Asking for inner guidance, part 1: Breaking the cycle of anger and attack

by William R. Yoder on September 8, 2010

That damned e-mail

I recently received an e-mail from someone—an e-mail that hurt me, irritated me and angered me. I realize that when I say it this way, it sounds like the e-mail caused me to feel hurt and irritated. Of course it was my own interpretation that made me feel those negative feelings (remember the last post on pushing your own buttons). But in my moment of reaction, it sure seemed that the e-mail itself was the culprit. Ah, the joys (or un-joys) of projection.

This was made all the worse—at least for my self-righteous judgment—by the fact that the person who sent the e-mail was well-known for being kind and sensitive and supportive. But her e-mail was anything but kind. So on top of everything else, she was a hypocrite.

I started thinking about my reply to her e-mail. My first several mental attempts were angry and accusatory, mercilessly unmasking her for the hypocrite she was. But since I myself often write about forgiveness and unconditional love, I didn’t feel very comfortable with sending a blasting inflammatory e-mail, no matter how much she “deserved” it. (I didn’t want to be a hypocrite like some people I could mention.)

What about the Trojan Horse ploy?

And so I started thinking of a more compassionate way I could reply. Feeling empathy for her misguided ways that caused her to be so unkind—because I knew that her unkindness was ultimately just hurting herself. But all of my mental e-mail rehearsals sounded preachy and self-righteous, holier than thou. And no matter how I tried to finesse the language, I could hear the undertone of anger and judgment in my mental voice. I realized it was the old Trojan Horse ploy—a seeming gift that secretly contained the vengeance your enemy deserved.

After a few days of this, I was getting sick of running through possible replies in my mind. I would consciously forgive her and bless her and try to drop the whole thing. But then I would go that one step further and wonder what I should write in my reply. And of course it only took the tiniest step to get my mind back into the whole story of how I had been wronged and she was a hypocrite, etc.  And then I had to go back to forgiving and blessing and letting go.

Should I respond at all?

After getting nowhere with this, I realized that I didn’t know whether or not I should reply at all, let alone how I should reply. I knew for certain that all of the replies I could come up with contained undertones of accusation, because that was my story about who “she” was and what she had done to “me.”

So finally “I” just gave up. I turned the matter over to a higher power, and I asked for inner guidance. I asked to be told if I needed to reply at all, and to be told what I should say in my reply. I knew that I didn’t know how to act with unconditional love in this situation, because “this situation” existed in my mind as an unlovable situation. The story that I was telling myself was a story of attack and victimhood. And that story effectively defined how that situation existed for me, and who “I” was in that situation.

I could not feel peace in that situation because I had defined myself as a victim who was unfairly treated. (A Course in Miracles warns us to “beware of the temptation to feel unfairly treated.”) That way of seeing the whole thing left my choices as either launching an unloving counter-attack, or being a passive doormat—fight or flight. And both fight and flight contain elements of fear and conflict and unpeacefulness.

The perspective of a “higher power”

I needed a different perspective. And so I turned to a “higher power.” By “higher,” I don’t mean something separate from me and somehow above me. I mean the power or truth within me that is higher or deeper than my limited concept of myself—my concept of myself as lacking and needy, as a victim who could be unfairly treated.

So what happened when I turned to that higher power?  To be continued …

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