A Gentle Response to Attack
I can remember being harsh with my husband when I was married. I would feel attacked by him and I would defend myself. It felt like strength when I defended myself, but it was really weakness. I know now that in my defenselessness my safety lies is a wholly true statement. When I would defend myself two things would happen; our relationship would deteriorate a little, and I would feel more vulnerable.
At that time, I wasn’t able to see things differently. It was going to be awhile before I realized the strength of gentleness. I had to learn that everyone is innocent in spite of appearances. Once I accepted that as true, I knew that there had to be another way to see and I would ask the Holy Spirit to clarify the situation for me. Most of the time now I see the innocence beneath the defenses and attacks and gentleness comes naturally. When it doesn’t, I ask for clarity.
A student of mine gave me this wonderful metaphor that helps to understand attack and so to respond with gentleness. It looks like this. We all have layers of beliefs that make up our individual self-image and our view of the world. Most of those beliefs are from the ego mind and are defensive in nature, and always skewed. But they feel very real to us and they determine how we see things and how we respond to them.
You might wonder where these concepts that make up our beliefs about the world and ourselves come from. We gather them all through our lives. We begin as little children being told things that are often not true. Children don’t have filters that allow them to judge what is being said to them as being true or not. If a tired and frustrated mom tells her child that he is a bad boy, he believes her. He is not yet able to discern that she really means that he is behaving inappropriately. He just accepts that he is bad.
We continue to accept beliefs about our world and ourselves as we grow. We get these beliefs from authority figures and fellow students. We learn things from books and teachers. We even take in ideas from television shows and movies. Commercials are notorious for teaching us to be afraid and that we are not good enough and must buy something to make us better. We collect layer after layer of beliefs that are often not based on truth at all, but that we accept as true.
My friend said she sees this as a bubble surrounding us. So we float along in our bubble assuming that the world and how we see it is accurate. Everyone has their own bubble filled with their own perceptions. So when one person in a relationship says something to the other, it might very well be misunderstood when interpreted through the perceptions that make up their bubble world. This is how arguments and bad feelings occur, and they leave each person confused and therefore angry, fearful, and defensive.
Here is a simple example of how this might happen. A husband comes home from work and sees that the house is messy and he asks his wife what she did all day. He is judging the state of the house based on ideas he has picked up, perhaps from his childhood or from other people about how things should be. He is judging that his wife should be the one to get this done based on the same ideas. All of his judgments seem to be founded on truth, as he understands it. He has a lot of unquestioned beliefs about this in his mind.
His wife might respond by defending herself and probably being angry at his judgment. She has different criteria for behavior based on what she has learned. Perhaps she places more emphasis on childcare or on self-improvement. Maybe she sees other activities as being essential to her happiness and having to choose how to use her time, she chose what matters most to her. Her beliefs seem very true to her, just as true as his beliefs seem to him. Because they have different beliefs, they may not find a way to communicate lovingly unless something changes.
To make things more difficult, they might have other issues that interfere. Maybe he grew up thinking that he must be strong and that strength is exhibited in control. If his wife is a strong woman, it might be seen as an attack on him that she does not succumb to his desires. If he is uncertain of his strength, her desire to be in charge of her own life would be very upsetting to him. If she does not understand his worldview, she might think he is just unkind and doesn’t care about her desires. There can be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding between couples because they do not understand or accept that their worldview is different than the other’s worldview. The bubbles they live in determine their worldview and this does not change if the beliefs are never questioned.
The thing is, these bubbles are floating in an ocean of Love and Peace, but as long as the perceptions within the bubble are unquestioned, the bubble itself remains intact and no one experiences the peace and love that is all around them. If one in the relationship is able to perforate the bubble even a little, the Love they are in will infiltrate the bubble and illuminate the perceptions making them truer than they were. Then the reactions to the other will naturally change and become more understanding.
Now that one, with a mind much clearer, will see that the other is not cruel or unfeeling, and is in fact perfectly innocent. It is clear that the partner is just stuck in his or her bubble of mistaken beliefs, and the natural tendency will be to gently extend love rather than to defend and attack. The extension of love will defuse the situation and perhaps give the other person a chance to reconsider. Love always heals and if at least one person in the partnership is questioning the beliefs in his or her bubble, the relationship will become more loving.
I love this image of the bubbles floating in an ocean of Love. This idea will work for any relationship. It will help in the workplace and with child rearing. I think it will help me to always question my beliefs and to consider how others or myself might be trapped in unchallenged beliefs. One way that I can perforate my own bubble so that love can shine away the darkness is to ask a fellow Pathways of Light minister to help me examine the thought clusters that are in my bubble and to ask the Holy Spirit to correct them and give me another way to see. This better way to see things will help to ensure that I never again judge someone harshly, that I will judge as the Holy Spirit judges and know their innocence. In this way, I will always be gentle in my actions and words.