with a smile on my face. It’s no wonder they say God is always laughing. We’re nuts. But from a higher perspective, we’re hysterical to watch in spite of ourselves.
At the time, I had myself completely worked up over James’ inability to control his emotions. I now realize that not only could I not control my emotions either, but the argument had absolutely nothing to do with my actions. Nothing at all! Whether the incident was “good” or “bad” had absolutely no bearing on our argument.
In one respect, the incident and I were meant as a mirror for James to see the suffering he creates as a result of his self-loathing and unwillingness to face his problems head on. In another respect, the incident and James were a reflection of my personal inability to stand up for myself as a respect-worthy, self-secure human being.
By gaining a deeper understanding of myself and Life, and, quite automatically, the ways of others, the problems which James “gave me” no longer have any bearing on my life. I don’t hold any of it against him. In fact, to hold it against him doesn’t even make sense. If anything, I should be thanking James for acting as a mirror for me to see the baseless misery I’d been creating for myself (and then directing toward others) by allowing my ego to control my life.
The Purpose of Adversity
Without the interaction between ourselves and others (directly or indirectly), neither side would be able to see its respective problems. Adverse situations are needed to help us further our conscious evolution. But take note: Just as one’s conscious awareness can expand through adversity, so too can one’s ego. The latter is most often the case.
For in adversity, through the acting out of two opposing forces, the ego will attempt to find something to grab on to—either to identify with anew or to maintain an identity previously in existence. This is okay because it’s the egoic reflection a person must become aware of in order to learn and heal. However, it’s not okay because when we allow the incidents to occur time and time again we’re actually strengthening our false, egoic beliefs.
If James tries to clobber me every time he’s drunk and I don’t stand up for myself, I’m merely reinforcing any number of my own falsely held beliefs.
It doesn’t matter what I might say to him. James is tougher and he’ll hurt me anyway.
I’m not brave enough to speak up.
I’d rather take the pain and complain about him because bitching gets me attention.
God doesn’t care much about me or he’d help me out.
I’m a victim.
And so forth and so on. When we look at these excuses written out, it’s painfully obvious how lame they are. Yet we use such defenses—regardless of what pleasures our personal ego—all the time, with full egoic justification that we’re being completely reasonable.
It’s only in working to “know thyself” that one can become more consciously aware of their beliefs, transmute them as necessary, and live a life of freedom and peace as a result.
Please click the link for “What Hurts You So?—Part 2.”