Back when I lived in the monastery, I was witness to some pretty amazing things.
And when I say ‘pretty amazing’, I mean ‘not pretty’ and ‘amazingly selfish’.
Which is normal, of course.
Because contrary to what most people believe, a monastery isn’t a place where you go because you’re so pure and perfect – instead, you go there to improve.
So you come in bringing all your imperfections, your ego and your arrogance and selfishness.
And then you spend a couple of years engaged in a titanic battle of the egos.
And I saw it all: greed, envy, theft, self-pity, selfishness, callousness, hurtfulness, egotism, pseudo-humility – the works.
Was I any better?
I had – and have – a huge ego. In fact, to quote Zaphod Beeblebrox:
If there’s anything bigger than my ego this side of the Milky Way, I want it hunted down and shot.
But anyway, on with our story:
Any time I would try to raise an issue about others with the abbot or one of his assistants, it was dismissed outright.
Never once did I get a chance to complain about others, not even if they were very clearly in the wrong.
Instead, I just kept being pointed back at myself.
Because I, and my reactions and opinions and judgements: that was the elephant in the room.
SUCH a valuable training.
Because really: what can you possibly do about others?
Who are you going to change?
And what’s more: how can you judge another, when you don’t know where that person is coming from, and which previous experiences force them to behave the way they do?
It is, in fact, arrogant to judge others, because what gives you the right?
Are you so much better, so exalted that you get to pass judgment over others?
Of course not.
And besides, you can’t ever change a person.
Except… the person called you.
And that’s what my training taught me: that no matter what another person does, the only useful direction to look, is that big damn elephant in the room.
The one called ‘you and your way of dealing with others and with yourself’.
Much more useful than pointing at others, if you take responsibility for your own reactions.
It’s not easy, I admit.
But here’s the trick:
When you reserve your opinions only for yourself, everything gets easier.
Take it from an old monk.
So whatever situation you find yourself in, whatever another person does wrong, or to wrong you:
Deal with yourself.
Observe your thoughts and opinions and judgments – and work on those.
Because really, it’ll make everything easier.
Also published on Medium.