It’s easy to slip into obsessive thinking. It’s easy to lose our perspective and think our problems, our opinions, our troubles, are more important than they are.
(Thanks to Rev. Allan King for sharing the image with me.)
I know that sometimes, when someone says something I find hurtful, or thoughtless, I engage in long conversations with them, outlining the error of their thinking. The problem is, they aren’t in the room. Heck, often they aren’t even in my city. The what-I-might-have-saids, the what-I-should-have-saids, go rolling around inside my head until my heart pounds and I’m sure my blood pressure goes up. Sleepless nights can result. General crankiness can result.
If only I’d said such-and-such, then surely so-and-so would see things from my point of view. Surely they’d change their mind about me. But the truth is, no amount of obsessive-compulsive thinking and/or behavior changes much of anything. People will think what they will. Some people will like me. Some people won’t. Just as, truth be told, I don’t like everyone either. There are some folks who just rub me the wrong way, just as I doubtless rub them the wrong way.
I’ve learned that if someone is running away from you, you really don’t want to run after them. And if someone has decided you’re an ass, there’s little you do to dissuade them, painful as it may be. It’s very hard to defend oneself against such charges. In the end, the best thing to say is probably, “Good heavens! You’re right. I’m wrong. I actually am an ass. How clever of you to notice.” And go your separate ways in peace.
That’s life. Get over it. Drop the irritation by the side of the road. Move on.
Years ago, somebody once told me that what other people think of me is none of my business. Really? I mumbled, but what about my reputation? What about how evil and corrosive gossip and rumor can be? Nope, my wise friend said, all that is none of your business. The only things that are your business are your own thoughts and your own actions.
Don’t worry, I was told, what other people think of you. Worry what you think about them, and whether your thoughts are kind or cruel, selfish or empathetic. Don’t worry about the hurts other people inflict on you. Worry about not harming others.
And after some long reflection, I concluded my friend was right. If I hope for mercy rather than justice, I must be willing to grant the same to others. (And really, when it comes right down to it, aren’t you glad we don’t all get what we deserve? I know I am.) In fact, I was told, if you want to get rid of a resentment, pray every night for two weeks that the person you resent might have all the wonderful things in the world– even if you don’t really mean it. Just keep praying for them. Trying to prove my friend wrong, I picked someone I thought I’d resent forever, so great was their trespass against me, or so I thought. But sure enough, after two weeks, I found not only had I been released from the bonds of resentment that tied me to that person, but I sincerely wished them nothing but joy and peace and good fortune in all ways. If that wasn’t a miracle, well, I don’t know what is.
As a writer, it’s easy to get sidetracked by envy and resentments–Another writer gets a good review, or a book contract, or a grant. A critic is harsh, a stranger says something nasty, an agent doesn’t return calls… And it’s easy to get sucked into that weird universe where it’s all about ME, and my pain and what I think I deserve but am not getting, even, perhaps a little justifiable anger. But I don’t like envy and anger, justifiable or otherwise, and although I sometimes feel like drama and anger is familiar and even a little exciting, I know I can’t afford that sort of familiar, exciting emotion. For me, such emotions means I may well be walking toward the sort of behavior I have vowed to stay away from — like drinking alcohol, like selfishness, like self-centeredness.
So, how, during those moments when my perspective is skewed, can I restore it to what it ought to be?
Well, I found this video on youtube, and it certainly helps. And here’s the gist of it in stills:
That’s the sun, far left. How important do my problems seem now?
I don’t know about you, but after that lesson in perspective, I want to lay all my petty concerns aside and fall down on my knees in awe, amazement and gratitude. How amazing to live in such an extraordinary universe, and not have to be concerned about being at its center. What a relief. What a wonder.