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I’ve gotten a few reminders lately reminding me to “not take things so personally.” Grrr. Rarely do I respond positively to this suggestion, whether someone says it to me or even when it’s something that I’m trying to remind myself. This week, it’s come both from my own conscience and from others, from people I love and trust. I still don’t like it.

I mean, I truly believe in the dynamic creativity of difference and disagreement as the very juice of collaborative enterprise — there must be room for tension and friction and discord. I know that it’s important for all of us to be able to give and receive feedback graciously, with kind intent. I understand that when things do occasionally become critical or harsh, this criticism usually says as much about the critic as it does about the one being critiqued. And I know that we have to allow this to come up, to come out into the open to be dealt with in healthy honest ways, or we’re not going to get very far together.

However, even knowing all this, recently more than once I have found myself saying: “OF COURSE I TAKE IT PERSONALLY! EVERYTHING IS PERSONAL!!” (I made that ALL CAPS not because I was actually shrieking it, though maybe I was, and in any case that’s the way it has felt).

In Don Miguel Ruiz’s self-help classic, The Four Agreements, “Don’t take things personally” is the number two commitment on the path to inner peace and freedom. I don’t totally disagree with Ruiz; I really do get what he’s saying.

For sure, when I’m riled up, on guarded lookout for offenses and affronts, being testy, hearing everything through the filter of, “What does that mean about me?! What are they saying about me?!” — well, that’s no fun for me or for them. That’s actually kinda neurotic and it can become obsessive, and if we want to experience peace, joy, and freedom in our relationships, we’re well-advised to figure out a different way of being with the other people in our lives and on the planet. Thank you, Don Miguel. “Don’t take things personally” isn’t the worst idea.

But I don’t think it’s the only idea. It’s not the only way to be with others. In fact, I’d like to assert that it’s also perfectly valid to feel that in some very real ways, everything is, indeed, personal. Deeply personal. Intimately, vulnerably, straight to the heart personal.

Each heart touches every other heart. Every idea is part of our shared story. All words and expressions — praise and criticism, gratitude and resentment, generosity and self-interest — are sparking a trillion other thoughts into the collective consciousness.

I happen to believe that we’re all a part of the Mind and Heart and Body of God. So, yeah, issues of social justice, whether or not I’m directly affected — it’s personal. The political is personal (and vice-versa). Art is personal. Spirituality is personal. How can we say that any of it is anything but freakin’ personal!?

Maybe the point is not about whether or not it’s really personal, but rather how we take it — how we hold it. Even if it is all personal, the practice still is to hold it in a larger way that includes not just the personal affront but also the universal harmony.

  • Then, can we feel the interconnectedness of everything without becoming an inconsolable puddle of tears every time we let ourselves care?
  • Can we be honest and open, tender and vulnerable, without so much fear that we might be utterly destroyed in the process?
  • Can we stand wholeheartedly for our personal, individualized lives, while at the same time honoring the needs and perspectives of others — even when they appear to be at cross-purposes with our own?

This week’s song stuck in my head has been early-80s synth-pop hit, “Keep Feeling (Fascination),” by British band, Human League. I’m not sure if the parenthesis is just an alternative title, or if the song is admonishing us to keep feeling fascination, or if it suggests that to keep feeling is synonymous with fascination, being fascinated. The lyrics don’t clarify much:

Keep feeling fascination
Passion burning, love so strong
Keep feeling, fascination
Looking, learning, moving on

My interpretation — simply because it’s what’s speaking to me this week — is that FASCINATION is the essence of passion, love, growth, and momentum. Being fascinated by whatever’s going on, genuinely interested in it, curious about it, wanting to understand more about it…

Fascination is a way to keep feeling even when feelings hurt — to keep feeling even when our self-other/personal-universal balance may be out of whack.

If we’re in an inquiry, then we’re more likely to notice when we’re taking something personally, to be more discerning about whether or not it’s justified, and maybe to be fascinated by the possibility of discovering what it’s all about, what’s making us tick.

Also, a state of fascination and wonder may help us to be more sensitive when someone else’s buttons are getting pushed, and to consider the possibility that maybe we’re pushing them. We can be interested, fascinated, in what matters to each other, the ways that our togetherness is showing up, and try to be mindfully creative through it all.

This second piece may be the key to the whole thing. If we’re only self-fascinated, that’s what Don Miguel was cautioning us about, taking things too personally. If we engage in fascination with others, though, that invites us into ever-evolving relationship. It can be, it must be, deeply personal — AND it’s personal all around, personal for everyone, including everyone.

You fascinating beings, you. I can’t wait to spend time together this Sunday, July 28. Service at 10:00 am. Bosque Center for Spiritual Living. XO, Drew

© 2019 Drew Groves

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