Having gained a foothold on working through our issues and having grasped the concept of control dramas, we now face the rather sticky issue of other people’s suffering. We may be practising non-judgement, acceptance and surrender, but what if our partners, colleagues or family members seem unable to move on and continue to suffer? What then? Do we use the creative power of thought to create a new reality which does not include any suffering? Do we try to change these other people and “enlighten” them? Or is there another option?
It is always easy to see where other people are “going wrong”. I, like many people I know, have been an expert at this for most of my adult life. It’s easy to think that other people could solve their problems by being like we are. But seeing past our own limitations, fears and ignorance is not so easy. Having learned a few spiritual concepts and practised meditation for a while we can easily look at someone else’s life and conclude that he is holding back out of fear, stuck in his mind instead of getting in touch with his heart, being too attached to outcomes, being judgemental and so on.
But if we are going to consider the concept of Oneness we need to decide whether we want to keep it wrapped up as a theoretical construct or whether we are going to make it part of our living reality. If we conclude that other people simply need to wise up and approach life like we do, is that really the way of Oneness? Surely Oneness is not about making everyone else the same as we are? Of course not – it is about seeing what connects us and what unifies us, not what separates us.
In order to make Oneness a cultivation practice instead of a theoretical construct maybe we need to see other people’s suffering as our own suffering. Maybe their problems are our problems. Let’s take a practical, physical level example of how we are all interconnected. Let’s assume that we are walking through town and we see someone who is obese. We might look at this person and conclude that he should eat healthily like we do, or maybe get some exercise (not that we are being judgemental, you understand). We might dismiss this person and say that overeating or lack of exercise are his issues and not ours. At this level of dismissal we don’t even consider what the true cause of his obesity might be or whether we might be a part of the “problem”. Now let’s assume that this person is unable to do anything about his obesity, has to start using a mobility scooter to get around and ends up in hospital requiring treatment for illnesses caused by the obesity. Still not our problem? Now let’s imagine that we see a report on TV stating how much tax payers’ money is being spent on treating people who are obese. As loyal tax payers we will probably stick to our conclusion that obesity is not our problem, but we can now also be up in arms about how much these people are costing us. Not only is it not our problem but we are suffering as a result. That fat greedy man, who doesn’t know when to stop eating, and who can’t be bothered to get some exercise, is taking something away from me! How dare he?! Why am I paying for this?!
On a purely physical level we could choose to see obesity as our problem because it is our tax which is paying for obese people to be treated. But does it end there? If we look at the possible causes for obesity we might consider the mental and emotional health of people who become obese. We may even consider whether we are contributing in some way to other people’s mental and emotional health in a positive or negative way.
On a spiritual level we may choose to see that the world outside of our bodies is simply a mirror for our inner world. We may choose to see that every individual is essentially One and part of one unified being. So how would our perceptions change if we were to see other people as ourselves and consequently other people’s problems as our problems?
If you take mirroring and Oneness to heart you begin to see that there are no other people here – there is only you. If you see something in another person’s expression which you do not like and which brings about a reaction within you, that means it is reflecting back to you something within yourself which seeks expression. If I get annoyed about people who seem weak and unable to speak their truth I need to ask myself where have I judged myself as being weak and where in my life am I not speaking my truth? In particular forms of expression we can look at other people and say “I already know that” but in the essence of what they have to learn we find the essence of our own continued development – we may not express our weakness in the same way but we still carry the essence of the same weakness within us.
If we label someone’s life expression as a “problem” we are standing in a position of judgement and separation. But we cannot change other people and no good ever comes from trying to force change in the outer world. Change must come from within and, as we are the only One there is, we must look within ourselves to see where we can change.
If we share part of our lives with someone who doesn’t appear to be changing or has a chronic health condition, instead of trying to heal them, enlighten them or fix them we can turn our attention back to ourselves and ask where we need to grow. We may not have the same “problem” as someone else so it may not be immediately obvious where we might need to work on ourselves but subtle changes in approach and perspective can help us a great deal in this respect. For instance we can ask “what does it bring up in me if that ‘other person’ will not change or cannot heal?” How do I feel about it? We can all practise equanimity, acceptance and non-judgement for a while but sooner or later we will reach breaking point and feel that we can’t take it anymore. In that moment we reveal where we need to work on ourselves.
Ultimately, constantly turning our attention back within us could lead to one or more outcomes. We may work on our own development so much that nothing anyone else does bothers us in the slightest – we could be so immersed in the feeling of Oneness that nothing fazes us. In working through our own challenges we may make it easier for the other person to move forwards as well, either through contributing to some kind of shared consciousness or through being an example of how to work through issues and into greater freedom. There is no greater advert for leading a spiritually focused life than someone who exudes peace, love and wholeness.
If I see someone who is obese what do I think? Do I think they are stupid? If I drop that judgement what do I find? Are they weak? Dropping that judgement reveals what? They must be suffering – like me. They must feel pretty bad deep down to allow themselves to get like that. (Of course I could still be making judgements here by assuming that “no sane person” would want to be obese. But I do assume that nobody would choose to be obese if they were not suffering already.) If I see an obese person as someone who has an unhealed emotional wound which is affecting his physical health I could ask if I have ever experienced that – is that part of my reality right now?
At the heart of all emotional wounds we find fear and a lack of love. So how can I look at someone who is suffering and help them? I can work on overcoming my own fears and on being more loving. Instead of passing judgements of “stupid” or “weak” I can respond with compassion – compassion to other people I judge as stupid or weak and compassion towards myself, seeing as any judgement we make about another person must also be made about ourselves.
If I think someone else is fat, greedy and lazy, where are these thoughts coming from? Coincidentally I am writing this chapter on a day when I had previously planned to go out for a walk but then later decided to stay at home. Not because I was feeling lazy or couldn’t be bothered but because I felt like, instead of trying to get somewhere and believing that being somewhere else would make me feel better, I preferred to just be where I am and feel good, right here, right now. So I’m simply exploring consciousness, just as the mythical obese man mentioned above is doing. He’s fat – so what? Why should I make a judgement of that? He’s simply exploring consciousness, just like me. No argument there. But he’s taking something from me by using my tax payment to fund his healthcare – that’s not right, is it? So what comes up is an attitude of separateness and scarcity where I don’t have enough because someone else is taking it all from me. At this point I could conclude that his fatness is not the problem – it’s my mentality of scarcity, separateness and victimhood.
If I’m going to have the courage to really walk the path of non-duality I need to address all these judgements to myself. Have I ever taken something from someone or paid for my healthcare out of his money? Yes I have. Have I ever relied on tax payers’ money? Yes I have. And how does that feel? It feels bad. I feel bad that I wasn’t able to pay my own way and support myself. I feel bad that I had to ask other people for help. I don’t like having to rely on other people. Why? Because other people let me down – or perhaps more accurately I feel let down by other people. And if I feel that other people let me down do I also feel that I have let other people down? Maybe my judgement about someone else’s free-will expression is actually a cover for the guilt I feel about my own shortcomings.
I could look deeper still and ask why am I passing judgement on myself and using someone else’s expectations (or what I perceive to be someone else’s expectations) as a standard of acceptability? In partnerships, families, communities and society at large we create rules which define the boundaries of accepted behaviour. We do this because, when someone crosses those boundaries, we feel fear. But if the rules of expression are being imposed from outside of us, how can we ever live acceptable lives and be good enough in other people’s eyes? We can’t. It’s impossible. So why should I judge myself for failing when everybody else fails as well? It’s nonsensical.
So we can see that by exploring our thoughts about other people we become aware of what is happening beneath the surface of our thoughts about ourselves. I judge others because I judge myself. I dislike disempowerment in others because I dislike the disempowerment within myself. I want to help alleviate suffering in others because I suffer as well. If I didn’t suffer why would I try to alleviate anyone else’s suffering? If I were not suffering and were having an uninterrupted experience of love, joy and bliss, I could simply share the love, joy and bliss with others regardless of their suffering. I don’t need to suffer to be able to help other people – in fact I become less able to help anyone else if I do suffer. And when I look at the cause of my own suffering, limitation and disempowerment I see that it all comes from trying to live by other people’s rules which, deep down, I feel to be distorted, restrictive and unhealthy. To move beyond this suffering requires looking within and basing my outer expression on an inner experience of Oneness. When we have love to guide the way we have no need of rules.
When we dig deep into our judgements, thoughts, assumptions and rationalisations, much of it does not make sense. We convince ourselves that we are trying to help others or make the world a better place but in reality we are simply trying to feel better. There is no world, no other people and no suffering that is not you. It’s all you – everything in your life is about you. This life is like a dream in which every character represents something about you. Other people and the events of your life are mirroring back to you something about your own life which seeks expression – the more you work with this the more depth you find to this mirroring. It doesn’t stop until you see that the mirror too is part of the mindset of separation. Look beyond the mirror and you look beyond yourself as a separate entity. Look behind the mirror and you will see the one true reality from which all these reflections arise.
*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***