How Our Enemies Can Be Our Teachers: Learning from Those We Least Thought Would Teach Us in Life
When I was young, I was very impatient with other drivers. I thought they were rude, disrespectful, and posed a challenge for me. I was working on myself as a person, and I didn’t like the frequent negative experiences I had with other people. One Christmas while I was in graduate school, something happened to me that told me that I needed to change. I was at the mall buying some gifts for family and friends. In the parking lot, a car pulled out right in front of me and I had to slam on my brakes in order not to hit it. The car’s driver had to stop immediately after pulling out in front of me because of the heavy traffic, and so I got out of my car to talk to him about what had happened. He immediately rolled up his windows and locked his car. He wouldn’t even look at me! I was so upset and frustrated with him that I banged on the top of his car with my fist hard enough to put a dent in his car. I realized later that this man was actually afraid of me and that I needed to change. The other drivers were making me too upset and it wasn’t good for me or for them.
What did I do to change myself? I drove with other people who didn’t get upset when they were driving. I realized that the other drivers were my teachers. They were driving as they normally drove, and I was upset because there was something wrong with me. I was the one who needed to change! I realized that when I was in a hurry, as I was this particular day during the Christmas season, I am impatient. If I slow down, I am much more patient. I learned that by slowing down and trying not to be in a hurry by giving myself lots of extra time, all of a sudden the other drivers didn’t seem rude anymore. I stopped experiencing rude drivers! That man at the mall and all of the other “rude” drivers I had experienced previously ended up being my teachers. They had something to teach me about myself, and when I learned my lesson, my feelings of upset went away.
I now live in Southern California where many people feel that there are lots of rude drivers, but I don’t feel that way at all. I enjoy driving, always allowing myself lots of time to get to where I’m going, and I really don’t experience rude drivers. I’m not pretending; I honestly don’t experience them! I know they exist, because sometimes when others are riding with me they’ll say, “Oh! Did you see that? How rude that driver was!” but I just don’t experience it. Sometimes I think, “Well, they’re in a hurry,” or, “Something must be wrong.” A lot of times, however, I don’t even notice them.
I learned that when someone else makes me upset, this person isn’t actually causing my emotions; rather, the upset feelings are within me. If I change me, then my upset feelings disappear. This actually relates to a rule of science to which I often refer. Science states that if one person on our earth is able to resist getting upset about something, then it is a possibility for all. As an example, let’s say that we go to the doctor because of something aching inside of us. The doctor tells us that we have cancer and that we might die within six months to a few years. Now of course, this news is going to upset us initially, and of course, we’re going to do everything in our power to try to make our circumstance better. But, if there is one person on this planet who is able to receive this diagnosis and still enjoy living, not letting their predicament ruin their life, then it is a possibility for us to enjoy life too. If we realize that the upset feelings are within us and we have the power to make them go away, then we have the ability to be happy no matter what happens in our lives.
Many years ago, when my father-in-law, Bill, got cancer, he ended up passing away 4 ½ years after his diagnosis. Before his death, he would tell people that those last years were the best years of his entire life because he really enjoyed them. He enjoyed his family, he connected with people, and he learned to live life to the fullest even when facing the pain of cancer. Perhaps we can all think of someone we know who is struggling with a physical ailment and is doing well. As long as there is one person out there who is able to do this, then it’s a possibility for all of us. The thing keeping us from celebrating life and being happy is not our circumstances, but us. If we change the way we see things, we can be happy no matter what. This doesn’t mean we’re not going to do things to change or make our situation better, but when we’ve done everything that we can and we continue to suffer, we must remember that we don’t have to suffer. The key here is, “to see that which is causing us to be upset as our teacher.” If we really understand this, then it will truly transform our lives. When we learn this lesson, our suffering will go away. Our enemies and our challenges just point to things that we need to learn about ourselves. When we learn, when they teach us, our suffering will go away.
I know this may sound too simple, too easy, but it works! I really want to encourage us all to try this, because it’s really one of the most transformational things and one of the most important tools of living a happy life.
Let me share another story to help typify this. When I was in high school, I used to work at a fast food restaurant. The manager of the restaurant was just a bear! He was obnoxious and I did not care for him at all. Although he caused a lot of suffering inside of me, I didn’t want to quit my job. I kept working there, even though I really disliked working with this man. I was upset at him very often, and it was hard for me to work there because of him. I knew some people liked him, but I just didn’t. Then, one day, I was sitting in a park and I saw an ugly weed that reminded me of my boss. I started to unroll it, for it was like the weed was wrapped around itself. When I got to the middle of the weed, there was the most beautiful water droplet. It was gorgeous! I realized then that my boss was like this weed. I may have been struggling with his external behavior, but inside, he was actually a beautiful human being. With my change in attitude, I started to enjoy working with him. It didn’t happen overnight, but things started to improve. I did have to set boundaries with him, but my upset feelings didn’t last. They started to go away, and I started to feel better about my boss and about my work. This made my life better because when I let go of my upset feelings toward my boss and I stopped seeing him as a bad person, I let go of my upset feelings. My boss was my teacher; he had something to teach me and when I learned it, my suffering went away.
Any time we get upset at someone, instead of focusing upon that person’s behavior, we should instead ask ourselves, “Hmmm, what’s happening inside of me that’s making me upset?” and, “What do I need to learn from this person?” Again, I’m not stating that we shouldn’t set boundaries with others or talk to them and try to resolve the issue. Instead, we must remember to examine the upset feelings that we carry inside of us when the situation isn’t occurring. That’s what we want to explore, and that’s what we want to learn about ourselves. I’m upset, but why? What’s inside of me that I need to change so that I won’t be upset anymore? These other people, these events, are keeping me from living my life fully and richly. The most wonderful and beautiful thing is that I can change this if I change me! The upset feelings are within me; if I change myself, then things will change. These other people or events are my teacher; I must let them teach me so that I can move on and live my life fully and richly. They are my teacher; they have something to teach me and once I learn my lesson, then I am free.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a meditation expert and international speaker, and maintains a blog which can be found at http://www.Meditation-Enlightenment.com. He is the creator of the weekly Meditation for Health Podcast, available at http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com. He creates a weekly podcast that explores the world of Happiness, available at http://www.HappinessPodcast.org, and a weekly podcast that explores the world of Enlightenment, available at http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com. If you would like to contact Dr. Puff, his e-mail address is DrPuff@cox.net.