The Delicate Balance: See Without Being Caught

feather and stone balance

Inspired by the ancient book of wisdom; 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 in 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 those we try to serve?

Some sources call this reality shock. Others explain it as one of the many paradoxes of human nature. The reality is that your motives, skills and quality of caring will always be seen as fair game for some 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 leave the profession or you can choose equanimity. Having equanimity enables you to proceed along your life’s path observing the bad behavior all around you while not allowing it to deter you from your purpose or peace of mind.

Equanimity is one of the Four Immeasurable at the core of Tibetan 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 one 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 and balanced as the winds swirl around you. The ability to stay anchored gives rise to a great sense of inner peace.

The Universe knows that I have not mastered this ability as yet. I have often acted like Don Quixote battling windmills in response to my challenges from the eight worldly winds. Hopefully with growth (not just aging), study and meditative practice I am inching my way toward equanimity. Hard work, you bet. 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 patience which is 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 other’s criticism with compassion by understanding that 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 own 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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