Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stop Taking Things Personally

As part of an Newsweek article from February 23, 2009 called "Who Says Stress Is Bad For You?," there is a sidebar quiz to test your knowledge about, and resilience to, stress. The most interesting question posed is "Who tends to be the least resilient?" I'll go ahead and give you the answer: People who are self-focused. Here's what WebMD, who produced the quiz, says about it:
Egocentric or self-focused people are more likely to take things personally. And the extent to which people take things personally affects their ability to be resilient. This, explains [Bernhard] Kempler, is why people who survive natural disasters tend to recover more quickly than those who survive attacks directed against them personally or as members of a group.
"The person who has the capacity to say this is not directed personally at me has a much better chance of remaining resilient," Kempler says. "They are saying, 'This is not directed at me, this is not my fault. There is nothing about me that deserves this trauma.' It is the kind of meaning we put on events that protects our resilience, that makes us capable of being resilient, that lets us cope and adapt."
This is what the Buddha was teaching some 2,500 years ago. He said that when a sense of "self" arises, we suffer. We see things as being I, me, or mine that have nothing whatsoever to do with us. This teaching should not be misunderstood to mean that we become "detached" from our circumstances or from other people. We are actually more present and involved in these situations because we are making active choices to deal with them in a way that is more effective and skillful. When we stop taking everything personally, we can actually tolerate difficult experiences and interactions more easily than when we have aversion toward them because we think they are about us.

As I've mentioned many times in this blog, one of the most powerful mantras we can adopt in our daily life is: "This is not me. I am not this. It is not mine." And we can say this about anything, especially those thoughts that scream at us that the situation is about us. In fact, the more we are stuck in the cycle of clinging or aversion brought about by the arising of the false sense of self, the more we will believe the mind when it tells us to take the situation personally.

To see the Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/184154/page/5
To take the WebMD stress resilience quiz: http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/resilience-quiz


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