Walking the Walk

I have recently encountered several instances within the course of the last three months of people purporting to believe in one thing, but acting out in a much different way.  It was a reminder of just how hard it is to walk the walk v. talk the talk.

Ultimately we see the world through the imperfect lens of our experiences and our processing of those experiences within the context of our personalities/nature.    Accordingly, the ideals of compassion, trust, fidelity, understanding, honesty and integrity and other laudable ideals are the manifold prongs of the tuning fork that we need to better align our nature toward higher ideals.

We forget, sometimes, that our belief structure (whatever that might be that seeks to guide us to right action) is referred to as our "spiritual discipline".  There is no discipline involved in speech that contains:   "I'm just telling you like it is."; "Your problem is:" "I'm just speaking my mind."; "I'm just being honest."  People who truly embrace honorable ideals and practice the discipline of self control walk the walk of their professed ideals.  Others just give lip service to it.

Nowhere are our ideals put to the test than through our interactions with other human beings--family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances.  When our stress levels are low, the water level in our transactional relationships is high. Our personal raft (our personal boundaries) is carried effortlessly through any turbulence that we encounter.  "No problem!", we exclaim as we are swiftly transported through the current that takes us quickly past any difficulty.

However, when our stress levels are high the water level is low.  The current is sluggish, the rocks and sticks (real or imagined) poke our raft.  We begin to take on water.  Everything is an unwelcome provocation.  These are the moments where our commitment to our ideals is sorely tested.  Do we lash out, or do we practice our spiritual discipline?

Joseph Campbell espoused this concept (paraphrased) in a lecture on compassion:  
When we have problems with other people, the core of the problem is seldom with those people, but within ourselves.  It's not what they say or do, but rather how we react to it.

I consider this concept one of the greatest personal tools of my own development over the years.  Naturally none of the above applies in instances of abuse.  However, when put the test in our ordinary relationships, it has remarkable power when invoked as a yardstick for how we should evaluate the situation, and more importantly, how we are to act. As it is said, "We cannot control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we react to it." 

For any of our strongly held beliefs, our conviction in and commitment to those beliefs are not tested when the water is high, but rather when the water is low.  When the water is low and we are being bumped about, it is in those moments that we are tested. Understanding our reactions to provocations by others tells us more about our vulnerabilities and inadequacies than the failings of the other person.  After all, we have an imperfect lens.  Nothing is more dangerous in a relationship than projecting our own fears and insecurities on to another person and leveling unfounded accusations.

When we find ourselves hitting the low water mark, reaching for our ideals, rather than ignoring them, will lift us above the water line.  And reaching for them, not ignoring, is the discipline needed for staying on our chosen path.  Otherwise, we get stuck on the bank of the river, taking on water, getting bit by mosquitoes and cursing everyone but ourselves for our predicament.


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