I work with a young man who behaves badly when he believes he’s being treated unfairly. I’m sure you’ve seen this process: perceived injustice leads to outrage, outrage triggers explosion, explosion results in consequence, and the original inequity is all but forgotten. Except by the young man, of course, who harbors resentment which becomes kindling for the next match.
In our discussions about this, I have invoked the spirit of Gandhi. My TIVO found the wonderful Attenborough movie Gandhi with Ben Kingsley. It also found a Biography Channel segment on this amazing man. At least initially, my client reacted favorably to the idea that there is a way to fight that enlarges, rather than cripples, the fighter.
As so often happens, an effort to assist another brought riches my way as well. I don’t know when I first became aware of Gandhi~~certainly well before I saw that award winning movie in my late twenties. I had been quite affected by his approach to injustice and the courage he demonstrated in standing up to power. Just like my client, battling unfairness was a major focus when I was young.
At 52, however, I was struck by something else this time around: Gandhi’s emphasis on self~mastery. As I saw footage of Gandhi explaining that it would be wrong to harm the British for qualities we all possess and teaching his followers that the real task is to master one’s own nature, his tutoring reached within me to a deeper level.
I began to ponder this notion of self~mastery. I know it is, indeed, my work in this lifetime. Of course, I believe in harmony, in being kind, in speaking my truth with respect. Am I always successful in enacting this approach? Absolutely not! I also believe that even the most painful experiences can teach us much if we choose to truly listen. However, I succumb to victim thinking in one of its many forms~~self-pity, anger, insecurity, fear, discouragement, hurt feelings~~all too often.
While I do feel regret if I have hurt another or missed an opportunity to grow myself, I don’t feel particularly bad about my shortcomings overall. It is simply my life lesson, and I am a work in progress. Life will always throw me something that will test me, and I will pass or fail those tests. This is just the way things are and, I assume, the way they are meant to be. As long as I’m attentive and generally moving forward, I feel I’m doing okay.
Seeing my task as self~mastery makes things rather simple. Each interaction becomes merely a different verse of the same song. No matter what confronts me~~from within or without~~my challenge is the same. When I choose to perceive the incident as opportunity rather than imposition, the context changes. I am offered an opening to deepen, to smooth my rough edges, to grow in wisdom. That certainly beats victim mentality any time!
I think self~mastery has been given a bum rap. Our 60’s culture taught a necessary wariness of control and discipline. By self~mastery, though, I don’t mean a regimentation that strangles the life from each moment. As we all know, some of the most spiritually advanced individuals are also the most spontaneous, flexible, and child~like in their ability to find pleasure in the simplest experiences.
By self~mastery, I am referring to the quest to know oneself well, and the ability to act from a deeper place than superficial egoic impulse. Self~ mastery requires and inspires an allegiance to a higher good than momentary personal whim.
In marital therapy, individuals are often assisted in aligning themselves with the needs of the couple, rather than simply pushing their own agendas. Self~mastery requires this same type of shift to that which is good for the whole. If I ‘win’ a battle by diminishing another, it is a Pyrrhic victory indeed since my adversary and I are joined in this thing called life. However, when I find a way to be true to my own conscience while respecting my opponent and the opportunity we are both being offered, an authentic victory is already achieved, no matter the actual outcome. And this type of victory is one that can enlarge us both.
So, let's bring this down to earth. The decision to write this essay came to me in the wee hours of the morning as I sat meditating (see Hot Flash As A Call To Prayer). I saw my task then as mastering a mind that prevented sleep by grabbing on to minutiae, a spirit that spun disastrous webs about the effects of sleeplessness on my day, and a will that was having trouble welcoming meditation when sleep was preferred, albeit seemingly out of reach. And of course, after the idea for this essay was established, self~mastery included releasing these thoughts to return to my meditation. This morning when plans for the day changed due to another’s anxiety, mastery included being flexible and welcoming other opportunities. When Plan A was reinstated, mastery required compassion for the rippling effects of fear. Mastery also entailed discussing with a dear friend my reactions to a misunderstanding, and doing so without rancor. And within this writing itself, self~mastery reminds that when one word doesn’t work, a more appropriate one will appear and I needn’t fret. In other words, whatever occurs is just part of the song, and my reaction the next verse.
Self~mastery. A challenge that offers gifts aplenty. I hope this week finds you reaping your own rewards.