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‘Mirror, mirror, who is the most irritating of them all?’

To form a successful relation with others, we need to relate with our own negative qualities

I had been feeling guilty about not spending enough time with some houseguests who were staying for the weekend. Being in their seventies, the couple was quite happy to chat with my mother who had also come over to meet them. I found their conversation quite boring, to be honest.

How could I engage with them in a meaningful way? I asked myself. I decided to chat with my uncle about his meditation experiences- which he is increasingly immersed in.

He started by asking: What would you like to know, and what have you gained from meditation so far?

What a good way of starting, I thought admiringly, as he would get an idea of the base-line, ie, where I was coming from.

Anxious to share my experience and show off my (minimal) knowledge, I eagerly explained.

When he started speaking, I resonated with some of his points, and wanted to jump in with my two bits too. But I soon realised that he wasn’t interested in hearing my views at all. So I shut up.

But then I found myself disagreeing over some of the smaller nuances. And I figured he wasn’t interested in that either.

And 15 minutes in the game, I was bored and impatient. I experienced him as pontificating and preaching, as he wagged his finger at me and warned me : ‘The objective of meditation should not be to benefit materially, but to seek the higher realms of spiritually’.

‘Com’on, I know that’, I thought agitatedly. This was so tedious.

I continued listening with a sense of being trapped. And suddenly the penny suddenly dropped.

My discomfort , my resistance was not with him, but with an inner part of me, which had got hooked to something which the man had.

I asked myself: What was happening to me? What was getting triggered inside to cause this reaction? Why had I got hooked?

For if he was lighting a matchstick (an external trigger), what was the combustible material (mixture of charcoal, sulphur, etc) inside me which provided the energy for the reaction?

I needed to deal with the combustible material and eliminate it, so that the next time there is no explosion.

And I realised that it was a part of me which had found resonance with a trait which I perceived in him. There are parts of ourselves which we put it away in dark corners, deny, run away from, and dislike. It is called the shadow part of us. But when we see it in another, it catches our attention just like the glint of sunlight being reflected by a piece of mirror.

Do you remember when we were children we played this game with a piece of mirror? We went to a terrace, and delighted in troubling a hapless victim by reflecting sunrays with the mirror, into their eyes which was sharp and bothersome. Similarly, when we are feeling the most irritated, it is time to reflect within us that we are mirroring the very characteristic which is disturbing us so much. The first clue is to recognize the feeling of irritation, at time revulsion and disgust too.

Carl Jung the psychologist was the first to identify this shadow that exists in each one of us- comprising of our negativity, judgmental nature, and our other secret peculiarities and struggles. Often we do not even allow our shadow to surface into our own consciousness but others may well see it. People who overpoweringly annoy us are usually mirroring our own shadows back to us. But it’s essential to acknowledge that the shadow exists, and to recognize and integrate it within ourselves, otherwise it will drag us down, block us, and will pop up at times of stress, resulting in unexpected and disruptive behaviours.

So a helpful takeaway?
When feeling passionately riled by someone, take a peek inside yourself, and ask ’what behaviour, trait or action of the other person is getting mirrored to me?’It’s hard and painful to acknowledge one’s own negative qualities, but oh so easy to see it in others.

Coming back to the conversation, I realised I too have a need to display my knowledge…to be known for my erudite ways, and to get approval and appreciation for it. And when I see another person displaying the same traits, my shadow self gets ‘hooked’. The moment I realised this, my impatience diminished, and I found the space in me to appreciate my Uncle’s explanation. And when I expressed my admiration of his knowledge, it wasn’t so much for his pleasure, but to take delight in my own freedom from my own dark shadow.

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