In my first article I painted a picture of how tough life seems these days, particularly for those struck down by global tragedies that would have been beyond imagination mere months ago. But no matter how compassionate we are, what takes our breath away even faster are stress and pain in our number-one relationship: morning arguments cut off by the slamming of a door, swallowed anger and fear dissolving the energy we need for work, bitter bedtime comments resulting in sleeplessness.
But we need to get on with it, don't we? So we suck it up, take a breath and move on. Still we're vaguely aware that our anger, irritation and frustration are buried in a cauldron of resentment. These quickly boil into internal conversations in which we review the litany of our complaints:
- When is she really going to listen to me?
- Does he think I'm stupid?
- Could she possibly be less grateful?
- He jokes about me being "high maintenance." What about him?
- If it weren't for me, we wouldn't even be where we are today!
- Why in the world do I stay with him?
Do any of these sound familiar? What did I miss?
It's amazing how I can get stuck on a thought ("Tim doesn't trust me"), turn it into a story ("I'm doing a great job, but he always criticizes me") and then gather evidence to prove the point. It works every time. The more upset I get, the more he tells me what's wrong with what I do -- or better yet, how to do it right. Just like clockwork.
The problem is that all this righteous ping-pong is not getting me what I want.
Does the statement, "It's not about you!" drive you crazy? Me, too. But it gets to us because it's the truth. It is not about me. That's not what I'm here for, not the purpose of my life. What I want is to contribute all I can to a loving, happy marriage in which Tim is living the life of his dreams.
But there is such a thing as genuine love, which is always considerate. Its distinguishing characteristic is, in fact, regard for personal dignity. Its effect is to stimulate self-respect in the other person. Its concern is to help the loved one become their true self. In a mysterious way such love finds its truest realization in its power to stimulate the other to attain their highest self-realization.
We're the source of our lives, and creating this kind of genuine love is possible. To do so we need to become more aware of what our self-grasping mind is saying and the pain it's causing. When we carry this poison around, it manifests right before our eyes -- in the same righteous way we scripted it. It's magic -- or, better said, evil.
Try it: hold on tight to one of your complaints about your partner and repeat it to yourself over the course of a day. Get really stirred up about it. Then have a look. How is your life partner doing? How closely does his or her behavior match your story? Scary, isn't it?
It's easy to see that my resentment becomes a brick wall between me and the life I want. When I'm stuck, I'd have to be so wrong to climb over it.
So remembering that I'm the source of my life, I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago. Every time I had that thought that he didn't trust me, I let it go. Each time I heard the story repeat in my head, I swept it aside. Guess what: Tim hasn't criticized me for weeks!
Since that time I've become more conscious of what my negative inner voice is saying. Mostly it's a story that makes me right and others wrong, just as if it were all about me. I'm more aware than ever that this path is not leading me anywhere I want to go. What I want is a loving, happy marriage in which both of us are healthy.
For the last several months I've been reading "Enlightened Courage" by Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. It has been helpful and inspirational when it comes to letting go of my egotistical mind and its dangerous habits.
One passage has become my mantra:
Ego-clinging is the cause of every ill. Therefore when it arises, even if only for an instant, we should apply the antidote, like the doctor who gives us healing medicine when we are sick. As the saying goes, 'Hit the pig in the nose.'
Every time I catch myself being snared by another story that doesn't lead toward genuine love, I imagine hitting that pig in the nose. Take that!
We are masters of our own destiny.