Everything that irritates us about others [or our circumstances] can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Carl Jung
The above quote by Carl Jung reminds me of our human ability to constantly change and evolve. In essence, our life journey is to understand this process. Once we align ourselves with it, we can access and apply what we need to continually grow our well-being both individually and collectively. More concretely, what Jung’s statement alludes to is when we observe, that is, stay aware, of what is around us — people and circumstances — and reflect on our inner reactions to them, we are well on our way to adopting the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions necessary for living a fulfilling, harmonious, productive life.
It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Be present in each moment of your life to what is happening around you, particularly what irritates or even angers you. Then, simply reflect on it so you can understand why and how it is impacting your well-being. Go ahead, try it right now. Focus your awareness on something or someone triggering irritation in you. You might even want to journal your experience to help later with your reflection. Write down everything that comes into your mind. Once you feel you have recorded it fully, notice how you feel. Not just emotionally but physically as well. Where in your body do you sense the irritation? Is it different than when you started thinking and writing about it? In other words, what are you learning about who you are?
Of course, we all know that what appears to be simple is not often easy. As you considered your irritation, did you find yourself being distracted by other thoughts? In our pursuit of pleasure, we often find ourselves avoiding painful or negative thoughts and experiences. For instance, right now I have a basement that for health reasons needs a major cash investment, which I have avoided doing for over a year. What irritants in your own day-to-day life have you been putting off rather than observing, reflecting on and then changing your experience?
Personally, I spent a week in August revelling in a yoga intensive with the objective of deeply listening to my inner experience and staying with what arose. As the week advanced and greater physical opening showed up in my joints so did the anger buried in my hardened body tissues. Upon greater reflection, two truths quickly became apparent to me:
- No matter how many years or how diligently any of us do the work of transformation, we do not have any say, that is, control over the results, and
- As long as we hold hardened attitudes and feelings in our minds and hearts, we will store them in our bodies creating armoured or numbed tissue.
With regard to the first truth, I did not expect anger to be the result of the week-long practice. Seventeen years of yoga preceded by psychotherapy, massage and various other forms of energy work had already released considerable negativity from within me. Nonetheless, anger is what arose to be heard and thus, reflected on and released.
For most of us, the undoing and letting go of our irritants let alone our suppressed emotion is likely to be a life-long journey. The good news is those areas in our body where we hold our tension and tightness are also where we store our emotions. Therefore, opening and softening those same areas will also soften our mental attitudes and feelings. Furthermore, this opening/softening is an act of self-compassion and spills out into the world bringing greater peace, love and joy for me, from me, for all. Thus, by first serving ourselves, we can serve the world. And isn’t that what we are here for?
I wrote the following poem during another time of reflection, and see that it also speaks the same two truths.
Eyes open, ever watchful
for the cloaked mysteries,
the sometimes misunderstood,
offered by each moment.
Reminded by “what I see is me,”
the windows of our soul
reflect the light of truth.
Not merely watchers, we wander aimfully
through the emerging presents,
and grow a gracious acceptance
free of pain or pleasure’s judgment.
Take a moment to reflect on another internal irritation of which you are currently aware. Can you locate it in your body? Can you sit with it long enough to witness its passing? What did you learn about yourself?
For more on undoing and letting go, click here.