The Tao Te Ching: Verse Thirteen

Favor and disgrace make one fearful
The greatest misfortune is the self
What does “favor and disgrace make one fearful” mean?
Favor is high; disgrace is low
Having it makes one fearful
Losing it makes one fearful
This is “favor and disgrace make one fearful”

What does “the greatest misfortune is the self” mean?
The reason I have great misfortune
Is that I have the self
If I have no self
What misfortune do I have?

So one who values the self as the world
Can be given the world
One who loves the self as the world
Can be entrusted with the world

                                                                          Lao Tzu

No rational being would admit to seeking suffering over happiness yet, this is what each of us does when we consistently let the opinions of others influence our actions and shape our self-image. Those of us who have chosen a life/a career in service (human service) did so never thinking that this choice would place us in harm’s way.

Who could have anticipated that wanting to help a fellow human being, when they are most vulnerable, would invite a steady diet of analysis, harsh comments and judgment from a variety of critics, even the ones we try to serve?

Some sources call this reality shock. Others explain it as one of the many paradoxes of human nature. However you want to box it, the reality is that your motives, skills and quality of care will always be seen as fair game for “savvy consumers”, regulatory agencies, the media, and even colleagues to dissect.

As I see it, you have three choices. You can choose the relentless torment of being perpetually disappointed and angry, you can choose to get the hell out of Dodge and leave the profession; or you can choose Equanimity and proceed along your life’s path observing the “bad behavior” all around you, yet not allowing it to deter you from your purpose or peace of mind.

Equanimity is one of the Four Immeasurable at the core of Buddhist thought. The others are Loving Kindness, Compassion, and Joy. Equanimity is the ability to see without being caught by what you see. It is the ability to not react to your reactions. Imagine! Equanimity breaks the chain of suffering by helping one not react to the pleasant or unpleasant feeling associated with the Eight Worldly Winds: Praise verses Blame, Success verses Failure, Pleasure verses Pain, and Fame verses Disrepute.

Becoming excessively attached to success, praise, fame or pleasure can be a clear road map for suffering when the Worldly Winds change direction. Success is wonderful, but if it defines you, what happens when the inevitable failure lands at your feet? Praise can be addicting. Seeking to constantly fill that craving soon depict you as needy. Over identifying with failure breeds a sense of incompetence or inadequacy. Overreacting to pain (physical or emotional), will wear you down and doom you to a life of discouragement.

Equanimity gives you perspective. A unique understanding or sense that your inner well-being is independent of the Eight Worldly Winds therefore; you are more likely to remain calm & balanced as the Winds swirl around you. When anchored, such ability gives rise to a great sense of inner peace.

The Universe knows that I have not mastered this ability/skill as yet. I often feel (in retrospect) that I have acted like Don Quixote battling windmills in response to my challenges from the Eight Worldly Winds. However, with time (hopefully growth and not just aging), study and meditative practice I am inching my way toward Equanimity. Hard work, yes; but the occasional respites associated with experiencing a genuine sense of calm have fueled me to try to attain this state of mind on a more consistent basis.

I believe the key is space. The ability to put space between the event and the reaction to the event; much like the key to meditation is to make the space between each thought longer. So how do you create such a healthy space? Tap into that courage that enables you to know and accept yourself with Loving Kindness. Try to frame others criticism with Compassion by understanding that his/her words and actions often have roots in that very human need to deflect attention away from oneself. Find the Joy in living an authentic life guided by your on intuitive knowledge of right and wrong. Consider these words from anthropologist Carlos Castaneda,

We either make ourselves miserable, or we make
ourselves strong.  The amount of work is the same.

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