Yesterday I began with the thought: I don’t love this life. I love what makes it possible. And that is a very impersonal view. I think it’s worth trying to understand what taking an impersonal view toward life entails. After all, we only know our own experiences – what else is there?
An impersonal view of life is really just a perspective. Let’s think about the weather. The fact that it’s cold out, or hot, is not personal to me. If I’m in a rush and there’s a traffic jam, it isn’t personal to me. The sun rising or setting, high tide or low tide, the wind, the rain – none of these are about me personally, though they surely do effect how I go about my day.
How about a boss yelling at me? Or a family member criticizing one of my decisions? Before we answer that, have we considered the pressures a boss might be under? Or the journey through life that has caused a loved one to be critical? We all bring so much baggage to the present moment, it is usually that baggage that is in play, and not truly who we are.
When we act impatiently, or unkindly, toward others, isn’t that just a reflection of something personal going on in our lives? We’re tired, we have a nagging pain, we feel short of money, we feel alone, we haven’t taken care of something that we know we should have sorted out. All our interactions with fellow humans in a given day are, for the most part, acts of one person (or group) reacting, from a personal perspective, toward another. Often, we don’t even know why we say certain things or why we do certain things.
So much of the trouble and stress we encounter is actually caused by people acting personally in situations where it’s inappropriate. When someone says something mean, they act personally. The worst thing we can do is act personally in response, because that just feeds the fire that has been lit.
In this sense, we spend all of our lives reacting personally to others who are also acting personally. It’s the most contagious virus I can imagine. So the idea here is to break that cycle.
When you think about it, all our sensitivity, all our brain power, and all our intuitive insight is part of a design that is meant to give us information about what is going on around us. When that information triggers a prior experience, it becomes personal to us – but that is a learned behavior, not a natural one. With all the TV shows highlighting forensic investigations, it’s clear that the answers to every puzzle lie in the assessment of the data, not in anyone’s personal feelings about the data. And more data is always better.
So it should be with us as we go through our life. We should examine all the data available to us and act in the most sensible way – in a way that serves our purposes. We have an incredible ability to detect what is going on in others, yet we can’t control others – we can only control what effects us.
How does that play out in real life? Well, if someone is rude or mean to us, we can understand that they are going through some difficulty of their own. They are most likely doing it unconsciously from some old pattern that is playing through them. That’s a human perspective. We can either choose to not take part and keep moving or, if it is a situation we need to stay in, we can have compassion for (or stay neutral toward) whatever it is that they are dealing with, as we might hope another would have for us in a similar situation.
And it doesn’t mean we aren’t engaged in life. The fact of it is, if we are truly forensic about what we experience – in and of itself, without prior baggage – we will be in a much better position to make the next right decision as we continue on our way. Being on an emotional roller coaster all day long is incredibly draining and doesn’t help us do anything.
Feelings themselves are beautiful – they are what make us truly human – when we are conscious about them. Taking an impersonal view toward life doesn’t imply detachment, it points to a deeper, more subtle understanding of the way things really are.
How often have we hoped to accomplish something and known that we needed to see the facts clearly and state our case succinctly to have success? So we make a list of pros and cons, or we take a walk to clear our head. Well the journey of life requires just such clarity to navigate it in the most productive, least stressful way.
When we take that first step back from personal involvement, we will quickly see how personally involved everyone else is. And in that moment we will know that it is not a natural, or healthy, way for us to proceed.