What Matters The Most

Each morning I reach for a book from the pile stacked high on my bedside table. I'm not sure about you, but I certainly need daily inspiration to fathom what the heck this oftentimes challenging human existence is all about.

I'm basically a cheerful person, yet I also know the depths of confusion and darkness. So - knowing that I will get swept up in my monkey-mind (troubling thoughts swinging from one trouble-tree to the next), I keep a collection of books nearby for those moments when I need an immediate prompt to pause and remember that it is the "little things that make us and how long it takes us to figure out what matters most." (co-opted line from Lori KcKenna's song The Most)

One of my favorite books is Pema Chodron's Comfortable With Uncertainty. This morning this is the passage that kicked my butt big time (in a good way):

Slogan: Be Grateful to Everyone

"Be grateful to everyone is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected. Through doing that, we also make peace with the people we dislike. More to the point, being around people we dislike can be a catalyst for making friends with ourselves.

If we were to make a list of people we don't like - people we find obnoxious, threatening, or worthy of contempt - we would discover much about those aspects of ourselves we can't face. If we were to come up with one word about each of  the troublemakers  in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities. We project these onto the outside world. The people who repel us unwittingly show us aspects of ourselves that we find unacceptable, which otherwise we can't see. Traditional lojong (mind-training) teachings say it another way: other people trigger the karma that we haven't worked out. They mirror us and give us the chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff that we carry around like a backpack full of granite boulders.

Be grateful to everyone is a way of saying that we can learn from any situation, especially if we practice this slogan with awareness. The people and situations in our lives can remind us to catch neurosis as neurosis - to see when we've pulled the shades, locked the door, and crawled under the covers."

The reason this passage kicked my butt is that I was in the throes of being extremely annoyed and troubled by another person's behavior. I needed a zen bonk on the head for sure.  As Pema writes - shadow parts are just the parts of ourselves we can't face; and turning our face toward these parts/aspects is the radical directive. Radical because it's not our knee jerk reaction. When our cages get rattled, we usually move seamlessly into some kind of blame/shame dance - either with ourselves or others.

But since it's important for me to walk my talk, I decided not to go that shame/blame route and instead, I turned my face toward that part of myself that was being embodied by the annoying other. I must say, this particular turning toward myself required a screeching, tail-spinning 360 degree turn on a slick, icy road. Yet once out of the spin I came to a shaky rest, face-to-face with a very tender, fearful part of me. Definitely a rejected part. Gradually, as I hung out with this part of me - listening, tending, accepting, integrating - my annoyance was replaced with... yes, here it comes... compassion for both myself and the one whom held my shadow projections.

As with all theories about how we can "befriend all our ancient stuff" - the doing is a bit more daunting then the instruction book indicates. There's usually a reason we've rejected parts of ourselves. Someone along the way probably told us that we should hide those parts away - family, society, religion, some other part of ourselves; it's very crowded and noisy in that place of rejection and exile. We've spent years avoiding our rejected parts; exiled them to a far away junk yard at the end of a seemingly eternal dark road.

On top of it - there are usually bedraggled guard dogs at the rusted gates of our junk yard; they snarl and bark and make us think that there's nothing in there we wanted anyway. It feels safer to turn our faces away; it's natural to want to stay in projection mode. We need compelling evidence that LEAPING into this journey is worth our while. I'm not sure if this is compelling enough evidence - but through all the years of my own inner work and in my vocation of bearing witness to the journey of others -  I have come to know, unequivocally, that what matters most - is to make this journey down that road, through those junk yard gates. While it is not an easy journey, it is one which results in a remarkable sense of freedom from our ancient stuff and contributes to more peaceful, yummy, respectful relationships with others.

That said, I suggest bringing along on your journey - some tasty treats (in the form of gentleness, tenderness, courage) for those guard dogs. These qualities will help you gain entrance. And anyway - those dogs might just be under-appreciated parts of ourselves who are doing their doggie best to protect us from the parts of ourselves that trigger shame/fear. They need some sweet attention too.

Synchronistically, a dear friend of mine recently addressed (in her blog) this idea about courageously turning our faces toward the shadow parts of ourselves, with the goal of befriending and integrating whatever we've cast out. Acceptance and integration are the remedies for projection and, as my friend points out, it is vital to take up the journey of facing our shadow elements, not only for personal reasons but for the healing of our planet.  Do check out her blog - it's well worth the read.



  1. “To see when we've pulled the shades, locked the door, and crawled under the covers." I love that image, Liz. It’s a good one to use when I find myself in the dark of my own making. Your thoughts are so beautifully expressed , they shed real light on the waking, mindful experience of the Shadow drama. “When our cages get rattled, we usually move seamlessly into some kind of blame/shame dance - either with ourselves or others.” You’ve given me many things I take to heart and can apply, junk yard dogs and all. And thank you for your kind words about my blog . I love, as do you, the opportunity to cast little sailboats of thought adrift on the vast sea of cyberspace in the hopes that somewhere, someone can use the fresh air these thoughts intend.

  2. My friend - crawling out from under the covers, letting the shades snap wide open, and unlocking our doors so that our creative, soulful selves can roam free - might just be the most important gift we give to ourselves and the world. You've given me more inspiration to keep casting my little sailboats adrift. I'm happy to share the sea with you.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts