“What you think of me is none of my business”

One of several profound lessons I gleaned from Gay Hendrick’s incredible book, Conscious Living, was how intelligent it is to focus only on things you can change. As for the things you cannot change, we can learn to accept them and learn from them without letting them throw us off track.

How much time and energy do we waste mulling over or resisting things that we cannot change — which includes everything that happened in the past (even a few moments ago)? We cannot change the past, we cannot change other people. Sometimes we can influence what they do, more often not so much. So what can we change? What can we focus on going forward in 2010?

We can change our habits, that’s what — including the habitual ways we react to things that we cannot change — like the behavior and speech of other people, for instance. In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz titled a chapter “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” I love the whole book, but especially that chapter.

What people say — even what they say about us – tells us more about them than about us. I know this is a cliche, but it is true. Looked at this way, it is very revealing whenever someone offers some unsolicited criticism or, worse, an insult. It becomes more interesting to me — and less offending — to the extent that I remind myself it is primarily giving me information about what they are still resisting within themselves! (Of course, there’s also often a grain of truth in what they’re saying :-).

Over my relatively long life, I have learned not to care much what other people think of me, because I realize that for the most part they are just projecting their own stuff (i.e. crap :-)) onto the screen that is available to them when I am around, which is me. If it “hurts my feelings,” that is just me reflexively taking their opinion to heart and, by doing so, hurting myself. I have observed that most hurt feelings are caused by misunderstandings that result from the over-interpretation of, and taking to heart, someone else’s projection! From this understanding, it is clear that nobody can really “hurt your feelings” … only you can do that … good news!

Now, how can I break this habit of being attached to what I think other people think? Emotional reactions arise so damn quickly! How do I intervene? How can I interject a flash of consciousness in order to remember that I am in the process of starting to over-interpret something that was a projection to begin with? It’s not easy being so attentive!

Ken Keyes wrote that taking offense creates more overall suffering in the world than the giving of offense. If I don’t take offense, then for sure at least I am not going to suffer! But I also do not create any karma if I don’t take that offense to heart. I don’t set a wheel of reaction/counter-reaction into motion, like turning a negative prayer wheel. If, on the other hand, I automatically react (i.e. over-react) emotionally to projections (including new projections made by myself), my ego will probably create more offense (via angry argument, condemnatory revenge, gossip, whatever).

Hey, Don Miguel … for the new year, I commit to getting better at not taking things personally! My own lack of awareness — the cause of all my automatic projecting — is something I can influence and change.

Just out of curiosity, what kinds of habits will you be focusing on in the new year? Here’s wishing all of you a peaceful and successful 2010!