Monday, August 17, 2009

A Shift in Perspective

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to take responsibility for other people's emotional health? We worry that something we're thinking about saying or doing is going to make somebody we care about angry or upset -- as though it is within our power to make somebody else feel one way or another. It makes sense, then, that it's also so easy for us to think that other people can do this to us -- we think that other people make us mad, or drive us crazy or, for that matter, make us happy.

Yet all of the great spiritual teachers tell us -- as do the wise psychologists and even the Twelve Steppers among us -- that the power and the responsibility for our feelings lie squarely within ourselves. You may do something to me but only I can decide how I will react to it. Whether I get annoyed or amused by what you've done is a choice, even though it's a choice I usually make unconsciously it's still a choice. You can't make me mad; only I can do that.

And once I recognize that you can't make me mad -- or crazy, or happy -- then I also realize that I can't do it to you, either. Taking responsibility for my own emotional states has the "equal and opposition reaction" of making me stop taking responsibility for yours. This doesn't mean I should become a callous jerk but, rather, that I should realize that I can't make you feel anything. I can only do the things I do and you will feel about those things whatever it is that you're going to feel.

Funny, isn't it? We spend so much time -- and so much of our energy -- taking responsibility for something we have absolutely no control over, and so little time and energy on the one thing over which we do. Yet with a little shift in perspective things fall into place. This won't make everything easy, but it'll mean we can start to apply our efforts where they'll actually begin to do some good.

In Gassho,

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