Tend to the causes.
Who is behind the mask? The Practice: See the person behind the eyes. Why?
Most of us wear a kind of mask, a persona that hides our deepest thoughts and feelings, and presents a polished, controlled face to the world.
To be sure, a persona is a good thing to have. For example, meetings at work, holidays with the in-laws, or a first date are usually not the best time to spill your guts. Just because you're selective about what you reveal to the world does not mean you're insincere; phoniness is only when we lie about what's really going on inside.
Much of the time, we interact mask-to-mask with other people. There's a place for that. But remember times when someone saw through your mask to the real you, the person back behind your eyes. If you're like me, those times were both unnerving and wonderful.Even though it's scary, everyone longs to be seen, to be known. To have your hopes and fears acknowledged - the ones behind a polite smile or a frown of frustration. To have your true caring seen, as well as your positive intentions and natural goodness. Most intimately of all, to feel that your innermost being - the one to whom things happen, the one strapped to this roller coaster of a life trying to make sense of it before it ends - has been recognized by someone.
Take in the good.
What is an open heart?The Practice: Put no one out of your heart. Why? We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn't like you, a partner who won't keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I'm thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: "Hell is other people." Sure, that's overstated. But still, most of a person's hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people. Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings - who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet - you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you! So what can you do? Let's suppose you've tried to make things better - such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. - but the results have been partial or nonexistent. At this point, it's natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about "us," it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack "them" - and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you. But what are the results? Closing off doesn't feel good.
Who are you prosecuting?The Practice: Drop the case. Why?
Lately I've been thinking about a kind of "case" that's been running in my mind about someone in my extended family. The case is a combination of feeling hurt and mistreated, critique of the other person, irritation with others who haven't supported me, views about what should happen that hasn't, and implicit taking-things-personally.In other words, the usual mess. It's not that I have not been mistreated - actually, I have been - nor that my analysis of things is inaccurate (others agree that what I see does in fact exist). The problem is that my case is saturated with negative emotions like anger, biased toward my own viewpoint, and full of me-me-me. Every time I think of it I start getting worked up, adding to the bad effects of chronic stress. It creates awkwardness with others, since even though they support me, they're naturally leery of getting sucked into my strong feelings or into my conflict with the other person. It makes me look bad, too cranked up about things in the past. And it primes me for overreactions when I see the person in question. Yes, I practice with this stuff arising in my mind and generally don't act it out, but it's still a burden. I think my own experience of case-making - and its costs - are true in general. In couples in trouble, one or both people usually have a detailed Bill of Particulars against the other person. At larger scales, different social or political groups have scathing indictments of the other side. How about you? Think of someone you feel wronged by: can you find case against that person in your mind? What's it feel like to go into that case? What does it cost you? And others? The key - often not easy - is to be open to your feelings (e.g., hurt, anger), to see the truth of things, and to take appropriate action . . . while not getting caught up in your case about it all.