Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
For me people represent parts of me and objects reflect my current “mood” or inner trend. Let’s say that objects illustrate my current state of being. So people will point exactly where I need to look at in my self-introspection, and objects and circumstances that I focus on will give me an idea of the themes of my inner life and where I’m stuck at. Obviously what I focus on will include the themes of what I say and think. But they are all related, if I look closely.
Let me point out right away that what I think about, speak and feel, creates a world of its own. I like to call those “cloud universes”, as they are the condensation of our individual focuses but can become very powerful in the way they can be of service or disservice to us. Those cloud-universes will have an impact, not only on myself, but on the entire Universe that WE all are. And so for as long as I entertain those thoughts, beliefs and emotions, their existence will be reinforced.
I think the truth that triggered the first and biggest change in my life was the understanding that I am responsible for what I feel, think and how I react. I always have the choice, no matter how challenging the outside is and no matter how much I want to justify my own pain. As William Ernest Henley said in his poem Invictus: “I am the captain of my soul”. Furthermore, the only thing that is in my power is to change myself and not others. As long as I am distracted in trying to changes others -which basically means that I fundamentally blame them for my pain- I can be certain to fail in my primary responsibility, which is to evolve myself.
What I look at is in me
So now comes the tricky part and I hope to explain this properly. The pain I see outside of me is the pain I have inside of me. Likewise the joy. So if I keep posting videos displaying violence against animals or humans, what is really going on is inside me. It can be any number of things which I must learn to decipher, but it is always speaking of my inner state. Now comes the usual protest of those who say “but if we don’t denounce the injustice in the world, we are ignoring it and therefore condoning it!” Ah! My answer is: watch the intensity of your emotions and focus. I see that on Facebook all the time in our posts. We all have themes that push our buttons and while I’m not denying that there is injustice in the world, for me injustice is how we choose to interpret it. From a spiritual understanding there is not right or wrong: only opportunities to grow toward love. So if my buttons are pushed in variations of that theme, I may unconsciously be identifying with the animal in my own life and feel victimized, helpless, trapped. It’s also important to pay attention to the subject in absolute terms -and here’s where it hurts- because if I feel that way myself (unconsciously at first), it is very likely that I do that onto others. This is exactly why this is called using the mirrors.
Let me give you an example. The other day I saw that someone had posted continuous condemnation of a man for beating up his donkey, in a village where they are beloved and have become a touristic attraction. And so the person was outraged and asking to distribute the video all over the internet so we could all watch that terrible human being exercising torture on a helpless animal. And I said to the man who had posted the video, who is also a healer: “what about healing that man? He seems to need it the most”. What I mean is: why not use the energy to propagate love instead of beating up the man? By crying out our outrage and calling for condemnation of that man, he has become our donkey and we have become him, as so now we are beating him up.
If we disagree with the ways of others, then resisting them only makes them stronger. And we become part of the problem, we participate in the turmoil. We’d rather be a ray of light in the darkness and do what we can to bring about change.And anyway the only people we can change is ourselves and often we don’t do that.But we don’t change by acting, we change by being -we show the way by being, we lead by example. People who live in bad neighborhoods won’t make anything better by either joining in the gangs or getting a bigger gun! It just makes things worse and violence escalates. You deal with situations by changing yourself. And if enough people will change themselves, then the whole system will take care of itself.
We can always choose love
From my perspective it’s all about choosing where to place our energy and not waste it on useless banter. We all are creative force and healing love-energy, and I think we can learn to employ what we are to serve us all. If I had a son and my theme was that of abuse, I could choose to raise him by constantly showing him videos of abusive men beating their wives all day long, with the claim that I want to teach him about the injustice of it all. Or, I could raise him in the presence of girls so that he can learn to live in that ordinary harmony and the rest would take care of itself. Which option do you think will serve me -and all of us- better? The one where my focus is sustained on the theme of violence, or the one where my focus is on love?
It doesn’t mean we have to ignore the violence in the world, but rather that, in my view, those points of friction are cues for us to practice prayer and love, because the people who exercise violence are those who need love the most. This doesn’t exclude the reality of violence and its consequences, but what I’m talking about belongs to the higher realms: that of creative power on which the universe thrives, that which we are all now called to rise up to. Can you see the difference?
The mirror game is eye-opening -if we manage to become aware of those moments when our reactions, opinions and judgements are particularly strong. When our buttons are pushed, by a person or a situation, we can learn a great deal from our shadow, which in Jungian terminology refers to our hidden or unconscious aspects that our ego has repressed or not yet recognized.
Do you ever shout at the TV because of upsetting news? What is really that thing that irritates you about that person that you cannot suffer? Deep inside, the things we condemn in others we do ourselves and are not yet aware of. Our strong reaction is our higher self saying: “look! this is what you do but don’t realize yet! Face that truth about yourself!” And the people that push our buttons are manifestations of an aspect of ourselves that we haven’t learned to recognize yet. In layman’s terms, we are jealous. And so our strong reaction is our higher self saying: “look! you have that talent, it has been repressed inside you! Bless that person in you and embrace them! Deep down you don’t want to condemn them, you want to applaud them, as you should applaud yourself”.
Tom Campbell talks about how many shout at the ruling governments but we probably wouldn’t do things much better.We have to stop thinking of US vs THEM. People at the top are not so different from us, they just have more power. When we are angry and come back home to shout at our spouse and kids, we are no better than the next despot. If people refuse to change themselves because they feel that the system is against them, then they become stuck. And if people don’t change themselves first, then we get another set of despots, as happens in many countries where dictators are overthrown by revolutionaries who become the next tyrants.
Let me just change what I can change: me. Trying to change other people is arrogant.
Anybody can see that we all have recurrent themes. And as Pema Chödron said, nothing will truly go away until it has taught us what we need to know.
For my unconscious there is no ‘other’: everything I see is really me. And so what I see in others and around me is a projection of what is within me -whether I’m aware of it or not. If all I see is “negativity”, then I can start looking at my own circumstances and what brought me to choose to see the world as hostile -to borrow from Einstein’s famous quote. In that sense, it serves me to not run away from what I’m looking at, and rather to understand it. Understanding things incorporates what I’m looking at into my experience, into who I am, as opposed to explaining things, which seems to relegate the explained to a mere adornment in my memory.
The themes of what we see, think and talk about
A variant of the mirror game is encapsulated in the following saying: “you teach best what you most need to learn”. And so we can pay attention to the themes in our lectures to others. Sometimes we hammer others with advice, because we are irritated by their circumstances and we want things to be a certain way; but this is really our unconscious, waving red flags at us and talking to us.
Perhaps we systematically identify recurring patterns in others that exasperate us and we are aggravated over and over by the same things. This may say a lot about what we need to work on in ourselves.We may take offense at anything and everything, we may think the whole world is against us, we may find our circumstances always difficult -how many times during the day do we feel friction? But the friction is really within us.
Our shadow may also play out in holding back praise to others, for fear – whether conscious or not- that we lose ground to them. Sometimes the pain we hold inside makes us hurt others in ways that we are not aware of because they may not be so obvious. But however we hurt others, by what we do or fail to do, we are also hurting ourselves.
The mirrors will remove the veils
In the end the purpose is to discover, or uncover, our authentic self and get rid of that false shell, that was shaped over time by our ego living up to the demands of our environment. And it is quite extraordinary to practice this awareness of the mirrors in our lives. This is definitely an exercise that is at the core of so many changes in my own life.
But this whole process is not just about taking out the trash, it is also about learning to bring to the foreground what positive attributes we have -who we really are. Because what lurks in the shadow self is not just the “negative” aspects that we can transform. I found it very interesting to hear Caroline Myss talk about how we forget to be honest about our talents, qualities and skills -because of how we were raised. And THAT will cause us to maneuver those aspects in the dark -to use their shadow aspects- and we may contaminate that which should be an asset, something that could very well turn our life around. Looking at the people we admire the most, whether ordinary people around us or celebrities, we can identify the themes of what kindles our admiration, and we can be sure that as preposterous as it may seem, those qualities are within us too.
In my own case, I find that I admire people who are free spirits and show qualities of endurance. The women who have pushed my buttons (it’s usually someone of the same gender), in every case and without exception, are successful (in my eyes) in their careers and family life. This is rooted in my upbringing with a catholic mother who consistently trashes women, particularly those she considers “unbearable” because they don’t sacrifice to their husbands and children. Hence the repressed aspect of being truly at the command of your professional life and being a “good mother” at the same time, whatever that is, because that is my mother’s main theme in life. So my shadow made me focus on all sorts of flaws in the women who pushed my button in order to condemn them in one way or another, until I learned to see that once I got rid of the prejudice toward them, they had something I deep down desired, was capable of (or else no button would be pushed) but have been taught of my life is “bad”. Hence the systematic trashing.
For me using the mirrors in my life is the greatest source of growth. It’s an exercise that requires a lot of courage, strength, persistence -and a lot of sense of humor. It also taught me to have a lot of compassion for myself as I see the ugly self that I can be. It’s not an easy exercise but it is the most important tool we have to see beyond the illusion of the overwhelming nature of our reality. And like I always say: we are all going to have to face the truth of ourselves at one point or another. So why not do it now?
🙂 Marina CB – Be brave, be free