Snakes Bite, Paper Cuts, Humans Harm.
As I was planning on taking a few days off social media for the holidays, I woke on Christmas eve morning to what I deemed troll behavior. Yes, that is my opinion based on what I noticed and some conversations I had with others. I decided to pause engagement with it to honor and review some of the learnings I’ve been processing over the course of my growth, personally and professionally, especially since this person was framing it as “accountability.” So I thought about some of those bits I’ve acquired, things like “when facing a Challenge, you make a Choice, with an awareness of Consequence,” “Don’t Take It Personally” from the 4 Agreements, and a phrase “How would the person you would like to be, do what you are about to do now?” The idea is not to have a “collection” of phrases and sayings that may too easily end up as a set of platitudes, for me this has been a reflection of my work on Ego, its place, purpose, and eagerness to determine my behaviors and views of the world. I share this in part, yes, to “let it out” but also since I often am asked questions around “how do you do this?” or “what are the models we work with as we try to be different?” Especially since they may not be things we were not taught as we try different regenerative cycles rather than ones that perpetuate trauma.
The idea behind “Challenge, Choice, and Consequence” is that we will face many challenges, and whether large and small they will have an impact on our respective lives. With a challenge, we face making a choice, even if it is inaction. Too often we may make a choice without awareness and acceptance of the known or probable consequence then react to that with surprise. So extending that space of choice into consequence awareness and impact can help assess the types of actions we would like to take, and be as thoughtful as possible “ in service of what.” This connects to the phrase about “doing what the person you would like to be would do” which is an invitation to have a vision of that person — what values guide them, what type of future-shaping do they want to be a part of.
Yet at the moment we feel the harm and it can hurt. Thus the phrase about the snake bite, which stuck from Dr. Wayne Dyer. He wrote: “Resentment is like venom that continues to pour through your system, doing its poisonous damage long after being bitten by the snake. It’s not the bite that kills you; it’s the venom.” The snake bite only hurts once, and it happened and what happened cannot be undone, but the venom now within you is what is going to do the damage, which serves as an invitation to practices of release. Otherwise, it continues to harm, keeping you from living the joyful life you can have. A helpful practice is not merely to sit with it, but to assess what type of letting it out works for you. This can be talking it out with a friend, coach, trusted colleague, etc. You can journal it as well, find ways to channel it out.
This moment felt like a snake bite, but also like a paper cut, such that in the grand scheme of things and amongst all the hurt in the world, this seemed minor. Yet it was there, personal, annoying, and it happened to me and others. And no amount of fueling non-healing energy at the paper or the cut would change that. Snakes bite, paper cuts, humans harm. Mind you, it’s less useful to determine the intention of the snake or paper. We as humans “are supposed to know better” in aligning our intentions to our impact. This led and connected to a reading from Pema Chodron in “When Things Fall Apart” on the “opinions” and the aggressive and non-aggressive energies we channel and why.
She noted: “When we hold on to our opinions with aggression, no matter how valid our cause, we are simply adding more aggression to the planet, and violence and pain increase. Cultivating nonaggression is cultivating peace. The way to stop the war is to stop hating the enemy. It starts with seeing our opinions of ourselves and of others as simply our take on reality and not making them a reason to increase the negativity on the planet.”
This is related to a quote attributed to Buddha: “As a mirror reflects an object, as a still lake reflects the sky: take care that what you speak or act is for good. For goodness will always cast back goodness and harm will always cast back harm.”
It also served as a reminder that I cannot control how others choose to respond, I have agency, and responsibility, over how I choose to do so, to shape the person I would like to be, compared to how others view me. In relationship building, my goal is to have those align rather than be prescriptive of each other. Even with a snake bite or paper cut, I can hold some space to experience the reactive nature of the bite but at a point, I have chosen not to do something with the venom, and have it course through me. So, along with release practices I can also start with saying to myself and others “I love you, I am grateful” for the gift of sometimes being tested and feeling discomfort is an invitation to reflect and review on what values guide us, and to be grateful for that offering. To still be grounded in who I want to be and why. And as a training reminder from teaching days: “some people may not like you, some may even hate you, so why not let them hate the real you?”
This also connects to the second of the Four Agreements: Don’t Take it Personally. “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
This can still be within the context and recognition that they may also be doing the best they can with what they have. That may not make it “right” but that can be different attention from how we make assumptions and presumptions. They may be offering venom, and you take it in by taking it personally, as they are intending. This connected to another reminder from teaching days “sick people will want to make you sick, you don’t have to take in the sickness.” Just because someone is releasing their venom does not mean you have to take it, especially if that venom is from a place of mal intention or hurt. Another reminder from the Buddha: “If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”
This can also be a reminder of how if we are not attentive to our wounds we bleed on others, whether they may be friends or foes.
Lastly, this points me to the reminder, value, and importance of relationship building. For me, it provides the opportunity to have and build the space for trust, especially for when we indeed need to “break together” rather than break apart, in the language of Larry Yang in Awakening Together. As Mariame Kaba, organizer and political abolitionist, notes in “Everything Worthwhile Is Done With Other People” “I believe that when we are in relationship with each other, we influence each other. What matters to me, as the unit of interest, is relationships. The second thing that matters to me as a unit of impact is harm. I want to figure out how to transform harm in every possible context because I have been harmed, and I have harmed other people. My political commitments are to developing stronger relationships with people, and to transforming harm.”
I also take this in the context of how we deal with conflict in a healthy way since it can also be easy to confuse discomfort with safety and promote toxic conflict aversion. But that, to me, is still in relationship to, well, relationship.
And it is not always all easy, and it takes practice. Relationship building takes time, energy, and intention, especially in any context to transform harm. There is also the context of how this fits within our respective spiritual practices, and how we hold boundaries and respond.
In my case, I still wanted to say to this other person “My mistake was in misunderstanding your intention. You also ensnared others, including someone that was reminded about the impact of harassment by men, including safety concerns. So no Sir, I am not impressed or convinced with your framing of ‘accountability’ especially one from which you exempt yourself from.” And part of my Ego would be satisfied, and part of my perspective would be affirmed, and I can find justification in many pieces of it. And still, I can turn back to that expression of “I love you, I am grateful, and I can choose the consent and boundaries to set in terms of the gifts being offered, which includes not choosing the take in the venom to course through me. I will practice compassion as I wish you to find healing for what you suffer.”
I suppose that also connects to the expression of “don’t feed the troll” which is not just the external one, but the one within as well.