I think it is pretty safe to assume that everyone has at least one person with whom they don’t get along well, or someone who just rubs the wrong way. Sometimes we can pinpoint exactly the issues we might have with these people, and sometimes we can’t quite say what it is that bothers us. Since I have been getting so good at letting go of things that no longer serve me, I’m digging a little deeper into some feelings I have towards a person who is in my life currently.
I have a pretty strong emotional reaction to this person almost every time we interact, let’s call them Joe. I feel very upset after thinking about, seeing, or talking to Joe. I feel angry—to me, Joe seems materialistic, elitist, disingenuous and completely duplicitous. It doesn’t even have to be a long conversation or anything important, but I always spend the next few minutes, hours and sometimes days feeling pretty upset about it.
In Buddhism, the eightfold path proposes the use of Right Mind—in right mind, we question emotions and thoughts that come up because, let’s be honest, all the pithy little words that flow in and out of our brains all day are mostly useless to us. Me spending an hour thinking about how what a “bad” person Joe is, doesn’t get me closer to enlightenment or inner peace, nor does it make for the best use of my time. So, in keeping with “Right Mind” I have to question these assumptions that I’ve made about Joe.
Why do I perceive Joe as materialistic? At a very basic level, I think this is spawned by my own insecurities about being materialistic. I’m definitely working on it, but I do still have like ten pairs of yoga pants. And this bothers me. I am projecting my insecurities onto Joe, and it creates discomfort within me.
Why do I feel that Joe thinks he is better than me (and others)? Again, this breaks down into my own feelings of suffering, because I worry about how others perceive me. My ego tells me that I need to be the best—that I need people to perceive me as smart, pretty, successful, etc. This perception of Joe as thinking he is better than everyone else is a manifestation of my own insecurities of how I am perceived by others.
And what about my perception of Joe’s façade—why do I always feel like he is pretending to be nice? Because my ego is hurt when I am not someone’s favorite, or best friend, or whatever. If I’m not someone else’s favorite person, it brings up my aforementioned insecurity about others’ perception of me. Why am I not the best? Why don’t they like me the most? I can’t control how others perceive me, just like they can’t control how I feel about them. Joe has no control over how uncomfortable I feel around him. Maybe I also cause an emotional reaction in him.
And since I don’t want to hurt Joe in any way, I hope that by breaking down my assumptions about him and by eliminating my emotional reaction to his presence, his discomfort will ease as well.
I can’t make everyone in the world like me or act nicely towards me, but I can control my perceptions of them, and in doing this I am practicing compassion for them and for myself.
What assumptions have you made lately about a person or situation? Did it bring up a negative or painful feeling for you?