Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ask Parvati 35: The Gift in Gossip - Part 3: Gossip Hurts

(Continued from Cultivating Compassion)

At the core of the practice of satya (truthfulness) is non-gossip. Non-gossip is also part of the five Buddhist precepts, rules by which to live. These precepts are analogous to the yogic Yamas and Niyamas and to the Ten Commandments. They are:

1. Do not kill (including non-harming, the absence of violence)
2. Do not steal (including taking that which is not rightfully yours)
3. Do not lie (including name calling and gossip)
4. Do not misuse sex (including adultery, harassment, exploitation; for renunciates, this means celibacy)
5. Do not consume intoxicants (including drugs, alcohol; for some this can even mean do not engage in mind-numbing activities such as movies and TV)

Gossip is idle talk or rumours, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. Gossip is prolific in our society, something we often take for granted. In extreme cases, it is considered a trustworthy source of information.

It seems gossip is practiced when we do not feel "enough". It comes from scarcity. It is not an expression of abundance, plenty, joy and fulfillment. We all have the capacity to gossip about what "they" did "over there", because that makes us feel temporarily better than "them". But we only do that for the temporary fix of feeling "better", because we fundamentally don't feel enough. If we knew truly that we were love, that each moment is perfection, we would understand our and others' shortcomings so that we could only experience compassion. Instead, we gossip.

I am guilty of gossip. Inadvertently, or in moments of spite, I have surely spread untruths. I have coveted that which "they have" out of feeling lack. These are poisons driven by our human ego. They cease only when we begin to notice them and understand that they are rooted in ignorance. Once we see the suffering they create, we chose to stop promoting pain. When we see the pain we cause in another through spreading untruths, our hearts break open to express our humanity, our capacity to love. No one wants to be subject to false accusations and lies.

I personally understand how gossip hurts. I have experienced it in various situations, even in groups that are supposedly spiritual. Despite the hurt I have felt, these painful times have also provided me with an unsurpassed opportunity to grow, evolve, learn and ultimately love.

Recently I was in a situation where a close friend of mine felt threatened by her next steps on her path and was not ready to face her problem with addiction. So she felt compelled to blame someone for her shadow, because she was too afraid and proud to hold herself accountable for her painful actions. This is natural and perhaps we have all done this to some degree or another. When we cannot deal with what we have done, it becomes someone else's fault. We all also tend to hurt the people closest to us. Since I was one of the people close to her, I was in her ego's line of fire and became the target of her hungry shadow. What followed was a gross misrepresentation of events, blaming me for her own choices.

I am sure that many can relate to the experience of a friend acting in ways that hurt or even betray us. These painful things happen. Likely too, many can relate to feeling inner turmoil as people harbour incorrect and unfavourable opinions about us. Our discomfort is part of our own shadow, driven by our own feeling of "I am not enough", that keeps us attached to feeling we need others’ approval in order to feel good. Part of satya is to find rooting in our truth that is not driven by approval from others, but only from our quiet, humble and unique connection with the divine.

In the case of my friend spreading gossip, it hurt my feelings deeply to feel judged and misrepresented. It hurt that she had made a radical about-face after the deep friendship we had shared. It hurt that others in our community took her word at face value, never checking in with me about how I was feeling or if any of what she said was true. In fact, the opposite occurred. When I reached out to people who had joined the gossip bandwagon to express how I was feeling, I received judgmental, finger-wagging "advice" back. There was no openness, humility, interest or receptivity.

The poison of this gossip extended to people who had been close friends with me for years as well as to acquaintances and spiritual renunciates that I greatly admired. It was as though a plague had spread. So I went into my heart, my soul, and inwardly called to my guru and asked, "How come? What am I to learn in this?"

It took me several months of tears, rage, inner processing, and deep soul searching to finally find the lotus flower blossoming in the proverbial mud. It had all felt like mud till then, layers of unclear complications created by someone who did not want to face her pain. Where was the flower that rises above the swamp? I could not see it.

Eventually, I saw that the entire gossip train was the most perfect gift I could receive. The present came to me like the fresh fragrance wafting above pond scum. Close friends around me who were also hurt by the gossip began to have similar realizations. The gift in gossip was making itself seen.

Though the process was a very painful one, I learned some of the most valuable lessons in my life. I learned that any judgement I feel from others provides me with an opportunity to release self-judgement. It is a gift, a way I can cultivate more compassion, space, and support for myself through my unique connection with the divine. It is also a way I can learn to truly love others, witnessing them doing their thing in this moment, just as they are, which has absolutely nothing to do with me.

I also saw that the person who had betrayed me was a gift from my guru. She was inadvertently mirroring ways in which I was betraying myself. She turned her back on my heart and on our sacred bond of friendship. She twisted truths, making lies seem like a good thing. Is this not exactly what the ego does? There were parts of my ego that were busy doing this -- to myself! Through the painful experience, I saw the subtler ways I still was suppressing my soul voice, silencing it, or twisting it around to support an ego driven fear. This was really big, deep stuff! What Grace!

The gift in gossip became a fantastic lesson in the subtlety and potency of satya. My life-long commitment is to soulful evolution and spiritual growth. I now see that being at the centre of this gossip was a gift perfectly orchestrated by my guru to help me evolve and love. It strengthened my ability to stay true to my truth, not buying into other people's fears and perceptions, and to have compassion for all of our weaknesses. It has helped me love better by accepting the murkiness of the pond for what it is and focusing on the truth and eternal light of the lotus flower.

I still watch the hoo-ha go on around. Now this former friend of mine who started the gossip train is in a situation where she gets lots of attention, coddling, ego stroking and addiction enabling, which is exactly what she wanted all along. So in some way, she is temporarily happy. She still is in denial of what went on, of the gossip she spread and of the pain she caused. But that is ok. There is a far bigger picture than I can see. I cannot change her. I cannot change anyone. All I can do is learn from the situation and humbly grow. I am open to an honest, heart to heart discussion with her or anyone from the community we shared, should anyone be willing. Until such time, I practice accepting them all with all their varied colours, just as they are, not the way I want them to be. When life dishes you lemons, you make lemonade!

Gossip hurts. So next time you mechanically begin to propagate gossip, look within and notice in what way your ego is getting a boost. Drop it, immediately. There is no gain in false speech or in the support of illusory perceptions. That is not satya. Give thanks to the universe for noticing this tendency and let it go.

When you find yourself on the receiving end of gossip, give thanks for the gift of insight into your shadow and into the shadow of others. The ego only dies when it merges with the light. For this to happen, we must let go. Being on the receiving end of gossip shows you that you have something others fear and covet. It shows that their consciousness is rooted in scarcity. They cannot love or see you as you are because ultimately, they do not love themselves enough to do so.

We all know scarcity, so we all can find compassion for those who are mired in it. When others judge you, see it as a mirror for how you can judge yourself and may be holding yourself back. Being hurt by others’ small-mindedness mirrors an aspect of your small mind for you to see. Receive the gift. Give thanks and let it go.

Life is full of mud and flowers. Where we choose to focus is up to us. We can get mired in the mud by buying into it through spreading gossip or feeling the victim of it, or we can see it all as the illusion of scarcity and let it all go. The best choice we can make is to focus on the flowers and rise above the mud and merge with the pure light of undivided consciousness. It is that light that fuels the blossoming flower to grow from the mud. That light is our true nature, not the mud. May we all be the flowers we are!

There are no perfect humans, only people evolving. Even those wearing holy robes have foibles and can err, unless they are fully realized masters. Until we are fully realized, we will cause pain. How quickly we see our folly and how quickly we amend our ways makes the difference between the wise and the ignorant.

We will take a look at the final entry on gossip in part 4 tomorrow on Discernment.
Enjoy the rest of the day,

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