Toss a Pebble
Given where we are right now, you could be blindfolded and handed a stone to throw in just about any direction – and chances are good you’d hit someone who’s lost something dear to them.
Could be a job, finances, a relationship, desired political outcome, health, a cherished belief – a loved one – or a stinging combination of these and more.
Pain, the Buddha reminds us, is inevitable…
Whether those inevitable insults are accepted, leveraged, sharpened, transmuted or weaponized is left up to us…
And it is indeed what we choose to do with our pain that determines not only our own personal experience, but the impact we have on the people around us.
Even if we don’t “choose” our pain, as adults we do have a say in both how we view it – and what we do with it.
Having that say is what allows people facing the exact same circumstances (on paper, at least) to have very, very different experiences.
Take, for instance, a failed business:
One person sees it as proof that they are the failure and therefore must commit themselves to a lifetime of working for others because they will never understand how business works and, by the way, can never again be trusted to follow their own dreams…
Another sees their business failure as an unfortunate learning experience that, while it stings like crazy, isn’t to be taken personally. They choose to hold it as yet another lesson, the next chapter in their larger entrepreneurial story.
Another example comes from the world of men in relationship:
One man’s failed marriage sends him into the depths of a bitter hell in which women and feminism – forces against which he is powerless – are clearly to blame, not only for his personal circumstances, but for all that is wrong with the world. Every time he encounters women, he comes face to face with his new enemy…
While another man’s failed marriage – again, not at all pleasant – becomes his wake-up call to do his own work of discovering and expanding his self- and other-awareness, learning to listen – and to grow his relationship with personal responsibility – and as a result he finally stops blaming women and feminism for his circumstances.
What makes the difference?
Self-awareness, a willingness to look and, of course, emotional literacy and flexibility play important roles for sure – but there’s more to the equation.
In both my scenarios, the people in the first examples gave up their own power by choosing to look and focus outward – then reached for blame rather than responsibility…
And blame can become nasty business indeed when, as in the above scenarios, it’s deployed as a weapon of avoidance.
And what is it, exactly, that’s being avoided…?
As in “all the feels.”
As in allowing whatever emotions come up to really come up…
And viscerally, intensely and fully sticking with them until they are – for the moment, at least – done.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good blame game as much as anybody. I can easily go down the thrillingly numbing rabbit-hole of pointing the finger at the government, at “them”, at the economy, at lockdowns, at who and whatever shows up as the bogeyman du jour…
I could rage against so many machines until the cows come home…
And then what…?
Mostly, all I’ve done is created my own private spin-zone.
Of course, I could post on the socials and get showered with dopamine-inducing “likes”…
And then what…?
Big picture, all I would have done is kept an emotion at bay…
And that emotion is something that belongs to a part of me that likely needs some care – and loving advocacy and/or attention – because it’s threatened in some way…
And blaming – as tempting as it is – further marginalizes that part of Self that’s calling for attention by forcing the focus outward.
Looking back at my somewhat simplistic examples, it’s easy to see that both second scenarios are stories of healing and possibility, while the first become self-fulfilling prophecies of endless suffering…
Which, to call the Buddha back into the picture, is completely optional.
Here’s a handy user’s guide: “No lifeguards on duty. Blame at your own risk.”
Choose well and wisely.