Keep it to Yourself?


A number of years ago I became a hospice volunteer at the recommendation of a mentor. While I’d love to say I did so out of some sense of virtue, the truth is that the suggestion was a challenge.

My mentor told me it would be the one place in my life that I would be able to let go of my self-centeredness. In his words, “None of us have any business imposing ourselves into the dying process of someone else.” What I did not know was this is the cardinal principle of hospice work.

I’ll never forget the day that my first hospice client died. Russell was a generally crotchety guy who had end-stage colon cancer. He had much unfinished business with life and a number of regrets about relationships. As a result he was all alone, completely estranged from family and friends. While Russell was not unkind to me, he provided many opportunities for me to release my opinions. In the end his was not a gracious passing, but at least those of us who were involved could say it was a dignified death.

Then there was Lillian, a fairly fragile elderly woman with advanced emphysema. More than anything else she just wanted to be rolled outdoors so she could smoke a few cigarettes. Once again I was afforded an opportunity to overcome my opinions, and to only serve her needs. When Lillian died I truly grieved.

There were others, though in the end the overall pattern of anyone’s death is not markedly different from another’s. The details vary, but the course remains similar.

One of the most useful results of that work was to learn to be better self-contained, not just with dying people, but with everyone. The truth is that a very high percentage of our supposedly well-meaning feedback to people is quite self-centered. We humans have a very difficult time seeing that any thing that provokes us with another person is in fact some kind of reflection back upon us.

I again remember my mentor when I would have issues with someone. “Ron,” he would begin, “It seems to me that [insert person’s name] is doing a perfectly fine job of being themselves. What’s your problem with that?” Or, “Ron, they are acting wholly consistent with who they are. What is it about them that is unacceptable to you?”

Eventually I identified most of the ways that caused me to fall into judgment of others. And ever so slowly those judgments lost their power over me.

Often when I discuss these matters in a workshop, someone will ask, “But shouldn’t we intervene in some cases?”

To which I reply, “Intervene? Sometimes yes, often no. There is no evidence my intervention will typically be useful, though it will be quite self-satisfying.”

Therein lies the problem. We have a difficult time seeing how we project ourselves onto others and into their affairs. Worse still, we have a difficult time owning that this is the heart of our self-centeredness.

The truth is that if I have a problem with someone, it’s not about them.

Seeing True

It is impossible to truly understand the perspective of another person. We can only know from our experience, and never from those of another because we have not had those experiences. Certainly we can relate, and offer compassion, and perhaps even empathy. Therein lies the truth of our self-centeredness. The only way we can see is through our own eyes. So the only change that is possible is in our way of seeing.

Seeing True in Action

Most people have a difficult time understanding that we are all self-centered.  Even our desire to serve others has within it the seeds of self-centeredness. We rarely do anything unless it has some kind of payoff for us, even if the payoff is not a pleasant one for us.

The only technique that seems to be successful in overcoming ourselves is to see the ways we are drawn in. Then to come to understand the negative outcomes it produces for us. Only then is it possible to let go. Only then can we actually recall judgment and forgive anything.



How Do We Stay 'Right-Sized' While Also Accepting Praise?

When I lived in Greenville, South Carolina a few years ago, serendipity brought me to the gallery of a pair of artists; August and Susanne Vernon worked from their studio along the Reedy River. We struck up a continuing relationship through a mutual love of art.

One day I was talking to August. He was curious about my coaching and mentoring practices, which we discussed at length. At some point I found myself telling him some of the nicknames I had acquired from clients: the bulldog, Ronbo, Guru Ron and Ronald the Wise. All of which provided for laughter since they are all interesting characterizations of me. Frankly, they are like funhouse mirrors that offer up distorted, incomplete reflections.

Then I told August something I had rarely shared:  one client who had experienced profound transformation called me the Ronnie Lama.

August’s laugh was huge, but the spew of his ideas about what a cool painting that could make was remarkable. I was so enthused by his enthusiasm that I jumped right in with him in brainstorming ideas. The result is the image included with this blog.

As is so often the case, in retrospect I had much inner work to do about this painting of me. It was beautiful, and I do love it, but I also felt a sense of embarrassment, the source of which I could not identify. The best I can say is that it is a reflection of two things of great importance to me. The first is my sustaining desire to be an exceptional spiritual student, and thus to become an excellent teacher. The second is a deep mix of humility and humor that I can feel deep in my core. Just to keep it simple, I’ll call it honest holy ground, a genuine mix of right-sized-ness paired with an ability to not take myself too seriously.

I had prints made for both my daughters, but this image has never found its way into the world. Until now. Why now?

There are a number of ways to try to answer that question. There was a lucid dream about opening myself outward that was clearly the Soul speaking to me. And a conversation with a therapist that helped me to better see how deeply runs my fear of being seen. And a dialogue with my long-time mentor that was so disturbing it threw me off balance for several months. And reflections from clients of all kinds hammering at me, not with critique, but with a great deal of praise and acknowledgment.

Then, it became clear I would be launching two novels, an audio set, and a whole web platform taking me fully into the delivery of forgiveness and innocence practices. That culminated in feedback from a marketer who said, “Ron, it’s wonderful you care more about the success of your work rather than your reputation. But people want you to be real. They need to know that you aspire, and that you fail, and that you can be wonderful and awful.” Finally, a dear friend reminded me of the scriptures that urge us to not hide our light under a bushel.

To be honest, the degree of this disclosure makes me feel uncomfortable. There is always fear that in being seen, there will be rejection or attack. And there is a built in tension with a desire to not allow ego inflation. There is a great deal of evidence that one can fall quite deeply into a spiritual abyss in becoming too enamored with oneself.

Or perhaps the greater fear is exactly as Marianne Williamson described it. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

What a curious space: desiring to be seen, and simultaneously fearing it. Wanting to welcome whatever magnificent attributes are part of me, while not indulging in either delusion or grandiosity. Claiming that which is legitimately a contribution, and owning where I have erred. Anxiety because it is so easy to overlook our weaknesses, and even easier to reject our strengths. Wanting to be fully revealed, to be authentic in my relationships with the world, and to myself, and shirking from what surely feels like great exposure. Wishing more than anything for the way of the Soul to be expressed in and through me. Yet all the while, feeling my way in a darkness of unfathomable forces, strangely blind to much within me that cannot be seen or understood.

Life, and our role in it is just plain messy.

Seeing True

The design of Life ensures each of us must face a crux, inner challenge that is essential to the Soul’s development. Masters tell us we must engage it in order to learn from it. Nothing great can emerge through us without some significant disruption within us. Somehow we must get over our selves.

The path is made with every step.

One breath, one moment, one step at a time.