Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

The presence of compassion

November 15, 2011

I have never been very good at compassion. I especially have difficulty being compassionate with people who I view as behaving badly (including myself). My initial reactions have been to point out their shortcomings, avoid them all-together, let them ruin my moment/day/week/month/year/life, and ruminate endlessly over how they (I) should behave.

I came upon this story from the book Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg. Sharon tells a story about meeting a Soviet official at an airport with “the most hateful stare I have ever received from anybody in my life. It was an icy rage.” She felt as if he had “poisoned her being.”

Some part of her woke up. She realized that every day this man experiences the state that she had just experienced. She writes: “A tremendous feeling of compassion came into me for him. He was no longer a threatening enemy, but rather someone in what seemed to be in intense suffering.”

The path of compassion begins with the knowledge that we do to others what we do to ourselves. None of us really know what is going on inside another human being. We don’t know what they might be experiencing, thinking, or feeling. Even if we ask them, the answer may come back nebulous and arbitrary. I have witnessed people in obvious distress and asked them about their state of being only to be told that they were “fine.” Such a response can indicate that they are truly fine, realizing they are in distress but handling it. It can also mean “I don’t know” or “none of your business” or “NO, I’m NOT!” Distress might be a normal state of being and as long as they are feeling distressed, they feel normal.

This is as far as I have gotten along the path. Compassion is a moment-by-moment, person-by-person phenomenon. It encompasses my projection of myself on to others. It realizes that I am being projected upon. Somewhere in between is a reality I can speak to.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass


The presence of me

May 21, 2011

I wonder where our old ways of being end up after we have let go of them?

We all have habits, attitudes, and personas that we embrace and reflect, calling these features our “personality.” Some people cling to their personality no matter what the cost even when it does not serve them well, but others of us only tolerate our ways of being until something better comes along. Life demands growth. Some of this growth is manifested in physical changes, but most of it is a remodeling of our internal structures out of experience, necessity, or enlightenment. Who we were one moment ago is suddenly awkward and out of place. We discard the facets that no longer fit.

I used to smoke cigarettes. And I wasn’t casual about it either. I was a deadly serious smoker. Two packs a day for 16 years. When I was 28, my life circumstances congealed into this mass of complication that made smoking uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unnecessary.

I was serious about quitting, too. It took me four years and all sorts of experimental new behaviors before I knew I would never pick up another cigarette. I was six months into being a nonsmoker when the realization hit me that I was finished with cigarettes. I no longer desired to inhale smoke and nicotine, nor did I miss twirling a cigarette between my fingers. I knew my withdrawal and adaption to being a nonsmoker was complete when I no longer felt as if I was going to strangle any person who looked at me crossways. At that moment, I discovered that the old wives’ tale was really true: smoking does stunt your growth. I was happy to embrace the new non-smoking me. The me who I became then has lived life in a way that the smoking-me never could have.

But I still wonder where that smoker person I used to be ended up – the one who never went anywhere without cigarettes and a Flick-your-Bic lighter. And where is her cousin . . . the one who walked around flexing her fists and making red-hot eye contact with anyone who dared speak a contrary word?

Are they waiting in some kind of life antechamber for the next unsuspecting soul who requires a method to make it through adolescence? That is why I started smoking in the first place. The high school I went to was more of a teenage zoo where the teachers and principal were sometimes worse than the students. Smoking put me inside a crowd where most of those nitwits did not want to venture. I needed to cope and smoking-me came into my life. Her cousin came along to reinforce her presence. Anytime I did not have a cigarette when I wanted one, the cousin would twitch and snarl until I fed her some nicotine.

I have no desire to ask them to come back, but their absence makes me wonder: what other ways of being am I ready to say goodbye to? And because life is ruled by the third law of Newton’s physics: to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction, I have to believe that there are other me’s waiting for me to invite them into my life.

Okay, this blog is already too long and I have digressed in three different ways. More to explore in the days to come – I need to visit that antechamber and meet me.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of projection

October 2, 2010

To love something or someone makes us see the beauty of it, not the wrong. (Unknown Chief, Science of Mind, September 2010, p. 61)

There is a saying in the Talmud that we see things as we are rather than as the way they are. In psychological speak, we call this projection. We project on to others what we imagine we see in them and the only qualities we can project is that which we know. In other words, we must have that quality in ourselves in order to see it in another person.

I can’t name it if I don’t know it.

If I see a quality in another person, I must first assume that it is me, my quality that I am projecting on to them. I can also check with the other person by asking them. For example, I can say, “I see you are displaying (behavior) and for me, that behavior means (happy, depressed, angry, sad, joyful, irritated, annoyed, content, connected, bored . . . you get the picture).” Note: good judgment is required here and if someone is acting out their anger by threatening to shoot someone, run first, and ask questions later.

I need to always be ready for the person who is so out of touch with their feelings that they cannot identify or associate their behavior with their feelings. And there are people who are in denial that they feel anything at all.

As I live my intent every day to bring my true presence to life I am working to recognize the universal consciousness in me (God, the divine presence, higher power) and I am doing that by seeking the universal consciousness in others. If I can see divinity in another person, then I can find it in myself. As I am seeking to love someone even when that person is being everything but lovable, then I rely on the quote above – I look to find one beautiful thing about that person and focus on that. It is not easy because this method goes against the programming of my childhood but it feels more real.

The amazing thing about recognizing myself in others is that once I see the quality in me, then I can own it. Once I own it, I am in charge of that feeling or quality and, therefore, in charge of my behavior.

I look around at the beautiful people in my life, their generosity, their loving and giving natures, and I find that I love me a whole lot.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of choice

September 23, 2010

I didn’t have any other choice.

I have heard this reasoning from lots of people to validate the decisions they’ve made. I’ve used it myself.

People’s lives are largely based on the choices they have made throughout their lifetimes. The circumstances they find themselves in are often the result of decisions they have made. If they enjoy their circumstances and love the lives they have, and if they keep using the same choice and decision-making process they have always used, they will probably find themselves in similar circumstances most of their lives. Even if some disaster out of their control sweeps their lives out from under them, if that person’s way of being is to be happy and enjoy life, that person will find a way to make their lives happy and enjoyable once again.

The same holds true for people who are not enjoying their lives, who are unhappy in their circumstances. Even if someone comes along and plucks them out of their miserable state, if the person rescued does not change their way of being in the world, they will eventually find themselves back in a similar miserable situation.

The kind of choice-making I am talking about is reserved for those who have free will and the capacity to enact the changes that they seek. There are those who are exempt, like infants and babies. But as soon as children develop awareness of self, they start making decisions. And we learn a lot of our decision-making behavior from the adults around us.

As children witness other adults’ decision-making behavior, I am not sure how much choice they have about adopting those behaviors. In survival mode, we all rely on what we know works because we witness it. Even if it other people’s behaviors do not work and their lives are miserable, if we have not witnessed a different behavior to model, we will rely upon what we know.

Until we wake up.

Once we grow and differentiate from others, we all have the capacity to change our way of being in the world and change the way we make decisions. We have the capacity to discover what is the best choice we could make given the kind of life we want to have.

As my friend, Laurie at Speaking from the Heart, would say: “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

a difficult presence

May 23, 2010

Day three of admitting to my powerless capacity in the world:

• Getting other people to pick up after themselves
• How other people will respond to me (period)
• If the cat chooses to eat
• If anyone responds to my blog
• If the rain will stop so I can play tennis

Recognized difficulty of the day: responding with love when someone is not being or behaving like I know they could be (or “should” be).

When am more of who I came to this earth to be, everyone around me knows it and they respond in kind. I can tell the difference. When someone is behaving as who I know they really are not, who am I being that would attract that kind of behavior from them? I am not responsible for anyone’s behavior, but something about me is making them feel either safe enough or threatened enough to respond in a certain way. Because I am powerless over anyone’s response to me, the only power left to me is how I respond to them.

I am working to bring/allow more of my eternal presence in the present moment especially when I find myself dealing with someone who is irritating me or responding in a manner towards me that I don’t like, and I will see what changes. The more I live as who I am no matter what is going on around me, the more alive I am, and the more able I am to respond with love when those who I love the most really, really need it.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of boundaries

April 27, 2010

Boundaries provide the structure — an outline — of existence. For any given situation and encounter, boundaries flex and bend, expand and contract, open and close. Each person has a different concept of what constitutes a boundary. The universe has constructed its own very-necessary-to-our-survival boundaries (check out the semi-permeable membranes of cells).

I absolutely cannot climb inside another person’s experience nor can they climb inside mine. I can empathize and imagine, but I cannot be in their experience. That boundary is invisibly absolute. Yet, I in the next breath I might breathe in the oxygen they just exhaled — the air we inhale has about 16% oxygen, but our bodies only need about 3% of that, so we exhale about 13%. I might inhale some of the air that was just in that person’s lungs.

Whatever behavior we witness in another, no one can know exactly what is going on inside that person in that moment. We cannot see through their eyes, know their thoughts, or perceive their reality. We can only judge by their behavior how and where to create our personal boundaries. My boundary will be made of concrete and be miles deep if someone threatens me. With those who I love and trust, my boundary is softly transparent, and I am revealed.

When I am engaged in my eternal presence, I realize that behind the behavior of any person is someone who wants to be loved and accepted no matter what superficial personality they portray. Because I cannot know their experience, I must accept that person is doing the best they can, and I must respect whatever boundary they have cloaked themselves with.

All boundaries that exist are different and require judgment, inquiry, examination, knowing which ones we can change, acceptance of those we cannot change, and (as the old Native People prayer goes) the wisdom to know the difference.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Buddha presence

April 18, 2010

Saturday was spent basking in the life light of my granddaughter, who is eight years old and so full of herself and willing to be exactly who she is that I envy her. She is like Buddha presence to me: her teaching lies in her behavior as a human being in this world.

Occasionally, I slip back to my childhood and wallow in a bit of self-pity for I was taught that my behavior could control how other people treated and responded to me. In all of my relationships, my goals were outcome oriented: how did I need to be in order to elicit a specific result or response from that person? In the Catholic religion, I was given a script of behaviors that would guarantee me a ticket to heaven, and it did not matter if I enjoyed the behaviors or if they were good for me or not. I was soliciting a response from the ultimate authority: God.

That’s power. To be able to control God’s response to me would mean that I was actually more powerful than God. To be able to control anyone’s response to me either through coercion, manipulation, or bribery means that I am more powerful than them. The unspoken rule is: I do what makes you happy and then you are supposed to respond by meeting my needs and doing what makes me happy.

Yesterday, I learned that one can simply ask for what is needed. I mentioned to my granddaughter when I picked her up that it looked like she had grown since the last time I had seen her two weeks ago. She said, “Yes, and nothing fits anymore. We have to go shopping for summer clothes!”

And so we did. I set a limit on the clothes I would buy for her. I did not elicit any agreement from her otherwise about the clothes. She does not owe me anything. I did not buy the clothes because of any behavior she exhibited except for asking. I bought them because she needs them and I love her. This helps me stop my pity party over what I often perceive as my own bizarrely neglected childhood. I, too, am learning the Buddha presence. The contrast teaches me that what I had learned in the past means nothing to my behavior in the present. I can choose Buddha presence.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass


April 3, 2010

This word and its watery concept has caused me all sorts of problems and been the root of justified abuse in my life. The religion in which I was raised insisted that I forgive others for hurting me and those who hurt me used it as a justification to hurt me further; in their minds, they could do whatever they wanted because “God would forgive them.” I still find this “forgiveness” thing as a cheap way out for people who don’t want to change or be held accountable for their behavior. I don’t see any need to “forgive” someone of their human nature. I have hurt others out of my ignorance and stupidity, and have said I was sorry, made amends, and worked to not harm another. However, I know I continue to say or do things that, when viewed by another’s perception, are harmful to them or others. (Anytime I see a cheap, useless trinket that has a tag that reads “Made in Japan” or “Made in China” or “Made in Taiwan” I feel a twinge of remorse that someone has to make such things to be able to exist and I am actually torn between buying it so that person would continue to have a job or not buying it because it serves no purpose.) I would prefer to accept us for all our humanness. But I don’t forgive anyone who purposefully harms another with knowledge and intent — that, for me, is enabling them to continue that behavior. My forgiveness in those cases consists of removing my presence from theirs. I do not have to let those people back into my life. I love me too much.

Forgiveness means to let myself off the hook of being responsible for anybody else’s behavior. My eternal presence nudges me to “let it go, let the incident go, let go your feelings to blame yourself or to seek revenge. We’ve other things to move on to.”  

It seems easier to forgive those who are truly sorry, stops what they are is doing, understands the harm they have caused, and feels remorse. I know have been guilty of behavior that has harmed others, and I need forgiveness, too. But if someone won’t or can’t acknowledge it and make amends for the harm done there is no need to offer forgiveness. In my heart, though, I will forgive because letting it go keeps me from being full of bitterness and resentment and further poisoning my life.

My eternal presence does not urge me to pray for anyone to change their energy to what I think it should be though. People are entitled to have the energy they have chosen. My preference is that they honor my boundaries and keep to themselves unless I have invited them into my life.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass