A close friend of mine was upset about a conversation she had with a mutual friend. She felt as though she’d been dismissed. At times, I’ve felt the same way in my own conversations with this mutual friend. I sat still and listened and then heard myself saying, “I have sometimes felt the same way…you just can’t take it seriously.” We talked a bit about this and came to understand that the feeling of “being dismissed” that we’d both experienced around this person was a way, perhaps one could say a “defense,” to protect themselves and in doing so was making it challenging to get through to make a sincere connection with them.
But the next day, I found myself contemplating about my comment of “you can’t take it seriously.” I wondered for a moment if I was perhaps being dismissive of this person who I had felt dismissed by. But then I immediately got the “Aha” in that I realized that I no longer take everything that this person says seriously — and, I do take some things she says with all seriousness — but I have learned to discern. The discernment is understanding that this person, like all of us who live in humanville, can at times behave in ways aren’t not kind. I know for myself, when I act or behave in a way that isn’t loving, kind or generous, then it’s because for one reason or another I feel threatened and much like a match that has been stricken, some of the defensive behaviors I’ve learned over the years get lit and start a firewall. But I also know that my true self, the one that I take seriously, is not this firewall of defense. No, my truest self is the one that knows she has an infinite capacity and ability to be loving and to be loved. It’s from this place that I am kind and compassionate. It’s from this place that I can listen to a friend who feels hurt with an open heart and not feel the need or desire to do anything other than be totally present. This is the place of connection.
When were are in the moment of feeling hurt by someone’s behavior, however, it’s not so easy to discern and see that this is not the true self who is acting this way, but rather a defense or perhaps one might even say an offense. In any event, it’s not the reality of the person, it’s just the way the person is behaving at the moment. Years ago a friend of mine found a dog stranded on an island in between an off-ramp and the 405 Freeway. It was scrawny and mangy and tried to bite her when she approached, but it did have a collar on it so it must have at one time been someone’s pet. Every morning and evening for one week, my friend left it bowls of water, boiled chicken and rice as she talked to the dog from a safe distance in as soothing of a tone as she could voice so as to be heard above the roar of the passing traffic. With the help of her family vet, she was able to trap the dog in a cage so she could bring him in for medical attention and care.
Just being in the relative calm and quiet of the vet’s office relaxed the dog to the point that it allowed my friend to get closer to it. And when she offered the dog a treat, it cautiously accepted it. After a few days, the dog was not only accepting treats from others, but it was also offering a sloppy wet kiss as a thank you. Less than a week after it had been rescued, the dog was placed in a loving home as their beloved pet. This was what my friend understood when she went to the island every day and dropped off food and water for the dog that tried to bite her. She knew that behavior was just the dog acting out to defend itself. She knew to respect this behavior but not to take it so seriously as to act in response, but rather to act as though the dog truly was a beloved pet who at that moment was feeling lost, alone and scared.
We can be very much like this dog if we feel stranded, alone and threatened by seeming harm – we can snap and bite. But, just like this dog, when we feel safe, cared for and connected, we are loving and lovable for we are our true selves (sloppy kisses and all!).