Dr. King has been memorialized not because he was a hero to a small minority of Americans with darker skin but because he is a man who was respected throughout the world for his courageousness and contributions to humanity but as he said ” No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
It has taken me some time to decide how I wanted to convey the progress made over the past six weeks of implementing the wisdom of the Second Agreement: Do Not Take Anything Personally. Truthfully, I think it takes a lifetime (or a few) of understanding, compassion, and ability to love yourself enough to not take the words or actions of others personally. Not only is hard work to love yourself, but it equally difficult to remain non-attached when someone does or says something that is hurtful. One could make the argument that if I am not supposed to take things personally, then I won’t get my feelings hurt when a friend fails to keep a commitment or if a guy says he will call and doesn’t. Yet, this is a completely unrealistic expectation to set –I just set myself up for failure by doing so. Of course my feelings will be affected, I am not a robot, and I am blessed with a broad pale of emotions like everyone else on this planet.
When we classify our feelings with phrases like good, bad, positive, or negative, it leads us to make quick, sometimes harsh, judgments about ourselves and others. By classifying these feelings in order of preference, I end up creating a strong aversion to then identifying negative emotions as they arise. By not allowing myself to feel the “bad” ones with the good, I created undue physical and mental stress. The more I avoid conflict, the greater tendency I have to behave in a passive-aggressive manner. Often times, I would remind myself that I “shouldn’t” or “should” feel or do or think a certain way, because that is how others would want me to be or not be in various situations (which had nothing to do with my personal values). By the time I shoved 10-pounds of “should” into a 5-pound sack, I became overloaded, exhausted, and angry because I had not stuck up for myself in the first place. The next step was to sit in my cage of resentment and fling “shoulds” at others, often at loved ones who didn’t deserve it because it is a safe assumption to make that they will love me anyway. (I believe this because, unlike me, they have mastered the Second Agreement and they do not to take it personally……)
What I have learned is that it is important to give attention to those feelings. Instead of thinking that because they are “bad”, which in turn makes me “bad” for having those feelings, and I must admonish them from my soul, I can see them as part of the whole person use them as data to understand that something is out of alignment. Just as physical sensations give you information that your body is in good health, emotions give you information as to your mental state. Discord, adversity, and negative emotions offer incredible opportunities for us to make powerful reformations in our lives. These feelings are the backbone that spawns social and political change. In order to get to a place where we can make a constructive effort at change, we must first acknowledge and take responsibility for how we feel and why we are discontent.
Maybe a better way to phrase the second agreement then would be to say that “we agree to take responsibility for our own feelings”. In some sense, by taking something someone else says or does personally, we can blame someone else. This leaves most of us in a chronic state of disappointment because we then expect someone else to make us feel better when we are hurt. All too often, when someone causes harm, they cannot or do not “make it better” or “set things right”. When you take it personally that someone harmed you, you paralyze yourself from moving forward through the grieving process. As I did, you will stay in the Bargaining Stage, wondering what happened, or why. I have learned that the second agreement means first acknowledging that you are angry, upset, discontent, etc. and then, by not taking it personally, freeing yourself to use that energy towards healing.
Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Take an inventory of how those feelings move about in your body. Write them down, as you notice them, if need be. Then ask yourself what, of those feelings and sensations, are useful. If they are not useful, then you have to ask yourself what can you do to alleviate the suffering caused by the discord? Sometimes it is an easy shift in focus, sometimes it is more complex, but it gives us the motivation to join or spark a movement for reform. For me, regardless of why I am angry, or who made me angry, I can’t sleep when I am angry. I also notice that rush of adrenaline up the back of my neck, my cheeks flush, my stomach gets upset, and my shoulders hunch up clear past my ears. I also hold my breath. Now, when I take an inventory of which of those things are useful – I come back with none of them. Then I have to ask myself, now what? What do I want to do with the anger? I can’t just sit on it – as the Buddha says – or my butt is gonna get burned. I have to come up with some healthy ways to process and release that anger. Once I am no longer holding onto it, I can see clearly what changes need to occur to return to sweeter state of mind. It could be that it is time to accept a friendship has died, or that I need to do my own thing on a Friday night and not depend on a date to have fun. It may be that I need to start a movement for reform in the yoga community……who knows?? Whatever it is – at least I understand that if I do not taking things personally, then I am in charge of my own contentment. Damn…is that liberation?!