No One But Ourselves

by Karen Casey -

Tending Your Own Garden:

It's easy to make other people the focus of our attention isn't it? Women, especially, are raised to do so. Sometimes we judge, we criticize, sometimes audibly; through anger, manipulation, shame or guilt, we try to control the people sharing our journey. I have news for you. These are always wrong choices and never 'the work' we have been called to do.

Focusing outside ourselves and attempting to control other people is a clever avoidance technique; temporarily, at least, it helps us escape having to look at our own sometimes troubling behavior.

The irony is that we always see in others the behavior that we need to pay some attention to in ourselves. Always!

The people in our lives--family and friends, neighbors, even the strangers at the grocery or ahead of us in the traffic jam--are mirrors that reveal who we are.

Our reactions to them show us what we need to work on in ourselves and as we release them to live their own lives, we can get back to the business of controlling the only thing we really can control: our own responses of life.

Okay, but how? 

Simple. We have to learn some new behaviors and then practice them.

Cultivating New Behavior

Attend To Your Life, No One Else's! 

Many of us acquired the habit of interfering in other people's affairs early on in life. We heard our parents speaking critically about their friends, or other family members, or neighbors, for their actions or opinions. Obsessively watching the behavior of friends, family or even complete strangers and longing to change or control their behavior is a great catalyst for inner turmoil.

This goes hand in hand with the misguided idea that we can change anyone but ourselves.

You can spend years trying to change a spouse or some friend but what a relief to finally learn that the affairs of others are not ours to control or even judge. Being in charge of ourselves is enough.

It bears repeating: We are not in charge of others! Not their behavior, their thoughts, their dreams, their problems, their successes or their failures.

Even the children we parent have their own journey to make and our so-called control over them is, in fact, an illusion.

We can set an example for them, we can suggest a set of behaviors, we can demonstrate a code of ethics, we can even require that they live by certain 'house rules' while under our roof but finally it is they who will decide who they want to be and what they want to do, regardless of our efforts. And for that we will become grateful in time.

I say: Let's celebrate the fact that we are in charge of no one but ourselves. 

It relieves us of a heavy burden and a thankless job, one that never blesses us. Taking control of every thought we have and every action we take and being willing to relinquish the past while savoring the present, will assuredly keep us as busy as we need to be.

Doing these things and only these things is why we are here. It's only when we live our own lives and manage our own affairs, freeing others to do the same, that we will find peace we seek and so deserve.

Let Go and Let Others Be Themselves

So many of us spend countless hours or weeks or, in some sad cases, years, trying to make someone be who we want them to be or do what we think is in their own (or perhaps our) best interests, only to repeatedly fail in our attempts. This is a tragedy as well as a misspent life.

It's time to let go.

I was first introduced to the idea of 'letting go' in a Twelve Step support group and I was very slow to grasp the meaning. Wasn't it my job to guide a loved one's decisions and actions? To control them if I could? I had always thought that not doing so was selfish and uncaring.

Thankfully what I finally learned was that our spouses, our friends, our family, our neighbors, even the strangers crossings our paths, must be who they are, not who we think they should be. They must make their own mistakes and through what they learn, have reason to celebrate their own successes.

There are many reasons for letting go of this futile behavior but the most important ones are that we will never succeed in controlling others and never experience peace in our own lives if we are always focused on how other people are living or how we think they should be living.

If we want to be peaceful, we must let go of how others choose to live and take care of business in one life only: Our Own.

Get Out of the Center of Other People's Lives

Just as no one else can productively or peacefully be the total focus of our lives, we cannot waste precious time thinking we are or should be the center of someone Else's life either. That may come as a blow to your ego, but it's time to learn this important truth.

This does not mean we should quit interacting with people or shut them out in order to preempt being shut out. Nor does it mean we should ignore how other people or thinking and behaving for fear we will seek an unhealthy dependency on them.

Observing others can be both edifying and enlightening.

It simple means getting perspective on our role in all interactions and understanding where our responsibility for action ends and the other person's begins, becoming entangled in other people's actions, dreams or dramas binds us to them in emotionally unhealthy ways and prevents the growth we deserve. Unfortunately, many of us mistake being enmeshed for feeling safe.

We want people around us who will pay us constant attention, who will make no plans that don't include us, have no thoughts that aren't shared. But that's not relationship, that's dependence; it is unholy connection.

Relationships that truly bring us to peace are interdependent. They allow us to connect while still living and honoring our own lives and letting our 'learning partners' do the same.

Take No Hostages

Many of us think our most meaningful work has to do with minding other people's business. Why is it so hard to let other people have their own journey? Why do we persist in interfering in other people's lives, especially when we reap so few benefits? Because our parents did it is not reason enough. We no doubt observed our parents doing many things that we chosen to avoid. No, there must be another reason.

After nearly three decades of emotional and spiritual growth through Twelve Step programs and other spiritual pathways, I have concluded that we mind other people's business, we 'take hostages' so to speak strictly out of our own insecurity.

We get personally invested in other people and the outcomes of their actions because we see those outcomes as defining our lives in some way, as taking from us or adding to us some heretofore unrealized value.

How sad that we perceive our own well-being as so tied to the decisions, even occasional whims of others. We do it, again and again and our lives are never better for it, at least in the long run. In the short run, trying to help a loved one live his or her life may seem like the right thing to do--it may even be engaging for a while--but taking charge of our own lives is as much work as any one of us needs to experience.

The work of someone Else's life belongs to that person and God.

In fact, thinking of God, if even just occasionally, in the midst of all our experiences--those that involve others and those that involve us alone--can change our perspective entirely. No experience is mystifying for long if we remember who is orchestrating it.

It is important to remember, of course, that accepting that GOD is in charge of every one's life doesn't mean we have nothing to do. Indeed, footwork, some seemingly trivial and some quite specific and elaborate, is always necessary.

We must be accountable in our own lives, moment by moment and demonstrate this by doing the next right thing, but God is ever--present to guide us and everyone else too. Never is any one of us 'out of his/her range.'

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