Most of us have heard of an area in a hospital called the “ICU.” These three letters are an “acronym” that is an abbreviation for “Intensive Care Unit.”
The ICU is a designated floor in a hospital where, due to a severe injury or sudden onset of a life-threatening health issue, one is taken to receive round-the-clock attention. Even if we’ve never been in such a place, surely we know someone who has.
Now, keeping this same idea in mind, although obviously far less dramatic, what happens after a “traumatic” day at the office or at home with a pile of mounting bills? Even an unexpected run-in with a friend can deliver a crushing blow, leaving us feeling battered and broken. Following a “hard landing” of any such kind…do we not look to our partner to “intensively care” for us? Of course, we do. When we hurt we want to be consoled, comforted; and barring that, at least allowed to blow off some of the steam that’s been building up in us.
Now, as a rule, we’re not aware of these unspoken demands, that is…not until our partner fails to give us the attention we expect. In those moments, we perceive their inability to give us the intensive care we feel we deserve as indifference to our pain. But, the following insight makes it clear that our view of that moment is not the whole story. After all, our partner – likely having had a few “pile-ups” of his or her own that day – is also looking to us for the same kind of “intensive care.” And there you have it: a standoff, where each party involved – failing to feel properly cared for, as deserved – sees the other as being insensitive!
If we want to end this kind of endless “blame game,” then one of us has to step up and begin seeing through the unconscious forces that drive this wheel of misfortune.
The moment we feel the onset of any disagreement with our partner we must agree to be a kind of “torch bearer.” In other words, we must be the one who understands that the only reason we’re about to “go another round” is because we’re both momentarily blind, meaning all we can see is our partner as the cause of the discomfort we feel.
Being able to understand the reality of our situation is the same as being empowered to act toward it in a completely new way. If we can see that the real cause of our mounting conflict is due to this kind of blindness, then the healing prescription is right in front of our eyes. Which brings us to the little play on words that I mentioned at the start of this chapter section.
Instead of allowing ourselves to be drawn into that unconscious game of “tug-of-war” over who cares, and who doesn’t – where all we see before us is someone denying us the “intensive care” we feel we deserve – we use our awareness of this struggle between opposing forces to let go of the rope and do something entirely new:
We practice “ISM.” Three letters that stand for three simple words: “I see myself.”
As we’re about to discover, this little phrase, “I see myself,” describes a single action that has the power to change the heart of whoever is willing to embrace its practice. But, before we examine this exercise, let’s take a closer look at what it means to “see ourselves” – as we are – especially when our partner has failed to please us.
To begin with, it’s impossible to see ourselves – as we are – when all we can see before us is someone else who’s to blame for a feeling that we don’t want. The truth is, at least for now, we can’t see anything at all about ourselves when we’re in the heat of a disagreement with anyone, let alone with someone we love.
We can’t see our own flashing eyes, because all they’re capable of looking at is who to blame for the heat rising up behind them.
We don’t hear the defiant tone in our voice because it’s being drowned out by the voices in our head, justifying our right to be angry, disappointed, resentful, or otherwise upset.
And we’ve almost no sense at all of these mounting pressures in us, because we’ve been rendered numb by the drumming of these unconscious forces as they seek, and always seem to find – in our partner – a reason for being so disturbed.
Learn to See Yourself Through the Eyes of the One You Love
To see the truth of the above is to understand how important it is for us to be as fully mindful as possible in the midst of a disagreement with our partner. We need to be completely present to whatever is coming up and out of us – not only aware of the kind of thoughts and feelings coursing through us, but equally sensitive to the kind of energy we can intuit is accountable for their appearance.
Now, let’s see why our willingness to enter into this healing space called “ISM” empowers us – on the spot – to realize the possibility of a whole new and higher relationship with our partner, starting with this:
Seeing myself as I am allows me to see what you’re looking at, at the same time!
Let me rephrase this same idea in another way to give us a slightly different slant on it. When was the last time, in the middle of a fight with anyone, you came to a stop and silently, deliberately asked yourself this question: “I wonder what it’s like for you to be experiencing me, as I am, right now?”
You might be thinking, “Why on earth would I ever want to know such a thing?”
Because until we can see what we’re actually “giving” our partner in a conflicted moment with them, we’ll never understand why they often feel as if they’re being punished by our presence. But now let’s look behind the “curtain” during these encounters and see what we’re “giving” our partner that makes them want to push us away.
Outwardly we may be working to exhibit a warm, caring appearance, but inwardly we are in a controlled “burn.”
Outwardly we may be ever so careful with the words we use, trying to convey a sense of patience, a willingness to understand, but inwardly we are at the end of our rope.
In either case, one thing should be clear: while we’re identified with the positive role we’re playing, feeling pleased to see ourselves in the light of the part we’re acting out, our partner is definitely not seeing us as we’ve imagined ourselves to be. What they’re experiencing in that moment is a negative energy radiating out of us that can’t be disguised. And, as it pours over them, it makes them want to push back against it! In this scenario the only thing that changes is who’s pushing and who’s being shoved…that is, until these roles naturally reverse themselves as a matter of course.
The point being, nothing can change between us as long as we’re both clinging to a position that doesn’t even exist without what it unconsciously opposes in our partner.
Your willingness to ponder the next two questions will help shed some valuable light on this last insight:
Does my disappointment with you exist without whatever it is that I expect from you? (Hint: Of course not!)
Can any resentment I feel for you failing to sing my praises come into play without my having first imagined myself as worthy of being exalted?
It should be clear: Whatever we find offensive about our partner only punishes us – in the unique manner that it does – because it strikes something unique within us that’s waiting to be offended!
This explains why, if we want an open and healthy relationship with our partner, we must do the interior work of practicing “ISM.” The conscious choice to see ourselves as we are in the midst of any struggle with our partner changes us and, in turn, everything about that moment.
But, let’s not minimize the difficulty of working to consciously see ourselves as we are, especially when there’s been a run in with our partner.
The whole notion of “ISM” feels warm and fuzzy to imagine…that is until our partner challenges our view of how things are supposed to be; so that when the time comes to see ourselves as we are – versus trying to change what we see as “objectionable” in our partner – odds favor we’ll fall back in the familiar “blame game.” And that’s OK; not to worry. Here’s why:
Being able to observe even the smallest of your own negative reactions – and to recognize on the spot that it – that opposing force – is not you, means that a whole new level of awareness is now awake in you. The light of this higher self-awareness now united with your willingness to see yourself – as you are – has done the unthinkable: it has set you free…from yourself. For the first time, you’re able to step outside the negative influence of these unconscious forces, making it possible to love your partner as you’ve always wanted to: unconditionally.
We must not wait to start our practice; the truth is that every moment is the right moment to see ourselves as we are…regardless of whoever may be our “partner” of the moment.
Maybe it’s the person in that long line with us, complaining about how slowly things are moving. There’s no better time to practice “ISM” than when some part of you can’t wait to “pounce” on the impatience of someone else. How about being stuck behind a driver on the freeway who won’t speed up or get out of the way? Practice “ISM” and “arrest” that part of yourself that’s always rushing somewhere, resisting everyone and anything in its way!
The more places we’ll employ this interior practice, the sooner we will find ourselves living from a higher level of Self that cannot be made to turn against anyone, let alone the one we love. You’ve heard the expression “Practice makes perfect.” Seeing ourselves as we are is love in action because it’s the same as consciously illuminating those lower, unconscious levels of self that stand in the way of all that is kind, caring, and compassionate.
Speaking of illuminating these lower levels of self that are incapable of love, here’s one last insight whose importance can’t be overstated.
This unconscious nature – and its opposing forces that serve to keep us at odds with one another ¬– does not want to be brought into the light of higher self-awareness that comes with seeing ourselves as we are. It lives in the dark of us, and wants to keep it that way. To that end, and to ensure that no sustained light reaches into its lair to reveal its covert operations, here’s one of its favorite ways of protecting itself: any time we catch even a fleeting glimpse of its dark character – it immediately tries to turn the tables on us by inciting us to judge ourselves for what we see!
Most of us have some knowledge of that timeless teaching, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” Now we know something of its inner meaning: being deceived into judging ourselves for whatever shadows we see hiding in us is how these in-the-dark parts keep themselves out of the light, and out of our sight. Here’s the only thing you need to know to disarm this deceptive nature: there is no such thing as a bad fact about yourself. Anything that wants you to believe otherwise, or that tries to punish you for what you’ve been given to see, is desperate to get you to look the other way!