Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sitting with, and not taking it personally.

One or two matters lately, in one or two areas of life, have necessitated a certain amount of 'sitting with' - and bless you, my Buddhism-inclined friends here, for raising this idea in my awareness, it is a very helpful one. It is not the same as 'sitting on', and I don't necessarily need to be literally sitting to do it; these last couple of days I've been sitting with while stripping and staining the front picket fence. ( broux de noix, remarkable, totally natural, traditional product made from walnut skins and shells, half the price of its inorganic alternatives and gives an excellent, lightfast, even colour...never say you don't get every aspect here) In fact this kind of activity, purposeful, systematic but mentally undemanding, is quite suited to the practice.

The other thing I've been trying to put into effect is not taking it personally. This one I've been considering rather more as a general policy since it came up in a discussion over at Richard's a while ago. It's often a glib thing to say, 'Oh, don't take it personally', forget it, you're being touchy, and has often seemed to me a lazy way of not facing the fact of someone else's unacceptable behaviour; the corollary is that the hurtful thing was not meant personally, the taking of it that way is the fault of the person at the receiving end. Often this is true, but sometimes something is intended - just because you're paranoid...

Even so, the counsel (of perfection, of course) that one is better not construing things as personal affront as far as possible still holds. If someone has something to say to me of importance but is doing so obliquely, being deliberately ignorant of their meaning places the onus on them to be more direct, which seems reasonable. If the matter is not of importance it's better to ignore it anyway. Meeting offence with cheerful equanimity, even if it isn't what you are immediately feeling, takes the power from the offence.

This decision to grow a thicker skin, as it seems, the refusal to go down the path of inferring an increasingly complicated set of motives and intentions, which may or may not be present, in others' behaviour, conflicts, of course, with my idea of myself as a sensitive, imaginative, intuitive person. However, sensitivity has two sides. Formerly the word 'sensitive' was used much more negatively, as meaning proud, touchy, unreasonably reactive, as it is for Meredith's egoist, Willoughby Patten, who is so utterly, selfishly obsessed with his own amour propre and anything he perceives as an affront to it that he is cruel, controlling, monstrous, riding roughshod over the feelings, needs and wishes of everyone else.

Attempting to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and acting accordingly, seems a better idea.
Even this though, can perhaps lead one into error, since again it is based on construing the way another persons mind is working, and which of us can always do that? And it can finish up that one is forever taking responsibilities for others' feelings. Sometimes I've found when one has troubles or is feeling raw, it's more comfortable and comforting to be around fairly oblivious people who carry on regardless and aren't walking on eggshells. Years ago, a not particularly close friend whose mother had been very ill for a long time, so we had stopped always asking how she was, came round one evening with her boyfriend, apparently no different from usual, stayed for a while, we had a laugh and talked about food. Later we found out her mother had died that day, and we were probably the only people in her circle of acquaintance who didn't know . I was mortified, and went straight to see her, and express how sorry I was to have been so apparently insensitive, etc. She said no, in fact it had been a lovely, relaxing evening, exactly what she needed. But thenceforward it was difficult between us, we were awkward and tongue-tied and embarrassed.

Perhaps positive, useful, non-egocentric, creative sensitivity is something like humility; it is only acquired by not trying to acquire it.

Another thing worth considering, what's in it for me in being the offended party? Another anecdote: a neighbour we had, a bright, attractive woman doing a good job of getting on with her life after divorce, cultivating friends and interests, on good terms with her ex-husband, for her teenage daughters' sake but also because she didn't see any point in not being. When we were talking of these things, I remember her saying "It does suit some people, and I have to say it seems to be women especially, to remain aggrieved. "
I hate the idea of being the hurt victim, finding it degrading and humiliating to the point where I deny and reject my own hurt rather than sit awhile with it, and consequently, I think, I suffer more in the long run. But I'm pretty good at aggrieved, and I think I do righteous indignation rather well too.

I don't know why some have to struggle so much more than others with these kinds of negativity, early experience of course accounts for most of it, but observing small children has led me to the conclusion, and I don't think I'm alone, that some people seem simply to come in with more 'baggage'. What we do about it is up to us.

Anyway, for me at the moment, any chafing disgruntlement is way, way more than outweighed by all the truly wondrous things, moments, people in which my life currently abounds. Counting my blessings constitutes a full time job.

19 comments:

Isabelle said...

A really interesting post, and how nice to see someone using the word "thenceforward" - so elegantly, too. I'm with your woman friend about some people remaining aggrieved. Mind you, I do remember one or two slights from a couple of people - but I don't think they know!

Lucy said...

Hello, Isabelle,
Oh, forgiving ain't the same as forgetting, no way!

meggie said...

A very insightful post. I have often been accused of being too thin skinned...
The older I get, the less I "take it personally". It is a hard line to draw..
I love the dandelion amidst the lamb's lugs?
Or, am I mistaken??

Jean said...

As so often, you've made me think and feel a lot here.

I think there is a distinction (or rather, perhaps, I hope there is a distinction, and I try to make one) between feeling things deeply and taking them personally. I've reflected on this a good deal, and tried to observe myself, what I can change and what I can't. I've also, being one of the Buddhistically inclined ones you refer to, drawn much from this philosophy that is of help. I guess what I now try to do (which doesn't mean I manage it very often, but even managing it occasionally makes a lot of difference) is not to feel things less - I think that would be a losing wicket; my skin is not going to get any thicker in this lifetime - but to observe my feelings and try to consciously decide what to do with them, and, if there's nothing useful, to just feel them and let them go, without rushing to react. It's not easy, but it does make a lot of difference, and it seems a feasible way that I can work with the personality I have, rather than wishing always to be different.

Your description of working on your fence reminded me of Ruth's recent post about cleaning floor-tiles, elsewhere in France, and I wondered if you had read it: http://tinyurl.com/23g6gv

Tall Girl said...

I share a lot of Jean's perspective here. As a therapist one is always having to remember not to 'take it personally'as a way to manage whatever comes at one from clients. In a sense though, in life generally I wonder how else we are to take things than 'personally'. Communication is never impersonal and it affects us, sometimes deeply. Like Jean, though, I aim for a kind of observing and wondering attitude. 'Oh how interesting, I feel really hurt by that...' and then hope to have the space in wheich to make a choice about what I choose to do or say next.
The bit we really can't take too perconally are other people's projections. Hard to spot often though, and paradoxically they do sometimes illuminate an angle on ourselves we may not want to see but which may actually be true or 'personal' after all!

Tall Girl said...

Sorry for the horrible typos. And btw I love that photograph, those hot colours dancing!

marlyat2 said...

Lucy, I think it is very interesting that you asked after Mack the footman. Because he has a quite different manner of (man)handling these things!

Lucy said...

Meggie - thank you. the red flowers are lychnis, are they the same as lambs' lugs? they do have silvery fuzzy leaves. The yellow one may be hawksbit, a taller dandelion type thing, also has a clock seedhead. the first is a garden escape, the second a weed/wildflower, they are rompsing away quite happily on a rough piece of ground up the road.
Jean and Tall Girl, thanks so much for such considered responses, you are both among the people I would say influence me to the good in these regards. The finding the space to choose how to react is crucial, and not always easy to remember to do particularly if the situation is confronting you immediately in the flesh. On one of these occasions I told myself to sit with it for a certain time, not to involve Tom immediately because he might react negatively to my distress and anger, and anyway his happy and cheerful mood at that moment was balm to me anyway and I didn't want to lose that, and if it was still getting to me by later in the day to give myself permission to go and sound off to a friend down the road who has previously offered to lend an ear rather than have me react angrily at the person concerned. As it was, I didn't need to, as the dust settled, I saw that quite possibly what I had taken in a friend as muscling in motivated by jealousy was probably really no more than genuinely trying to be helpful, and if it wasn't that simply wasn't my problem. (thank goodness for e-mail as communication over phone calls, they do give you time to think over your response!)
I don't want to become a thick-skinned person, it is better to allow oneself to feel than not to, and I'm sure sensitivity can be turned to the good. The attachment to grievance really has got better with maturity and an attempt at greater self-awareness ( another possible post, self-consciousness vs. self-awareness?), I had it from my mother I'm afraid, whether inherited or learned I don't know, along with many good things, naturally!

Lucy said...

ah marly! So he is still in your employ, then!

stitchwort said...

"some people seem simply to come in with more baggage" - is a classic description of karma, in the correct sense of "every action has an equal and opposite reaction"(NOT just the "luck" meaning that most assign to it). And truly it is up to us to deal with it; nobody else can.

Spinning is a wonderful activity for working meditation, as Gandhi knew.

Jan said...

LUcy:
This is an amazing Post and you talk a lot of wonderful sense.
Feeling "raw" is horrible, but it passes usually and we then appreciate other stuff doubly..
I must read your post again because there was so much to imbibe.

Lucy said...

Thank you both.
Stitchwort, you are full of surprises! Jan, would I could always keep to even the amount od sense I talk!

zhoen said...

Jean's got it perfect. Not taking it personally is perhaps not the best phrase. Just know, other's behaviour is not all about you. Mostly, it's about them.

Lucy said...

Jean usually does, Zhoen, and so do you!

leslee said...

Very interesting post. I feel like I've had to almost learn to be aggrieved - in that in growing up I learned to excuse hurtful behavior and be more understanding about it than warranted. Objecting to it never worked as they simply affirmed their right to say and do as they pleased regardless. I didn't realize I needn't be loyal to and compassionate with people like that! Not that I want to replace being a doormat with being aggrieved, but learning not to ignore the hurt but sit with it, honor it, decide to speak up if need be (sometimes people do need to realize they've been hurtful and will change their behavior) or to distance myself from the incorrigibly hurtful. I still cut my friends a lot of slack and generally get it from them in return. Good friendship is like that, recognizing that intentions were good and slights not personal. But sometimes the compassionate thing means speaking up or refusing to accept hurtful behavior.

Jean said...

In case anyone has the wrong idea, I spent most of yesterday painfully failing to take my own sage advice! But I'll keep on trying...

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

For me, not being aggrieved at people involves unlearning another bad habit, that of interpreting them. I always think I understand what they really mean, what they're really saying under those polite surfaces. It works in fiction but not in real life. It's taken me a long time to dare to take people at face value. It's quite refreshing.

Thanks for the link, Lucy!

Lucy said...

Hello Leslee! thanks for the interesting angle, which I agree with too! as I say, sitting with is not sitting on, forgiving is not necessarily forgetting and I'm not sure it should be letting people get away with the unacceptable either...I think perhaps people who've grown up with healthier, fairer ways of communicating are less likely to be reactive, to be carrying around a lot of unresolved resentment, which is likely to make them go off at half-cock.
Jean - ohhh! Hope things are better, please be kind to yourself1
Richard - yes that cleverbugger fausse intuition is a dangerous thing isn't it! Part of my problem is thinking I'm so bloody psychologically smart and intuitive (from too much reading, rather than writing...) that I can divine what people are thinking, then I react accordingly. Sometimes with hindsight I'm fairly convinced I was actually right, sometimes I see something I didn't see before. But it is important to give myself time for hindsight! You're welcome for the link ( I think it was a comment chat between you and Winston?)

herhimnbryn said...

It's usually about them, is it not? I think you are right to 'take time' to sit...good counsel to yourself L.