We are learning so much every day. We are trying to read the cues in a completely different culture, with different languages, stages of development, social problems, and all the nuances of communication that are just a little different.
I have noticed in myself the tendency, when I do not know how to read someone’s silence, or frowning, or distance, to assume that I did something, or said something inappropriate and worry about what it might be. I am sure you can all relate to this very human tendency.
Over and over again, I have had to remind myself that there are differences, but that we are essentially all the same. When I remember that, and go back to the principles by which I live my life, then, instead of the knee jerk instinctual reactions of either withdrawing or getting irritable, I pay attention to myself. What is being triggered? Why? To what does this go back? What might be going on with the other person that I do not know about? Why not ask and show an interest in them and find out by communicating! Radical idea!! The process is so simple and so hard to remember when we are emotionally hi-jacked!
Yesterday morning, I had noticed a young woman barely greeting me, absorbed in her cell phone. This was not the normal smiling welcome that we had received over the last week. Panic! “Did I say something to offend her?” “Did I do something inadvertently?” “Have they decided the work we are doing is worthless for some reason?” And so the worry started building….
Once I could get over myself by doing my inner work, I approached her and asked her how she was feeling because I could see she looked “tired.” This is a safe feeling word here. Instantly she started opening up about what had happened for her over the weekend. The tears flowed, the story rushed out resulting in an hour of processing her pain and struggle.
On the other side of the coin, I have had the experience here in Knysna of being with people who I would have expected to show an interest, not show the slightest interest in who I am or why I am here, or what I am doing. Again, I want to take this personally, until I remember that I myself nearly missed the opportunity to show interest in someone else's life because of my inner assumptions that there might be something wrong with me. I can be gracious about other people’s self absorption - they are surely as caught up in their own self doubt, inner pain and insecurities as I was the other morning until I remembered to do my practice.
Grace happens with self awareness, through introspection and bringing compassion to our own fears. Only then can we extend ourselves to others. If we do not know what is going on, we can ask, instead of assuming through the distorted lens of our own past.