Pairing gentleness with honest observing

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ~Pema Chödrön

Jean Raffa’s recent post Will the Real Orphan Annie Please Stand Up? was a timely reminder for me of how often the things that annoy me most in others are really the things that annoy me most about myself. In fact, as Jean describes, they often annoy me so much that I am unable to see them in myself; I can only see them in the mirror of another.

This is not a new idea for me. I have long been aware of this very human tendency in myself, and in honest moments, I can clearly see those annoying traits in myself. Every self-righteous rant I’ve ever engaged in has its roots in the fact that I was seeing behavior that I knew (but didn’t want to admit) to be true of me. The stronger my observer-self grows stronger, however, the more and more aware I become of these things that are living in my shadow. All of them are things I’d really rather not look at, so when I do see them, I tend to react with self-abuse and self-loathing.

Although I’m getting better at having the courage to observe myself honestly, Pema’s quote shows me that this is only half of the equation. If I don’t also have the respect to observe myself gently, I may wind up doing more fundamental harm to myself than if I had remained ignorant of my shadow. I need to balance the honesty with gentleness if I wish to have any hope of change or growth, but it is sometimes hard for me to see these things in myself without reacting with disgust.

“Your willingness to look at your darkness is what empowers you to change.” ~Iyanla Vanzant

It is only when I am willing to really look at my darkness—not just glimpse it and cringe away, but really look at it—that I am empowered to change. And it is only through observing myself with honesty and gentleness that I have any hope of being able to sustain that kind of willingness to look deeply enough to be empowered to change.

I’m still working on that. Self-gentleness does not come naturally to me, but I am learning. Ironically, I am finding that to the degree that I am able to treat my own darkness with gentleness, I am able to treat the darkness of others with more gentleness as well. There is a real chance that over time this will cause others to find me to be more pleasant to be around, but I know it’s making me more pleasant for me to be around when I’m not spending so much energy being offended, angry, or upset by other people. I’m finding so many other uses for all of that energy that are much more productive.

As always, it’s a journey, and I still have a long way to go. But I’m convinced that gentleness will not only be the key to change, it will make the path much more pleasant along the way.

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