I suffer, primarily because I am constantly comparing myself to others. I make irrational and unjustified conclusions and assumptions about how I am doing by observing other people. I may be doing my best, but I will not feel satisfied or fulfilled if I observe other people further down the path or having more “success.” Conversely, I may not be doing my best but I will feel relieved or smug if I observe that I am ahead of others or more successful than others engaged in similar activities. I suffer because I was trained to think this way by an educational system that thought that way. The system was all based upon results, never upon the effort or discipline put into the grade.
Having spent the better part of twenty years receiving formal education, the early part of that period being in my formative years, I learned that the acceptance and validation from those I loved depended on results, not who I was. This is the western philosophy of life, and it is deeply ingrained into my personality and my view of who I am. I have a positive self-esteem when results were positive, and a negative self-esteem when results were negative.
Probably the biggest cause of my suffering is my ego-based sense of right and wrong. This is totally self-destructive and causes great fits of self-flagellation. I beat myself up constantly and second-guess myself if the results of any given situation do not match my expectations. In my most secret place, my expectation is that everyone will love me and do what I think is right. I was born under the astrological sign of Leo, and there is only one rule for Leo’s, “everyone has to love me.” When I don’t get the results I want, my oversized ego believes that I must have done something wrong, so I beat myself up and suffer.
I spent almost thirty years practicing law in partnership with other lawyers. One of the most distasteful exercises practiced annually was the apportionment of partnership shares. In most law firms, this is determined by gross revenues, client production, years of practice, academic prowess, successful results for clients, and a long list of esoteric considerations mainly given lip service. Every year the amount of money I would make for the next year was debated and lobbied fiercely by my partners. I stayed out of the fray, mainly because I felt that if they did not give me a fair share I would simply leave. However, the point is that for the first fifty years of my life, in one way or another I was comparing myself to others and directly competing with everyone. I suffered because if I did not get what I expected, I eventually left or I dissected myself in an attempt to discover what I had done “wrong.”
Despite my reluctant self-image, I know that for most people I was a likable fellow. When I go back to my hometown and run into my former colleagues, most say they miss me. These words make me wonder if my memory is failing me. Probably is, memory is imperfect at best.
I have chosen a spiritual path, a path including service, teaching, and facilitating healings. Yet I still suffer. The thinking patterns learned over many years are still with me, and I still criticize myself for results not matching my expectations. I am still plagued by my imperfect sense of right and wrong. I have observed that my suffering becomes the most intense when I observe someone doing something “wrong,” or behaving in ways I judge to be inappropriate. This causes more misery for me than when I do something “wrong.”
I had a wonderful experience the other day, which illustrates my point. At lunch I sat down beside an acquaintance who had been on a mission to slim down ever since I met her almost over a year ago. She has slimmed down, and looks much different than when I first met her. She was eating wafers of some sort that did not look appetizing to me. I joked with her, saying, “are you still eating cardboard?” Her response was so profound that it stunned both of us. She said, “Focus on your own journey.” All at the table laughed, but it has become my own personal mantra.
A mantra is a word or series of words that when repeated regularly will change life in an intended direction. Hindus have been using mantras for thousands of years to gain enlightenment and to find the nature of God. Modern day life coaches and self-empowerment gurus have reintroduced them to the world to empower our lives. I say mantras repeatedly all day long, in order to focus on positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts.
The effect of this mantra, “focus on my own journey” has brought to light many stumbling blocks I have put in my own path over the years. First and foremost, I have avoided dealing with my negativity and egotism by constantly putting those around me under the microscope. As I have said before, “Put down the microscope and pick up the mirror.” I would much rather obsess on what other people are doing “wrong” than work on my insecurity and passive aggressive behavior. It is a lot easier to focus on other people, and it avoids the painful introspection that is necessary for emotional and spiritual growth.
Secondly, I have successfully avoided dealing with subjects that are painful, such as suppressed anger and the causes for it. I love to obsessively recall painful events in my childhood or earlier life and feel sorry for myself. In effect I am wandering all over the spiritual map getting no closer to my goal because I would rather feel sorry for myself than chip through the hardened defensive walls around my heart. Ironically, I am beginning to believe that these “memories” may have not happened at all the way I remember. My “memories” are simply roadblocks my ego erects to my spiritual growth.
Thirdly, I know that one day I will have to forget all of this nonsense and get on with my purpose in life. My purpose in life is to serve and love others (and myself) and to know God. This is not an easy path, and my ego knows many ways to distract me from it. There are many distractions on this path, none of which are any of my business. However, I continue to compare myself to others, get upset because someone is not acting the way I want them to, or get upset with myself because I am not getting the results my ego wants.
As I repeat, “focus on my own journey” to myself, I remind myself to get back into “the game.” Athletic metaphors abound, as I need to “get off the bench on the sidelines” and start “moving the ball down the field.” What this all means is that I have to quit criticizing others and myself and accept others and myself as we are. My teacher Derek O’Neill teaches that we have to allow people to have their own experience. When I get upset because someone is not behaving appropriately, I am not allowing someone to have his or her own experience. When I second-guess myself and beat myself up, I am not allowing myself to have my own experience.
Finally, I remind myself that life is a journey, and I need to focus on my own path. When I say focus, I mean put on the blinders and care not what others are doing. My ego places all sorts of distractions in my way, usually in the form of people. Interestingly enough, God is there too. Not only is God in me, God is every single one of the people I criticize as well as the ones I praise. When I remind myself to focus on my path, I have to remember where the path is going. It is going to God. So the next time I see someone doing something that my ego thinks is “wrong,” I will smile and tell myself, “focus on my own journey.” Not only will I stay more to the path, I might even get farther along the path than I can imagine. Happy Journeys.