Years ago, when I my youngest was starting school, I joined an established book club of local women. Once a month we would get together over lunch and discuss the book we had all read that month. I didn’t last long. They had similar values to each other and I was the odd one out. I relate better with people who have a philosophical bent whether they are spiritual or not and have a very difficult time with people who seem to have no sense of humor. It can be quite a learning experience to be in the company of people who prize things and ideas you don’t care about. They were likeable and somewhat friendly but not particularly warm and I found myself holding back from them. You’ve had this experience, I’m sure. Everyone has. You just know these people aren’t ‘friend material’ and the relationship will never be anything more than superficial civility. When I run into one of these ladies now we are each cordial to the other. There are no hard feelings it was just a bad fit.
I stayed with the book club for a few months until the month we read The Four Agreements. Reading this particular book was not my idea and I was surprised that a member of this group would suggest they read a spiritual, self-help book and even more suprised when they all agreed. I thought perhaps I needed to reassess my opinion of this group. Maybe I’d been a snob, maybe I’d been unfair. The day came when we met to discuss the book and I was very interested to hear what everyone had to say. Let me just say that I think the four agreements themselves are very useful but I found the book a little cutesy new-age. I recommend it to people all the time because the message is, in my opinion, very useful. Well, the book club never got past the second agreement: “Don’t take anything personally.”
When it came time to discuss this agreement I was the first to say I thought it was wonderful. To me it was an ‘a-ha!’ moment. The truth of it seemed so clear to me that I was sorry I hadn’t thought of it on my own. Once I understood the idea it seemed so obvious. They all looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head. The concept of not taking things personally is rooted in the fact that people behave the way they do because of who THEY are not because of you. So THEIR responses and reactions to you, or any other situation really, comes out from where THEY are in life, what THEY believe to be true and so on. It’s NOT about you. Your interaction with a second person may trigger a reaction from them but if a third person were to take your place in the discussion the second person would still behave as they did. YOUR response to any interaction is YOUR responsibility. YOUR reaction is because of who YOU are not because of the other person.
The reaction from the book club was ironic. They all turned on me. For the next hour the discussion centered around things that had happened to each of them that were personal and how that experience invalidated the book. My first reaction was to be stunned. I hadn’t expected such a violent response to a book or for these women to not even entertain my idea. The group dynamic was amazing. Not a single one of them understood what I was trying to say and not a single one of them let me complete a sentence. This group of otherwise cordial women became rude and nearly hostile with one particular woman leading the pack. About ten minutes into it I realized that I was in a situation where I had to put my money where my mouth was and not take this personally. When the lunch was over I thanked the hostess, bid the ladies farewell and ended my membership in this group. That was early 2005.
This past weekend I learned that one of these women, the one who most vociferously defended taking things personally, was involved in sabotaging something I was working on in our community. She told a mutual friend that she was happy I didn’t get what I wanted because she hates me. The actions she was applauding hurt this man, this mutual friend as well and until that was brought to her attention she didn’t realize she’d injured him because she had been so focused on interfering with me. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around this when I learned it. I can’t imagine setting out to undo someone or delighting in another person’s loss. I didn’t really understand what motivated her.
We had had a minor confrontation in 2006 where she came after me and I defended myself but that was five years ago. I thought that was that. We almost never interact and I can’t remember the last time I even thought about her let alone spoke to her. She told our mutual friend that her intense dislike of me stems from that confrontation. That was amazing to me. I sat in our booth on Sunday, in the rain and pondered this. I wasn’t hurt by this revelation but I was angry for a few minutes because of the callous way my friend was treated. It’s actually quite a waste of energy to be so vindictive and petty that you hurt innocent people to satisfy yourself. As the rain fell and I thought this over I pulled a card to find out where this woman was coming from. I got the Five of Cups.
She’s focused on what’s not there, what is lost. The cups are about emotions and the empty cups can be symbolic of places of need or emotional injury. The two full cups behind the figure are being ignored. This figure prefers to focus on what’s missing, what’s lacking and so that becomes their world view. There is a flowing river right nearby and the cups could easily be refilled but instead they are left where they fell and the figure stands there, cloaked in sorrow, staring at them. I thought of that Richard Bach quote “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours” There is no real reason for this person to be in this situation beyond the personal decision to stay there like holding a grudge for five years. Kind of sad isn’t it.