Our egos are active when we are sitting in judgment of ours or other’s thoughts and behaviours. To avoid this enervating activity it is often helpful to have an external focus for our attention. For this reason let’s begin the week with a meditation and exercise that might take moments, or days –but for however long it lasts we won’t be thinking about ourselves, and that’s a healthy thing.
We need to choose a person we generally avoid. Maybe someone we actively dislike, but it can even just be someone we wouldn’t normally ever choose to associate but we have no strong aversion to. It doesn’t have to be the way Steve Martin felt about John Candy at the start of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We just have to start from a place where we feel the impulse that this other person doesn’t ‘fit’ with us in some way.
The question is, do we feel that way because they don’t fit with us? Or because when we met them we unknowingly judged them based on our own random state of mind at that moment? Did our imagination place a mask over a person we actually don’t know?
Maybe we don’t like how they are in the world. Maybe they are clumsy, or too talkative, or too timid, or their beliefs clash with some of ours. Maybe we don’t like something they did or didn’t do, or maybe they just seem boring, or they remind us of someone who did something painful to us long ago and our reasons are essentially subliminal.
In the end, the reason we feel a disconnect with the person is less important than the following fact: the recognition of the inherent value of others is bestowed on others by us, it cannot be magically earned by the people we are judging.
Once we’ve found this sibling, or co-worker or classmate or other person, let’s set about learning something new about them. We’re not prying into their lives, we re-looking at its public aspects like; who their friends are, or do they hold doors for little old ladies, do they make their own lunch? We can even just listen more closely to what they say and what it implies.
We may have to get to know them through various means in order to see them in a more three dimensional way, but if we have to do it in person without them realizing it, that can offer a lot of lessons to an aware person. A great deal can be learned by practicing the act of listening to someone super-closely.
We’ll all know we’ve completed the exercise when we find something that clashes with our belief about the person. We’ll feel that as a mild surprise. Maybe their favourite basketball player is ours. Maybe they love the same poem, or band, or idea. Maybe their sister is an alcoholic too. Or maybe they are one of the few people that understands how it feels to watch your mom die in Grade Four.
When we find this thing we’ll know it because we will –if we’re paying attention– quite notably feel the chemical shift in our bodies. As our minds change, our bodies will too.
Somehow we feel this shift in much the same way that most of use can feel the release of our white blood cells during an illness. In that case, we’ll will often say things like, “I think my cold is turning,” 15 minutes after the release. In this case, the realization about the other person will also release a form of tension within us.
That tension will have been created by us expending energy, thinking subconsciously limiting thoughts that served to restrict who that other person might be, even if all we were doing was not inviting them into our circle.
By relaxing our definition to fit our new information –by thinking different thoughts about them– we allow other people to more successfully be themselves near us, and that warms relations between us. This is what can make it such a useful exercise for society.
Remember: we find something we like about someone that we formerly ignored or didn’t like. Then we find a way to connect with them anyway until we sense that we really have changed our idea of who the person is (for the better).
The nice thing about this is, even if we fail at the exercise, even just trying it will have positive impacts as an exercise in compassion. Enjoy the process. This is us getting healthier.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.