“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.
I love my daughter, Leila. She is only 4, but oh my goodness can she be a handful. She can be fiery, feisty, stubborn, and frankly, crazy at times. When she throws a tantrum she can get so angry that she makes her nose bleed.
As you can imagine, as a parent I have found this hard. Last year I had a lot of conversations hoping to get an insight into what to do about this. I didn’t really come up with much. The best I got was from my teacher, Michael Neill, who told me that “it wasn’t about me”.
At the time I didn’t really get what this meant. It seemed to imply that there was actually nothing that I needed to do. That seemed slightly irritating at the time, but it stuck with me. I had been around the conversation around the Principles long enough to know that a seed had been sown, and something would probably sprout from it.
A few months ago it did. I came downstairs one day to be greeted by Leila throwing an incredible tantrum. Linda was in tears and looked exhausted. She was berating herself for not being able to control Leila. A sentiment I know all too well in myself.
But something twigged. I suddenly saw what Michael meant. For so long, Linda and I had been making Leila’s behaviour about us. We thought it reflected our parenting, and that we must be doing a lousy job. This made us do everything to try and fix it. But we were also making an assumption that her behaviour was somehow ‘bad’. The irony of this was, that anytime we acted from this place to try and stop the behaviour we actually seemed to make it worse. The tantrum would then escalate to epic proportions.
But what I saw was that what she was doing had nothing to do with our parenting. It wasn’t ‘our fault’. Leila was just caught up in some angry thinking.
When I saw this, my reaction to her behaviour totally shifted. I suddenly saw her humanness. That this was what we all do sometimes (in our various ways). We get caught up in our thinking and it starts to look like something real and solid. In fact, I see clients like this every day. I don’t generally find myself judging them or trying to fix them when I see them. Similarly, I don’t erroneously think that their behaviour has anything to do with me. I love them for where they are, and gently point them back home. It doesn’t need fixing. It just needs understanding and seeing for what it is. Then new thought, and a new experience comes.
Which is what happened with Leila that day.
Seeing Linda so upset, it became clear to me that the two of them needed to be separate. So, I scooped Leila off the floor, fireman style, and took her to the bedroom. There, I just sat with her. I wasn’t angry, or even upset. For the first time, I just felt for her humanity and saw her suffering for what it was.
For a while she kicked and screamed. She yelled things at me like how she didn’t love me or want me anymore. And as she did I saw how I had done similar things to others in my life.
Again I just felt compassion, and understanding. A very different experience to the usual anger, frustration and guilt.
And then she sat on her bed, and went quiet. It took about 20 minutes.
I said to her that I was going to go and get her a glass of water and a tissue, and she just sat there quietly. I closed the door and there was silence. I went downstairs and grabbed what I needed and went back up. I knocked on the door, and a little voice told me to wait a minute. Which I did.
A few moments later, Leila opened the door. To my surprise, I noticed that she had tidied up. She took a sip of the water I had brought and then gave me a hug.
“Sorry Daddy!” She said.
I then followed her downstairs where she did the same to Linda. I hadn’t prompted any of it. In fact, I had done very little except ‘be’ with her.
What had changed? Well the best description I have actually comes from my teacher, who found himself in conversation with a zen master some years ago. He asked him about how “direct transmission”, where the wordless teachings of the Buddha are said to be transmitted from master to student, actually worked.
He described the zen master’s response in one of his blogs like this:
“There is something awake in me which lies dormant in most people. When they spend time with me, that thing wakes up, and they experience a greater sense of peace and relief from their suffering. When they leave, what is inside them often goes back to sleep. But the more time they spend in presence and practice, the more awakened they become.
At some point, by grace, that essential thing inside them may become fully awakened. In that moment, transmission is said to have taken place. Contrary to the way it sounds, nothing ever passed directly from master to student. Rather, what is fully awakened in me is now fully awakened in them.”
Like my teacher, I don’t describe myself as awakened or enlightened. However, I have observed from my own coaching practice how much of the change that occurs in my clients, actually has nothing to do with ‘me’. Rather it seems to occur when I am not caught up in my ideas of myself and what I think I need to do for my clients. When I am simply ‘being’ with them, exactly as I was with Leila that day.
And that doesn’t mean that things don’t get done. They do. Sometimes silence ‘gets done’. Sometimes words are spoken. They just don’t seem to come from ‘me’ and my thinking. They are effortless. They seem to occur as effortlessly as breathing, healing a wound or digesting my food. I don’t think about doing these things. They just get done.
And this seems to be a lesson that I am seeing is true for everything in my life. NONE of it is about me. Parenting, growing a business, navigating my life. That’s all an illusion because the ‘me’ that thinks it should do those things isn’t real. It’s a construct made of thought – an illusion that looks very real sometimes.
But when I see that illusion for what it is, I find myself at home. At one with the true Self. The Self that is you, that is Leila, that are my clients, that is everyone. The very appearance of the stillness of that ‘presence’, uncontaminated by any ideas of ‘me’, seems to reflect back at others their true nature. It helps them to go home when they have lost their way. For me it’s the essence and space of unconditional love.
Food for thought when we think about all the terrible things that go on in the world. Rather like me with Leila, perhaps the solution to those things doesn’t lie so much in trying to do something about those circumstances. Perhaps it too lies in a shift in understanding and consciousness, and us looking at ourselves and our essential nature and us finding our way back home to our true Self, so that others can find their way home too?
To read more of Michael’s blog – please go here (it’s a great read)!!