If you’re going to grow, youre going to have to become a detective. Your clues will be the things that happen to you, and your reaction to them. Your quest, should you choose to accept it, will be to look behind the clues, and try to deduce what is going on in your mind, that causes you to react in that way.
THE TINIEST CLUES
Analysis is one of the secret ingredients in meditation. Often, in the West, we think of meditation as a kind of forgetfulness. But many Buddhist paths encourage careful self-analysis as a route to enlightenment.
Have you ever noticed how you can detect features of character in a person, just by watching how they react to small events? Perhaps you have met the person in the street who is angry at the world, and it shows in the way they handle being bumped into. Or maybe you know a person whose face goes red the moment they receive a compliment. Or perhaps you have walked past a couple, when one or other of them suddenly snaps at the tiniest thing.
In all these cases, you are observing the tiny clues that give us an inroad into people’s inner lives. Often they give more away than the big things. Our big reactions are often caused by big events; but our inner character shows in the little things, when the world does not tell us what to do, and we freely decide.
WHAT IRRITATES YOU?
If the above reasoning is correct, then, by analysing your reactions to little things, you can find out about yourself. What irritates you? If you can hold on to your irritations with a focused mind, you might be surprised to detect some strange goings-on.
For example, I once had a client who was irritated by any interruption. When I first knew him, he couldn’t abide anyone cutting across him in speech or action. After a while, he reflected on these hundreds of micro-irritations he suffered during an average day, and eventually made a connection with his childhood. HIs father had been quite a selfish character, who himself could tolerate no interruption; he had to speak on everything, and be right on everything. My client had grown up desperate to have his say, but had been constantly denied his say.
This is only one example. But it illustrates how, sometimes, we can find clues in our everyday suffering which lead us quite deeply into our own character.
IS THERE A CURE?
Opinions differ on whether, once we have observed our character, we can change it. Some professionals are fatalistic, and believe that we can only work with what we have. They feel that we have been dealt our cards, and it remains only to play them with care and skill. Other professionals believe that we are constantly evolving, and that the capacity to change is built into our bones.
Whichever side of the argument you are on, we can perhaps all agree that self-knowledge is a good thing. If so, then we might also agree that a degree of self-control, or self-mastery, helps us to counteract our faults.
How does this work? From my experience, I suggest there are a few ways in which self-observation bears fruit:
HUMOUR – Once you have realised how you behave, you can’t quite take yourself so seriously. This softens you, making you more flexible and accessible to others – generally more pleasant to be around.
SELF-ACCEPTANCE – If you can see your irritable self, and accept it, then you are on the way to a better relationship with yourself, warts and all. In my experience, a person’s relationship with themselves is then reflected in their relationships with other people. So, the person who learns to accept their own faults, also learns to accept others’ faults, and becomes more tolerant.
TACTICS – Just like in a military battle, if you can see how your enemy behaves, then you can take evasive action before it is too late. If you can anticipate your own irritation, then you can start to master it before it gets the better of you.
DEEP UNCONSCIOUS LEARNING – You may find that, at times of acute self-analysis, you start to have strange dreams. The mind is a helpful thing, and sometimes throws up stories for you to learn from. Even if you do not remember your dreams, they will have brought you, somehow, into a new conformation, a new shape. In your waking life, as well, your unconscious mind is likely to help you notice more. Just as when you buy a particular car, you see that car everywhere, so when you take on a character improvement, you start to see information about it all around you. In this way, the universe rewards your focus by bringing your interests to your own attention.
If something bugs you, you have a couple of choices.
You can do the improvement job yourself, and learn to master your own irritation with life. If your practice is good, then maybe your life will improve as you learn. This is a really good way to develop, through contemplation, and some people make a lifetime out of it.
You also have the option of finding someone to help you through to a new self. Using a counsellor or psychotherapist is particularly useful if you face an irritation, or suffering, that you have struggled with, but cannot get to the bottom of. Perhaps you or your friends have noticed your distressed behaviour, and have suggested that you ‘see someone’ to try to get help.
Please don’t think it’s weak to seek external help. Many counsellors and therapists have spent years improving their ability to assist with people’s self-development. And it can be incredibly hard to detect, on your own, your worst traits. You could say we are programmed to hide our faults!
So, whether it’s with yourself, or a friend, or a trusted associate, or a trained professional, it is always worth thinking about spending time developing yourself.
And a good place to start is: ‘What’s bugging me?’
By paying attention to your irritations, you might just find a route to your happiness.
Self-analysis is a very useful skill. It is often possible, by carefully analysing your personal reactions to things, to find clues as to your deep inner character.
Doing this helps you in several ways: it gives you a better sense of humour; it makes you more accepting of yourself and others; it helps you master the worst of your behaviour; and it harnesses the great unconscious power of your mind.
To aid your self-analysis, you can use trusted others, including professionals. Therapists are trained to assist with personal development, and to help you observe your own character.
Self-analysis often starts with observing what annoys, disturbs or upsets you. You can use this analysis to build a clearer picture of how you work, and why you react as you do. This can help you develop into a happier person.