“Impassivity with regards to the events, brought about by the exterior cause.” —Marcus Aurelius
The other day I made an epic decision. I decided to stop caring so much about everything and everyone around me in order to become more compassionate. I realized that I spent a large amount of my time being frustrated about what people around me were doing and how it affected me. In short, I cared too much.
I cared about people in traffic–you know, the ones who can’t drive; about the other moms; what the other moms thought; what my family thought; about people who made my day difficult–on purpose or by chance; about random rude people; noisy people; annoying people; construction; you get my drift. All of this caring was diminishing my cheerfulness and actually making me quite a sour person. It suddenly occurred to me that if I didn’t care about this stuff, it wouldn’t matter.
This doesn’t mean that I became an unfeeling cynic. Quite the opposite. I realized that by not allowing external events to affect me so deeply, I would actually open myself up to more compassion. Suddenly, the person who was rude to me became someone who was having a really bad day. Because I didn’t care that they were rude to me, I was able to see this clearly.
This realization was very freeing. It leveled the playing field for me. Suddenly, I’m not intimidated or flustered by everyday situations. My sense of self-worth skyrocketed. As long as I put forth what I know is my best effort, what happens next really doesn’t matter.
I’m not going to worry about how things should be or the justice of what someone else just did. Who said, “I ain’t gonna let it get me down”?
Am I worthy enough to drop off my business card at the health food store or a chiropractic office and pitch them a workshop idea? You bet! Could they turn me down? Absolutely! But it doesn’t matter because the only thing that counts is my effort. Now they know who I am and when they see me doing amazing things some time down the road they’ll call me.
Like Marcus Aurelius said in the quote above, the external events have no bearing on how I perceive them. Anything could happen, but the event has no quality, good or bad, until I judge it. If I am impassive, the event is neutral. If I am positive, the event is positive. If I am negative, the event is negative.
“Act as your own nature commands you; put up with whatever common nature brings to you.” —Marcus Aurelius
So, be the good you wish to see in the world, but don’t expect it from anyone else. You are not in charge of anyone but you–and maybe your kids, but that is up for debate as well. You cannot expect to have control over external events, therefore you must be willing to roll with the punches.
I try to remind myself that everything happens for a reason and usually that reason is good. Even if the event seems inconvenient or downright tragic at the time, good can come of it if we only shift our mindset to allow the good in.
So someone cut you off in traffic, which caused you to miss the green light and now you’re late for work. Frustrating, right? But with a bit of a reframe, observing that the event is neutral and there is good to be found in everything, the situation lightens up. Perhaps something worse would have happened if you were a few minutes earlier. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned about leaving for work a little earlier. Perhaps the person who cut you off was hurrying to the hospital and that extra few minutes allowed them to catch someone’s dying breath.
This doesn’t mean that I will roll over and let everyone walk all over me. Rather, I will use this calmer, more focused and neutral mindset as an advantage. While everyone else is wasting time talking about how rude the person was or how unjust the situation was, I will have already moved on to the next thing. It is no matter to me what someone else did as long as I acted with honor and respect. While everyone else is talking, I am doing.
How much more patience would we be able to find with ourselves and our fellow humans if this attitude was universally adopted? What amount of brainpower would be saved every day if we didn’t have to spend it on being frustrated and wishing other people would be more courteous? How much better would we sleep?
I challenge you to find the capacity in yourself to let go of the passionate response. To realize that events are neutral until we judge them one way or the other. To tolerate whatever fate brings you without passing judgment. Save your brain power for something more important and useful.
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