Corrupting an Intention to Not Harm Others into a Defense Mechanism

one step at a time
Image by Jasen Miller

This morning, I was investigating the motivation behind some of my habits that are rooted in diversion. Initially, the usual suspects came to mind: self-doubt and lack of confidence in my abilities and worth. Yet, that just didn’t carry the energy that can lead to letting go and transformation. I knew there was something undiscovered that I’ve been trying to excavate for a long time.

A common thread in Buddhist teachings refers to: Do no harm. Embodying the intention to not harm another being was a guiding principal in my life long before I had ever heard of Buddhism. So much so, that I can trace my intention to not harm another as far back as I can remember. Even when I was very young, I couldn’t relate to jealousy, holding a grudge and ongoing ill will for another. I’m not suggesting that I’ve been skillful at it. But, I can say that the foundation of my lifelong pursuit of personal growth is firmly planted in trying not to influence another with my presence, existence, or experience in any harmful manner. I’m grateful for what seems like an intuitive ethical standard that was fully supported by my upbringing. However, I don’t think that I understood the significance of taking this particular – albeit healthy and wholesome – volition too far.

My desire was (and still is) to not project my insecurities and neuroses onto others or the environment. As with most things in life, we can take something to heart so strongly that it births unwholesome or unwanted consequences. Consequences that create habits and defensive patterns of reactivity that can happen so quickly we’re not even conscious of the choices we are making. Even when we do admit that we’re making a choice, we can still suppress the reason why. Then, it can be all too easy to deny the rationale behind our decisions and prevent us from recognizing the suffering that we are creating – both for ourselves and for others.

Defenses are created to avoid pain and suffering, so denial frequently goes along for the ride. Denial that can lead to excuses like: I just don’t know what to do with my life, I’m confused, I’m tired, and I’m simply not motivated. The suffering that is birthed from that line of reasoning is a continual oppression of my creativity, kind heartedness, and patience. I can give up before I even try to start.

 Talents are best nurtured in solitude, but character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.
Image by legends2k

How does this apply to corrupting a good intention of not doing harm? I think that an aspect of my psyche thought that if I kept myself hidden away and isolated that I would be safe – or at least greatly minimize – my potential to harm others. I can see the neurotic reasoning gently unfolding as my subconscious rationalized my behavior. When others blamed me for how they were feeling, I believed them. I internalized what was being projected as my own. So, it’s not surprising that eventually some aspect of my ego thought that it would be easier to just avoid attention and interactions with others in an effort to not contribute to another’s suffering.

In an effort to be fair and kind with myself, I have to admit that it’s not all that startling given my resilient karmic theme that relates to a lack of support. The naivetés of youth can easily translate feelings of rejection into a belief that there is something wrong with “me.” So, I took on a challenge with gusto: change yourself, grow, and eventually, you will be liked, appreciated, and accepted. Yeah, well, I’m still waiting for that one…. Not!

Fortunately, my genuine efforts to heal were extremely fruitful. As I shed layers of my delusions, I found inner peace and began to value my way of being. I did my best to walk my talk, live my intentions, and surrender to an expanded awareness that reached beyond a single lifetime and human experience. Maybe that sounds a bit esoteric, but it is what kept me dedicated and moving on my path.

Even though I still struggle with habits of diversion, and most likely will be for the rest of my life, I am hopeful. I cannot deny that my life has been surprising, especially this last year. Surprises that triggered anxiety and fear, birthed joy and well-being. I still am confused and unsure, but I also know that those are simply reactions; not who I am. I let go and surrender. I can gently reassure myself that it’s safe to explore more experience with others and expose myself for who I am and who I am not. My intention to not harm may not always manifest in skillful behaviors, but I can trust that well-being will prevail. I gather my courage and step out into the world.

© Sallie Odenthal 2013

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