I wish I had learned this lesson as a child. I think it would have saved me a lot of heartache, stress and anxiety throughout the years. It's only until I got to my late 20s/early 30s that I got really clear on things and realized that people's actions had nothing to do with me and vice versa. I learned it the hard way through work, teaching, friends and even family members, but in the end it's a lesson I have taken to heart and work with regularly to try and absolve.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I'm a sensitive soul. Although I try my best not to, I take things to heart and really, I care deeply when someone I love is hurt or happy. I have an incalculable need that things always be fair and when they are not fair to all parties involved, then I usually get upset or angry. Thank goodness for my yoga practice, both physical and philosophical, for what I've realized with great practice is that I can be sensitive to others, but I don't have to take on their stuff.
What is their "stuff" anyways? In my definition, it's when other people, whether knowingly or not, try to unload their baggage on you. We've all got baggage and I can safely say we almost all don't know what to do with it, so nine times out of ten we try to unload it on other people. This is not healthy.
Here's an example. Recently I was working with an acquaintance on a project. This conversation took place over email. It's not the best mode for communication (neither is texting by the way), but it was what we had to work with. At some point I received what I considered an abrupt email ending our conversation and our project for that matter. My first thought..."what did I do wrong?" My second thought..."nothing, that's her stuff she's working out."
In a previous life, well before any study of yoga, I would have replayed this incident over and over again and looked for ways to appease my acquaintance. I would have questioned my words and actions and come up with 100 ways in which I may have offended her. It would have eaten me up inside. Taking things personally usually does. Then I would have gotten mad or angry or just let the whole interlude ruin my day or week. But not anymore. I work really hard to not allow other people's stuff affect me so deeply. When I find myself doing so, I stop, take a reprieve and try to get a better handle on the situation.
I thought about this other day too as I was teaching class. I had a student in class that was chomping away on gum (a personal pet peeve of mine) and laughing every now and then at some of things I was saying although nothing I said was intended to be funny. I didn't think I was saying anything too flower-y or over-the-top, but either she really agreed with what I was saying or she though I was full of it. At first it unnerved me and it even threw me off, but after a quick moment of reflection I thought "I can't let this get to me. That's her stuff and I have no way of knowing where she's coming from or how she really feels about what I'm saying. I'm doing my best." I gathered my confidence, continued on and let it go.
In the same way, it's important to not dump our baggage on other people. Doing so only causes stress and really, you're not helping yourself. Sure, sometimes it's helpful to vent your frustrations, but that's just it, they are your frustrations, not anyone else's. When you're beating your loved ones or co-workers over the head needlessly without any understanding of why, it's time to stop and examine where your stuff has gone out of control. Every interaction we have is an exchange of energy, so when you dump your baggage on others, you're using up their personal energy. We should be mindful how much of our own energy, as well as others we expend on any given situation. When you take other people's energy you are in effect stealing it from them and thereby violating Asteya, the Yama of non-stealing. Do you really want to be an energy thief? I surely don't!
A good friend recently reminded me that practicing yoga (asana and yama/niyama-philosophy) is not about being perfect. Instead, it's about how we react to the world around us and the processes by which we aim to keep a calm mind. Ironically, I just talked to my students last week about this same thing, but I needed that reminder from my friend. That's what good friends are for.
So yes, my house is your house. I will welcome you with open arms, hear your stories, laugh and cry with you, but when it comes to your stuff, please, let's leave it at the door.
Other articles you might like:
Hindsight is Gaining Perspective, Learning and Growing. Lessons Learned in Teaching
Taking the First Step: Yama of the Yoga Sutras
Asteya: The Act of Non-Stealing