I am Thou

We are often angry at others for embodying specific qualities or behaviours that we do not like about ourselves.

This, at least, has been true for me.

I have burned with anger at students for not listening to me, for not doing their work, or for being chronically late.

I have been annoyed at others for being socially clueless or awkward.

I have been frustrated at my mother for asking “stupid questions” or not being more sensitive to how I need to be cared for.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and my all-time favourite spiritual teacher, has helped me immensely to figure out that one of the reasons I have gotten so frustrated at these people is because I often do these exact same things, and I hate this. 

But self-awareness is the key to changing everything.

The following exercise promoted by Rohr has helped bring this self-awareness in specific situations when I am angry and don’t know why. It has also helped me to have more self-compassion, which is the key to having compassion and patience with others.

He calls it “Shadow Work”:

“There are many ways to do shadow work–the work of seeing and integrating your hidden and denied self. For example, your subconscious appears in images and stories as you sleep; paying attention to your dreams can give you insight into shadow. One of the easiest ways to discover your shadow is to observe your negative reactions to others and what pushes your buttons. Most often, what annoys you in someone else is a trait in yourself that you haven’t acknowledged.

 

“Byron Katie has a simple process to help you own your judgments and turn your focus to the plank in your own eye. The following is adapted from Katie’s Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet and Four Questions.

 

“Recall a stressful situation that is still fresh in your mind. Return to that time and place in your imagination.

 

“Name your frustration, fear, or disappointment, and the object of this feeling in a simple statement. For example: I am angry with John because he never listens to me.

 

“Now ask yourself four questions with an open heart, waiting for your truest answer to arise:

1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)

2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

3. How do you react, and what happens when you believe this thought?

4. Who would you be without the thought?

“Turn the thought around in three ways: putting yourself in the other’s place, putting the other person in your place, and stating the exact opposite.

-I am angry with myself because I never listen to me.

-John is angry with me because I never listen to him.

-John does listen to me.

“Find ways in which each “turnaround” is true in this situation.

“This practice brings your nebulous shadow into focus, giving you something tangible to embrace. Do this necessary work all your life and you’ll discover more and more freedom and greater capacity to love self and others.”

I have done this exercise for the past few weeks and found that it has helped immeasurably. Not that all of a sudden I have ceased to get angry. But I hold on to it less, for shorter periods of time, and begin to care for myself which is turn gives me the ability to understand and care for others. 

Grateful today for this.

Reference:

This exercise, promoted by Rohr, is adapted from “The Work” by Byron Katie, thework.com/en/do-work

For Further Study:

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

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