This column is inspired by a phrase in a terrific book I am reading “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” by Jungian psychologist James Hollis. The author wrote that many of the life’s hardships are “… a summons to consciousness, change and humility”. “Wow”, I thought, “that nicely summarizes what so much of life is all about” and my intuition told me, “That would be a great concept for a column.” And, here it is.
To me, consciousness is about being an observer, watching yourself, noticing things and expanding your mind/awareness/life. A lawyer client of mine told me that her law firm – huge and conservative – has begun to offer the lawyers classes in “mindfulness”. My client told me that she had some initial resistance to the classes: “Why should we spend time learning this kind of stuff?” But, after a few weeks of classes, she told me that not only had the mindfulness classes helped most of the lawyers in the firm to be more efficient, kind and aware, but that it had also helped her to see that her wife was unhappy with their sex life and my client had just been ignoring it, hoping it would “go away” (as if).
I have also used mindfulness with clients who wanted to change a behavior. One client was drinking more than he wanted to, but, didn’t really want to think about it or deal with it. He wanted to better control how much he drank. I taught him a few mindfulness techniques so he could more accurately observer/watch himself. (Note: mindfulness isn’t about judging or punishing yourself, it’s about being more conscious of what you are doing). The mindfulness techniques helped him see when he had had “enough” and why he sometimes kept drinking anyway (shyness and social anxiety, in his case). The result of all of this? He drinks a bit less and enjoys it a lot more (as do the friends he goes out with).
Most of us say that want to – consciously – change our lives for the better, but, on the other hand, our subconscious mind is very resistant to change. It’s much more fun to demand/expect that other people change to please us. Ah, if only life worked that way.
I recently became aware that the vast majority of my problems are because people aren’t doing what I want them to do and I can’t change them. Luckily, this made me laugh at myself.
It sounds so simple to say: you can’t control other people, so just let them be. But it’s harder than hell to pull this off. As human beings, we live in a world of other human beings and, unfortunately, so many of them do things that drive us nuts. What can we do? We can change ourselves.
Sure, I participate in social change movements, give money to good causes and do my best to help those who are disenfranchised, but, can I really change other people?
No, I’m stuck with them, just as they are. I may give them my terrifically enlightened feedback: “You should do more of this or less of that”, but, they can choose to listen or blow me off.
Humility is not a virtue I came to easily. In my younger years, I thought it was rather stupid and associated it with weakness and meekness. “The meek shall inherit the earth” seemed highly unlikely, I thought that the strong, aggressive people would get it instead.
And, sometimes, it looks as though they have.
But, aggression, greed and boastfulness (“Make America Great Again”) come from fear, not from strength. A humble person views her accomplishments, gifts and talents from a healthy perspective. He is aware of his limitations as an individual and as a human being. Empirical research shows humility has been positively correlated with better academic performance, job performance and excellence in leadership. Humble people have better social relationships, avoid deception in their social interactions and are more forgiving, grateful and cooperative.
The bottom line: be conscious and humble when life throws problems your way. And, as a result, don’t be surprised when change comes to your life: a quiet, strong, lasting change. This is the stuff of inner – and outer – evolution and revolution.