Don’t take it personally

Salaams and Good Morning !

Here is your daily dose of Wisdom for Living Your Best Self!

A very effective step towards equanimity is to practice taking things less personally.

Let us understand this through a Taoist fable from Chuang-Tzu, which I learnt from one of my teachers, Rick Hanson.

Here is how he tells it:

It is a beautiful day and you are floating in canoe with a friend on a slow-moving river on a beautiful Sunday.

Suddenly there is a loud thump on the side of the canoe, and it rolls over, dumping you and your friend into the cold water. You come up sputtering and realize that somebody swum up to your canoe and tipped it over on purpose, for a joke and is now laughing at how annoyed you and your friend are.

How do you feel when you experience this?

Now let's imagine a slightly different scenario.

The scene is exactly the same: same boat, same river and same beautiful but cold river. Your boat is hit, tipped over and you are cold and wet. Except that when you come up and see what happened, it is a large log that drifted downstream and bumped into your canoe, causing it to tip over.

This time, how do you feel?

The facts are the same in each case: you are cold and wet, and your boat ride is ruined. But when you feel personally picked on, everything feels worse, doesn't it?

Here's the thing: most of what "bumps into our boat" in life – including emotional reactions from others, traffic jams, illness, or mistreatment at work – are like impersonal logs put in motion by "10,000 causes upstream", causes that we do not "see" because they are far away, but they are present nevertheless.

If a friend is mean towards us, for example. It hurts, for sure, and we may need to address the situation. If it is a pattern, we can watch out for the logs, repair the boat or find a different river.

But we might also consider what has caused this person, this "log" to bump into our boat. Bumping into our boat might have been caused by: interpretations and misinterpretations of our actions; personal health problems, pain, worries or anger about other things, temperament, personality, childhood experiences; causes from the larger context, like economy, culture, oppression, or world events; and causes way back upstream in time, like how his or her parents were raised.

To consider the "10,000" causes upstream that caused logs to get dislodged and bump into our small little boat is a humbling and wonderfully empowering truth: the vast majority of the time, when we get hit by a log, it is not personal.

So instead of getting angry at logs floating by, how about just keep an eye out for them, trying and reduce the impact maybe by gently nudging them out of the way, and repairing our boats when they do get bumped on occasion?

A much more effective use of our energies, wouldn't you say?

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