Saturday, April 11, 2009

Parting The Seas Of My Own Arrogance

Been doing alot self observation lately, the internal variety that is taught in Buddhist philosophy, not the kind that involves long periods of gazing into the mirror, although I'll admit to doing a bit of that also. After you've done this for any length of time you begin to notice the habitual patterns that arise, the conditioned responses that automatically occur without any effort or will on your part. In my experience - and I'd venture to say that the experience is universal - this is a guaranteed way to discover some very unsavory aspects of yourself. When you begin to look, you will probably not like what you see.

The practice of sustained self observation is only useful under the condition that one is willing to be brutally honest with ones self. To whatever extent possible you have to view things as a disinterested third party; it's impossible to do this fully but you do what you can.

One of the things I have noticed in myself is the knee-jerk tendency to be critical of people and situations. It's just before the moment where I have the ability to give conscious thought to what's occuring, it just arises instantaneously without me having any say in the matter. It doesn't happen 100% of the time, but it happens more frequently than makes sense. I've questioned where this tendency comes from or what might explain it, and though I can't say for certain, I'm thinking that alot of it has to do with being a part of a culture that places such an emphasis on competitiveness and the pursuit of perfection and achievement. We are all products of our culture and being one up or somehow better than the other guy is a huge part of ours.

Whatever the reason for this snap criticism, the fact is that it is there. As part of this process of constant (or as much as possible) self observation I've developed an ability to catch myself in the act and though at first it was a little disturbing, it has now become amusing. I've gone just past the stage of judging myself for being judgemental and I when I see it arising I almost laugh outloud at myself for being so mechanical and predictable.

I have to qualify all of this by saying that I have by no means overcome this nasty little feature of "my" personality (the words "I" and "my" should probably always be in quotes but that would start to appear a little ridiculous). However, as part of doing this something more positive has come out of it as of late, and that is that immediately after the act of recognition, and equally as effortless, feelings of intense compassion and empathy spring up. So the funny little process goes from instant judgement or criticism, to instant feelings of warmth and kinship towards the individual or situation in question. Funny.

The fact of the matter is that we are all up against a great deal in this life. The primordial obstacle is the exact same for all of us although it manifests itself in a different ways, whether it be fear, judgementalness, arrogance, low-self esteem or whatever. Some of us eat or drink too much. Some of us criticize too much. Some of us are overly concerned with our own little selves at the expense of others in our life. Some of us self destruct and others destruct in a more outward fashion, taking others down with them. Pick your poison; this is how it is.

An expanding awareness seems to offer some remedy to the situation, but only in conjuction with other things. A sustained effort at intense self-awareness and self-honesty, it would seem, necissitates intense self-compassion also. Otherwise an enormous amount of self-criticism and self-pity are sure to follow, both of which are a form of violence and narcissism in their own right.

In writing this I'm thinking of some lyrics from Bob Dylan, something like:

"My back is to the sun, because the light is too intense; I can see what everybody in the world is up against..."

Yep, it's like that.


Anonymous said...

I can relate--the other day, I opened the refrigerator and food came pouring out (wait till you have messy teenagers) and for a nano-second, I was pissed--then i just started laughing--all that wonderful food that is there for us stuffed to the rafters--a wonderful moment of abundance and gratitude--
Maybe later in the year, I'll be walking and get an apple dropped on me from a tree--perhaps the tree and I will laugh together--

Nice post--


Ben There said...

Hey Double J -

Aren't our "problems" funny sometimes? No...most of the time.

Even more funny is our sense of self importance, especially when one starts getting all 'spiritual' and taking extra special note of all the other non-enlightened idiots. I'm catching myself in the act sometimes now which has to make you wonder what it is that is catching "me" in the act.

I hope you avoid falling apples but still manage to have a few good laughs with the trees...

Anonymous said...

We learn by observation; if it's cool we claim it as our own.
It all depends on what we think is cool.
An axe murderer may feel that a silver bladed red handled axe with a black hand grip is cool.

Anonymous said...

My (5yo) grand daughter and I were observers at an open air wedding ceremony that some friends were attending.
We were waiting in the park on the path to the structure in which the marriage was to take place.
There was some delay (as per) and GD wandered around collecting fallen frangipanni flowers, holding them as a bouquet.

When it looked as though the bride was about to 'walk down the aisle' I called and told her. She ran down and stood at the edge of the pathway the bride would take.

I could foresee her throwing the flowers at the bride’s feet as she walked by and warned GD not to do so as she may slip. Scowl OK! Then a warning not to say anything as we were not part of this, just watchers. No.
What happened next I will remember as long as I live and think how utterly heart breaking little people can be (at times).

As the bride passed by her she bowed, a full bow, so much so that her head almost touched the ground. She didn't throw the flowers or talk. Here is this little hobbit person in this beautiful parkland setting bowing to the beautiful lady in a flowing white gown. Stuff of fairy tales.
The bride continued on and my GD walked down to me and said, 'You know you must always bow for a bride as she passes by'. Is that right baby.

So, Ben, she had seen this or a story had been told to her from which she had taken this action as her own and was applying it to a situation that had occurred in her life.
The sad thing is as she gets older she will become self conscious and cease to do these beautiful things.


Anonymous said...

Our lives can be a hardhat area sometimes--
I remember what Thomas Paine said about the stars--they have always been there, it just took someone studying them to figure out seasons, navigation, etc. We didn't discover them, just a part of their purpose--how's that for "random", as if we put them up there for our use--what else have we never taken the time to look at that awaits "OUR" discovery--lol
Tony--society tries to put that guilt trip on you pretty early--no room for free thinkers, especially out of the box--they want drones asap--

Anonymous said...

When I related the above story to her mother, she was listening and watching to see our reaction. Fortunately my daughter and I are used to the girls’ ways and treated the re telling with the dignity it required. Still that she would watch for our reaction so intently tells me she is suspicious of her actions.
About 12 months ago she was given the opening (on the spot) to talk to about 80 or so people in an audience. She chose to talk to them about how you shouldn’t tread on ants etc.
After she had finished the audience clapped and laughed. She was right onto that with ‘Why are the people laughing at me mum?’ Luckily my daughter had an answer that appeased her and she went merrily about her business.
But she is always watching and takes in everything- as kids do.

Ben There said...

Tony, that is an incredible story. I hear that kind of thing and wonder if I won't one day regret the decision to not have kids. I wonder if I could skip the kid part and go straight to grandkids?

I am grateful that I do at least have neices and nephews and they are entertaining little beings.

Thanks for the story, it made me smile this morning.

My responses here will be slower due to recent changes at work (we'll call it big brother watching our internet activity!).

By the way Tony...I put up a new picture and made sure the dog was in there, or part of her anyway.

Ben There said...

Jj -

I still haven't gotten around to reading Paine, although at notamobster's (and your) recommendation, I've been meaning to for months now. Ben the procrastinator.

Anonymous said...

I saw the new pic Ben- great, Nobody will be pleased.