“Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” ~Dalai Lama
The most straightforward advice I can suggest to make real concrete changes in your life is to practice causing no harm to anyone—yourself or others.
Try it for a day. Or two. How about a week? You will probably find that it’s harder than you think. Before you know it, someone has triggered you, and either directly or indirectly, you’ve caused harm.
I am a successful psychotherapist and conscious woman, and I’m also committed to transparency. No more hiding behind the therapist’s veil for me. The one that projects enlightenment and hides the truths of being human.
With that said, I happen to be a bit controlling. Take a moment and imagine yourself at a Twelve Step meeting. “Hello. My name is Carrie Dinow, and I am addicted to control.”
It’s really helpful to get to know the ways you cause harm, much like you would a lover in the early stages of a romance when every part of you wants to know the other. You definitely want to get to know your own inner ‘others,’ the pained shadow parts of yourself that can live buried below the surface.
The ways we cause harm can show up like fifty shades of grey, so the more intimate you can be with your own particular expression, the greater chance you have to let go. Like being overly invested in how many men join my husband’s camping weekend.
The most obvious expressions, of course, appear as control, blame, withdrawal, and lashing out. With a little gossip and lying on the side.
What is your harm of no choice?
You’ve heard the fairy tale about the toads. It involves a princess who, when angered, would start to say mean words, and toads would actually come out of her mouth.
How many times I have said to myself, “Do not say a word. Keep your mouth shut. It will only cause harm.” Despite our good and sincere intentions, most of us wrestle with our own toads. I know I have.
I find that I am just like the Buddha—as long as I’m alone. It’s a lot easier to keep my mouth shut when it’s just me, myself, and I. Add a husband (even one of the best ones on the planet) and highly persistent daughter (the love of my loves), and all bets are off.
The other night my daughter was extremely persistent, keen on getting her way. My husband, who is a revered psychotherapist—adolescents being his specialty—wrestles with his own blaming toads. In the past, his toads would trigger my toads. And faster than you can say Jackie Robinson, we are consumed by a plague of harm.
So what are the ways for holding our seat, and for making sure the toads of control and blame don’t fly out of our mouths? The one I have found most impactful of all is to just shut up. No matter what, don’t scratch the itch. That’s all! Mmmm….
That’s one reason I meditate. To court my inner toads and free me from my learned drug of no choice—control. It’s profoundly humbling to sit with my own thoughts, and to sit with an itch and not scratch it, without an escape clause.
The practice of returning over and over to my breath allows me the choice of whether or not I stay attached to this addiction. When conflict arises or tones don’t meet my approval rating, I have more of a choice of how I want to react.
Letting go of this lifelong relationship to control allows me to tolerate others’ behavior. No longer a feather in the wind at the mercy of someone else’s emotional breath, my need to escape the scene when things don’t go my way seems to be calming, mostly.
After many years, meditation has become my new drug of choice. It offers me a chance to pause so I can actively engage in letting go of my control which, in my household, reduces the harm. The benefits are a lot like cooking with Teflon; things don’t seem to stick as much.
What does it take to change the habitual response and to keep your mouth from spewing poisonous toads? To begin a different practice with yourself? One that honors letting the moment pass without responding to it?
Most of us could use some basic tips on on how to loosen the grip on our well-ingrained habits of striking out and blaming. Each time we lash out with aggressive words and actions, we are strengthening the toad pool. And, the internal scoreboard can start to look like Anger 10, Patience 2.
In the game of life, we can become easily irritated by the reactions of others. However, each time someone provokes us, we have a chance to do something different, to tend to our own reactions. Either we can strengthen old habits or we can take a moment to pause. That’s what it takes, a big fat pause.
Did you know that patience is the antidote to anger? Learning to pause can help us develop our patience. When we begin to pause instead of retaliating, even if it's only briefly, we are starting to loosen the pattern of causing harm.
Have you ever noticed that much of the suffering comes from the escalation from that one moment when someone comes at you with a tone or says something that hurts your feelings, or has an opinion you absolutely don’t agree with? It’s what we do with that one moment to the next that can imprison or free us.
Each time the toads escape us, we escalate our aggression and solidify our harm habit, which makes it a bit more difficult to calm the waters. If we learn to sit still with the restlessness and the sensations of anger, we can begin to tame and strengthen our mind.
If only we could pause. Give it a try. No harm done.