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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Using Every Tool Within Reach to Grow


For anyone who is consciously following a path that leads to greater growth, understanding, and wisdom, it could be said that the small details of daily life are what can most irritate, stress, anger, bewilder, or simply defeat us – albeit momentarily. Yet, in these small details, we are offered the gift of tools that can serve us well in our quest for growth, just as a hammer can help us drive a nail into wood, or a screwdriver can remove a rusted screw and help replace it with a shiny, new one.

If the cashier at the supermarket is alarmingly slow, you have a tool to learn patience. If a negligent or texting driver cuts you off in a way that could have caused an accident, you have a tool to become mindfully aware of yourself – in order to learn how to process yourself back towards a state of inner calm. If a noise from the street threatens to irritate you, there is the tool to become mindfully aware (again), in order to learn how to choose to ignore that which disturbs your inner calm. If a customer service agent for your electricity provider is rude, you have a tool to learn how to maintain healthy boundaries while also maintaining your inner calm. If the news presented on television every day is heart-breaking or horrifying, you have a tool to learn the difference between pain and empathy or compassion (also see Empathy vs Altruistic Love and Compassion).

You can probably come up with dozens of other examples of those little things that so irritate us. Jung said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”, and while I’ve written about this in the past, I believe the truly important growth principle is this: are you willing to also look at yourself in the midst of thinking something negative about another? Not because you are necessarily at fault about anything at all, but to understand exactly why you are so irritated, annoyed, angry, etc. Because in examining your own negative emotion that arises due to another, you are setting off on yet another path to growth. Perhaps it is bringing up triggers from your past that have nothing to do with the person you are facing, but if you choose to focus on what you perceive as their failing; their badness; their fault for making you feel like that, you will never learn to understand yourself and grow from it. Every bit of affect (emotion), as Jung stated, can teach you something about yourself – especially the negative affect.

Another important tool for growth has to do with your worries. Whatever causes you to worry is a place where you can grow. The growth might be to become more mindful in order that you deal with the worry differently rather than just continually ruminating about that which – for the time being – you are unable to change. The growth might also be to decide to move in a new, unproven direction that implies some risk in order to ease the problem that is causing you this worry. Who knows, you might even solve it! The growth might come from taking on a new perspective about the worry – one that means that you think differently about it - and hence possibly worry less, and thus are able to proactively move towards a solution.

And then, of course, there’s the really big stuff that symbolizes an enormously fertile tool for growth. Terminal disease, chronic pain, loss of financial security, heart-rending and agonizing rifts in families between parents and adult children, or between siblings, grandparents who are kept from their grandchildren, a marriage or love relationship gone awry, the death of a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child, or another kind of bereavement that comes from the loss of friendship, addiction on the part of a loved one, suicide, and so much more. Life serves up an endless panoply of variations on the theme of pain. Unless we are able to look at the ones that appear and acknowledge the fact that there is something to learn here, we may sag, become brittle, and break, especially if some of these greater blows come later in life. That is, if we have not bothered learning from lesser problems earlier on (as Thomas Moore writes in his marvellous The Ageless Soul), which would provide us with some muscle power, we may not only fail to grow from the situation, but we may wither under its onslaught. (Also see: Pain & Joy: The Balancing Act of Your Inner Life).

I have no words or easy formulas to help you begin to live this way. But I do know this: by consciously deciding each and every time something upsets you - whether it is as simple as an irritation about someone on the periphery of your life, or as complex as facing a terminal diagnosis – that you will find something to learn from the situation; something that will help you grow, then it does become easier. This means that the process gradually becomes part of your life; simply part of what is (as Tolle puts it), or, in words by Krishnamurti that initially most of us find very hard to grasp: my happiness comes from not minding what happens. This is not apathy. Rather, it is inner peace that comes from wisdom.
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