Sunday, October 30, 2005

Appropriate Distance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my contribution to others and my commitment to loving presence. In that regard, I’ve adopted a concept I call appropriate distance. In previous articles, I’ve suggested a philosophical stance for our interactions with others and implied that it’s our obligation to meet everyone with respect and equanimity. I’ve also suggested that humor and honest communication can help fill in the gap when we fall short of that obligation.

What do we do though, when we encounter an individual towards whom we have an uncontrollable aversion? What do we do when, despite our very best intentions and efforts at applying tools of sharing and humor, we can’t get unattached from our negative view of them?

In those cases, we must withdraw, but we must do it with wisdom and understanding. We must recognize that if we were perfectly enlightened, their behavior would have no effect upon us. We must interpret our inability to tolerate them at close distance as our shortcoming, not theirs. We must commit to finding the appropriate distance necessary to love them.

Even if an individual in our lives is dangerous or abusive, and our well-being requires our withdrawal, we must withdraw with an enlightened attitude, striving for the highest degree of understanding and forgiveness possible. Our growth demands that we explore our own responsibility for the situation from which we’ve extricated ourselves. This exploration is necessary if we’re to avoid repeating the same situation with someone else.

Some people are easier to love than others. Some people are loveable when they’re standing right in front of you, stepping on your toes. Others require a bit of distance to be appreciated. You must move them to their proper place. Picture a trombone. Your task is to slide the mechanism of that trombone to the perfect position to play a perfect, balanced note. Likewise, your task with those people who unbalance you is to slide them down to the position where you can live a perfect, balanced life. As you extricate yourself from close association with those people, you’ll find a particular distance, frequency of interaction, depth of conversation, choice of topics, etc. from which you can think of them fondly and experience none of the aggravation they caused you when they were too close. You will have then discovered their appropriate distance.

In acknowledging the fact that you don’t have the ability to tolerate these people up close, be compassionate with yourself. Understand that all of us have limitations and areas of aversion which are more than we can bear at our current levels of consciousness. Just manage the problem as it exists now, remain as respectful and loving as you can and realize that as you grow in consciousness, you’ll be able to shrink your appropriate distance with everyone.

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