One of my favourite (albeit longest) quotes because I find it so thought provoking and love how it directs us to the relationship that we have with ourselves and takes the focus away from the relationships that we have with others. So often when I first start to work with clients or hear the brief for a piece of work the phrase ‘personality clash’ comes into play. Cue ‘squirm in my seat’. This suggests that some people just don’t or can’t get along or that one of them is right, wrong or broken. John Roger tells us through this quote that unless we look within and take responsibility for how we show up, we’ll keep repeating the same patterns and making the same mistakes – no matter what other personalities are in play.
I touched on the notion of a mirror back in my blog You Spot It You Got It. I talked about how the traits of others can drive us to distraction and lead to feelings of frustration and irritability when often it is mirroring a behaviour that we are disowning in ourselves. Today I’d like shift the focus again. Let’s explore the world as a mirror and how the results that we are experiencing in our lives can merely be a reflection of our inner world – the relationship with ourselves.
Last year in the continual quest for self-development and a love of all things woo woo, I took part in mind-set challenge with a group of entrepreneurs. A series of daily ‘tasks’ that would shake up our thinking and bring new insights and learnings to the way we show up. What I know to be true is so much of how we experience the world is directed by our unconscious. Our repeated thoughts become beliefs, our beliefs become our filters and so we see the world in a certain way.
This was all brought into glorious Technicolor on an average working day in central London.
One of my daily challenges was to look at my energy (see I told you it was a little woo woo!). What energy was I sending out into the world? What were my filters and how were they affecting my day-to-day experiences? I had to carry out one random act of kindness. I couldn’t wait. It was around the time of the election and terrorist attacks were prevalent. With the constant media scaremongering and the intensity of potential government changes I was grateful for the light relief and the prospect of making someone happy. It had already put me in a brilliant mood and a positive mind-set. So far so good.
I had a meeting in London and it would be easy to pick up some flowers at Marylebone and deliver my random gift to a fellow commuter. Sorted. So I stood on the platform feeling slightly smug and waited for my train.
The trains were not running in anyone’s favour. Delays, cancelations, I’d never known it so bad. A beautifully groomed middle aged woman came charging into the station coffee bar. It could have been a screen test for Alice in Wonderland there and then as she hollered how she was VERY late for a VERY important date! She was ranting to nobody in particular about how it was typical that today of all days, the train she wanted was cancelled. In that instant, I knew I could do my random act of kindness. I saw with absolute clarity the mind-set she was in. She was looking for external factors that were stressing her out in order to solidify her narrative. Her thoughts had become things. I knew in that moment, if she caught herself and realised how she was behaving, she could make a conscious choice to change her mind-set and get on with the rest of her day. In that moment, I could have bought her a coffee. To interrupt the pattern of thinking. I could have helped her catch herself. But I didn’t. I froze. I couldn’t do it.
I got to Marylebone feeling slightly regretful at my missed opportunity. However, I still had plan A. I bought a couple of bunches of tulips and waited in the taxi queue for the ride to my meeting. I watched. I waited. I searched for a face. And I suddenly became extremely self-conscious. Feelings of angst and dread started to take over me. What on earth was going on? For goodness sake Cowlin get a grip of yourself!
I looked within and realised my fear of rejection was all consuming. I wasn’t concerned about actually giving the flowers to somebody. I was concerned they would reject my kindness. I couldn’t handle it. So, I didn’t do it.
I jumped in the taxi to the meeting at a hotel on The Strand and did what I needed to do that morning. I had an hour to kill before my next meeting so I had a very stern word with myself and decided to crack on with the #task of the day’ . As I stepped out the door, I saw an elderly woman hunched over with what seemed like the weight of the world on her shoulders. Perfect! I’d barely spoken before she pushed both the flowers and me out of the way, mumbled some expletives and was gone.
So there it was. The rejection. My face flushed. My heart sank. My worst fears of public humiliation had come to pass. It wasn’t just rejection, it came with a side order of aggressive revulsion.
By this point my enthusiasm for the task had all but disappeared. I walked up and down The Strand becoming more and more nervous at the next potential rejection. I giggled hysterically at the comedy of it all. I started over-analysing everyone like some kind of stalker. I got into this whole internal dialogue about how maybe after recent terrorist activity in the city, people were apprehensive and mistrusting. Was this the wrong act of kindness to choose? Was I really that threatening?
I walked and walked, trying and failing to give the flowers away. I changed tack and approached couples instead, but the hostility and rejection continued. I was just about to give up when I saw a couple and had a feeling. An inner knowing. I explained my challenge and told them that I would really like to give them my gift of flowers. She looked at her partner then back at me and said “I really need this today.” Her partner told me that she was having a really bad day. In her eyes I saw so much sincerity and a genuine appreciation for something positive having come into her life, when she most needed it. In that moment, we had such a connection that I hugged her. A random stranger on the street!
I realised then, that all the rejection, all the “no’s”, all the looks of disdain had happened because this woman right here, was meant to receive my flowers. It was fate. I understood perfectly, that when we feel like life is throwing shit at us, it’s to jolt us back onto the path from which we’ve strayed.
Those people weren’t open to receiving my kindness and it made me stop and think about the situations where I’m not open to receiving help from other people. I’m fiercely independent and this can sometimes limit how much progress I make.
It also taught me a lot about how I deal with rejection. My filters from my experiences with the woman on the platform and then with the elderly lady outside my hotel changed how I viewed the world that day. My opportunity for growth was to build resilience and learn to trust that when something doesn’t go the way I want it to. To detach from the outcome and embrace the path of no preference. Allow what is meant to be and to stop judging experiences as good and bad, right and wrong. To connect to my inner knowing.
Our conscious thoughts only make up about 5% of the 70,000 we have every day. Only when we look within, can we bring our subconscious into our conscious and do something with it.
So look around you. What is the world reflecting back at you? What are you consistently experiencing? We can all pick up feedback from other people, but feedback exists in every other part of our lives, if we choose to look for it. Let the world be your mirror.
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