At some point, most of us have been told—by ourselves or others—to: “Be the bigger person;” “Take the high road;” or, “Rise above.”
Often, it is sound advice. When in a situation of conflict, one person embroiled needs to ease up enough to allow for an overall adjustment; or, fully disengage. As I used to joke with a friend, “It takes two to tangle.”
What of those circumstances, though, wherein the walking-away spurs the opposition? To that person, the feeling of being ignored becomes tantamount to a battle cry: They may feel dismissed, misunderstood, or undervalued, thereby motivating them to further negative words or actions.
Recently, such a situation has re-entered my personal realm. I have learned to keep a distance from this relative, but as I have positive, ongoing relationships with other members of the family (who maintain communication with him), separation can never be entirely complete.
Now, the person has been put into a position of authority in a particular family matter. The result? His rededication to asserting control over other family involved. One of those family members is me, who, for reasons unclear to any of us, triggers his worst tendencies of emotional tyranny.
I have a hunch that as he witnesses my psychological and spiritual growth, his fear-based self aims his missives at me: In denigrating or attempting to thwart my evolution, perhaps he feels less imprisoned by his own choices and trajectory.
I do pray for him: that that darkness within yields to Peace. We once were close; to watch him wrestle with deep-seated dis-ease leaves me sad.
I have learned over the course of many years, however, that the best approach is to not engage. But in this case, sheer refusal to address my relative’s behavior will result in practical impediments to my professional and personal goals.
In order to proceed, I must walk into the lion’s den.
With good reason, to entertain this decision awakens anxiety. But I have spent decades learning how to assuage this nervous, fearful state; I am better equipped now to deal with the discomfiting situation at hand.
What trips me up the most, perhaps, is the ever-deepening realization that such “surges” from the antagonist likely will never cease. His calls to battle will resound periodically, all borne from a place within him that thrills to taunt and tussle.
In my best moments, I imagine that the tension and upset he tends to leave in his wake are his calling cards for help. Perhaps his inner anger feels as bad to him as it does to those of us at whom it is directed. When I think in that way, I feel compassion; I send up my prayer.
I share this personal story, because I recognize that such dynamics are those that many have experienced. Regardless of the relationship or embattled circumstances, such situations may call for a layered coping approach.
First, as always, it does help to put forth genuine effort to see the matter through the other person’s eyes. Rev up the compassion and imagination. Give all the credit you can muster that the person means no ill, that their heart is fundamentally “good.”
If and when the hits keep coming, retain the idea of a wounded soul seeking connection: that the only way they know how to have a relationship is by wreaking havoc on the hearts and minds of others. Hold tight to this thought. To “do battle” from a place of “knowing the enemy” will help you stay the course (even if what you “know” is a false narrative you have conjured).
Along with this spiritual generosity—which is a mighty task in itself—protect yourself. To lay oneself bare leads to martyrdom, which seldom, if ever, leads to evolution. Be steadfast in the aim to proceed in and with Faith; if the arrows pierce, pray that the Divine and the Universe help you sally forth nonetheless.
For so long, I tried to rise above and move beyond: My mother infused me with the idea that I needed to be the bigger person, because I could. I heard those words as compliments to my character. What I did not recognize is that my mother’s own trepidation when interacting with the challenging person was her motivation for me to keep the peace.
It was not until about 10 years ago, after a particularly distasteful awakening of the person’s negativity, that I felt I was being martyred. More significantly, I realized that I did not have to be: I could say no; I could protect myself.
As noted above, my first and foremost way of ushering in a feeling of protection is to call upon the guidance of the Divine and the Universe. Within those eternal realms of wisdom and grace lies the most sure haven.
But sometimes, such as the case before me now, that security must serve as the fortress from which to engage more directly with the situation. Be it an intervention of legal or personal nature, there are occasions which demand that one fight for themselves in a tangible, earthly way.
In the midst of all of this arrived inspiration in the form of a talk from the Self-Realization Fellowship. (The SRF is the affirming foundation for my spiritual beliefs and practices.) The service concerned “even-mindedness,” specifically with regard to its relationship to karma and meditation.
Certainly, each of the ideas discussed could have a separate and lengthy address of their own. What resonated for me, however, was the reminder that one must perform “right action” without an attachment to the consequences. So, when I think and pray in the “right direction,” I must focus only on that energy, and not the outcome of my intention.
An “even mind” helps one to release expectation: Do or think what feels most in accordance with the Divine Decree; then, double-down on Faith that the outcome will usher forth that which the Divine intends (i.e., even if it is different from what one hopes for or plans).
When one detaches from the results, be they welcome or disappointing, a karmic bond can not form or continue.
I was struck by this with regard to my interactions with my relative: Before I disconnected from him, I played into whatever “karmic bond” we have. Once I cut off interaction, my Self—my spiritual essence—felt lightened and liberated.
So now, with a resurgence of negativity pointed in my direction, I feel buoyed by the SRF talk: I can add to the karma that binds me and this relative; or, I can push forth in Faith, trusting that no matter the outcome, I will have weakened, if not broken the karmic bond.
And this brings me to a short, but potent routine that prepares me for and sustains me through such times.
First, continue whatever practice rises to the fore for you during such times. Perhaps it is physical activity, or discussing the matter at length; perhaps it is more internal, e.g., prayer or meditation. Repeat, repeat, repeat your personal practice: Shore up the strength.
Then, dare to inhabit the mind-space of the “opponent.” As described earlier, imagination can lead to compassion; even an illusory, temporary state of understanding can help when in conflict.
On a very mundane level, try pacing. Think of it as a precursor to—or condensed version of— a longer, contemplative walk. The idea is akin to the premise behind labyrinths, or walking meditations. Distinct from seated meditation, a moving meditation encourages thoughts and feelings to be consciously contemplated; and ideally, reframed or released.
Pacing often happens naturally; most of us pace while talking on the phone. The repetitive motion circulates the energy that arises from whatever is being discussed. Just as physical circulation propels physical processes, such as digestion, to circulate mental energy helps to process thoughts and feelings.
After a few minutes or so of the fervent pacing—or any full-body movement of your choice., e.g., jumping jacks or body swings—move into shaking: simple, powerful shakes of the entire body. I tend to begin with one arm, then the other; followed by each leg; and culminating in a vigorous, full-body shake. Shake for at least 3 minutes.
The pacing and shaking not only expel anxiety and overthinking, they lead to fuller, deeper breathing.
With these optimal breaths at the ready, assume your preferred position for meditation. Rest both hands on the knees, palms up, and configure Gyan Mudra: thumb tips touching index fingertips.
Call to mind a comforting or empowering affirmation: scripture or sutra, mantra or encouraging word. With closed eyes gazing up to the Third Eye, begin long, deep breathing. As you inhale, begin a silent recitation of the supportive words; as you exhale, complete the inner chant. Impart the vibration deep within. Continue for at least 5 minutes.
Then, release the mudra; turn the hands, so that the palms rest softly on the knees. Maintain the Third Eye focus, and simply breathe. Allow your natural breath to connect you fully to the frequency of the equanimous state you have evoked.