Is it about you?
The practice: don't take it personally.
Here's an updated parable from the ancient Taoist teacher Chuang-Tzu: Imagine that you are floating in a canoe on a slow-moving river, having a Sunday picnic with a friend. Suddenly there is a loud thump on the side of the canoe, and it rolls over. You come up sputtering, and what do you see? Somebody has snuck up on your canoe, flipped it over for a joke, and is laughing at you. How do you feel?
Now imagine the exact same situation again: the picnic in a canoe, the loud thump, being dumped into the river, coming up sputtering, and what do you see? A large submerged log has drifted downstream and bumped into your canoe. This time, how do you feel?
The facts are the same in each case: you're cold and wet, and your picnic ruined. But when you feel personally picked on, everything feels worse. The thing is, most of what bumps into us in life -- including emotional reactions from others, traffic jams, illness or mistreatment at work -- is like an impersonal log put in motion by 10,000 causes upstream.
Say a friend is surprisingly critical toward you. It hurts, for sure, and you need to address the situation, from talking about it directly to disengaging from the relationship.
But also consider what may have caused that person to bump into you, such as interpretations and misinterpretations of your actions; personal health problems or pain; worries or anger about other things; temperament, personality or childhood experiences; causes from the larger context, like our economy and culture, or world events; and causes from even further upstream in time, like how his or her parents were raised.
Recognize the humbling yet wonderful truth: most of the time, we are bit players in other people's dramas. When you do this, you naturally get calmer, put the situation in context, and don't get so caught up in me-myself-and-I. Then you feel better and clearer-headed about what to do.
Really enjoy taking things less personally!
To begin with, have compassion for yourself. Getting smacked by a log is a drag. Also take appropriate action. Keep an eye out for logs heading your way, try to reduce their impact, and repair your "boat" -- relationship, health, finances, career -- as best you can. And maybe think about finding a new river!
- Notice when you start to take something personally. Be mindful of what that feels like -- and also what it feels like to relax the sense of being personally targeted.