Thinking deeply about what this quote means to me is actually painful because it brings up memories of some awful times, from my childhood onwards. I don’t think ‘good’ is the right word in this proverb. Maybe it got lost in translation from the Greek. ‘Whatever is essential, life changing, character forming is excruciating to learn.’ Yes that’s better.
The kind of situation I think this most applies to is, for example, when you have had a hideous argument with someone. You might be fuming, full of adrenalin and thinking things like ‘if only I’d said that’ or ‘and yes I really am right because of this and this’, or ‘they hate me, I am useless, I will always be useless’ or ‘they are awful, I don’t want to ever be friends again, just think of all the rotten things they have done to me in the past’.
All sorts of nasties can creep in whispered by the gremlins, or ‘pain body’ (Eckhart Tolle) or the devil, if you will. As your mind tries to work out the solution to ease the discomfort you are feeling, and find a way to dissipate this anger, you don’t realise that you may be using the wrong tools to solve your dilemma; like using your elbow to clean out your ear.
We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them – Albert Einstein
As a child, you are likely to continue on this path, storing hurts and painful memories. You might avoid the other person until you’ve forgotten what you were arguing about and eventually sweep the hurt under the carpet. Or the fight escalates and others get involved until so much damage is done that you fall out permanently. The worst outcome is that you decide you really must be useless. You create this opinion about yourself (which you are sure is based in reality), thanks to all the information you have gathered in this terrible hyped up state. You condemn yourself and slowly slip into the habit of depression, imprinting your brain until it’s in your neural pathways and hard to fight off, useful as a reliance mechanism; a mental way out that’s like a stinky but familiar old blanket.
But, with maturity and a lot of difficult soul searching, I learned what was ‘good to know’, namely that it can all change in an instant. The path is not set; it is created by you as you take each step. For it is you and only you treading the path and creating your own consequences. I later learned how to effect that change in myself and learned what needs to happen internally and externally. These kinds of situations will be offered to you again and again until you learn the lesson, so you might as well learn it sooner rather than later.
Here are some of the ways this situation can be resolved, either by our own hand which has longer lasting effects or by others;
– The other person comes to apologise and all those destructive thoughts you were having evaporate, until perhaps the next time.
– You gather yourself (it comes with practice, but try focusing on your breathing for a start) and look at the situation more objectively until you calm down and start to see the other person’s side also.
– You realise you might actually be wrong if you would only admit it, and that it’s OK to make horrible mistakes. You will live and survive, head held high. Perfectionism be damned!
– You reach out and say a simple sorry to the other person, whether you feel sorry or not (everyone always thinks they are right, but really there is often no such thing; it’s too subjective).
It’s best if you do feel sorry of course, having recognised the nonsense of the argument, your part in it (why don’t we dare admit to ourselves that we are far from perfect?) and remembering why you have a relationship with that person in the first place. Even ‘faking it till you make it’, nips the destructive and out of control feelings in the bud.
To me the most important lesson is to not give yourself time to wallow if you are running down this thorn-filled path. Tell yourself you are not listening to this rubbish and won’t make any decisions about anything until you are calmer. Hop off this runaway thought train this instant.
I guess that’s why they say ‘don’t let the sun set on an argument’; so that you don’t have time to create mountains out of mole hills in your head. This can be sturdy advice but here’s another way of looking at it;
My ex (still good friends) and I agreed to never argue at night, when somehow things seemed worse because of being tired or due to the darkness. The sun coming up the next morning makes a huge difference to one’s psyche. It’s just biology. If you are calm and fully able to sleep, knowing the other person is OK too, go for it! You might agree to continue the talk later; at least forging some kind of agreement between you amidst the discord.
If you are centred enough to mend bridges now, do that. But if the person who is battling the strongest emotions needs time to settle down and has the capacity to calm themselves, then distance is good. This process of learning to calm yourself may take years to acquire; or if you are a mature soul, you may be born with it. But it is difficult to learn, it is good to know and so essential to finding happiness. The reward is trust in yourself and your ability to endure and enjoy living as a flawed human being, when life’s inevitable changes are thrown at you or you let yourself down.
And why is it so difficult to learn to change our thoughts instead of be ruled by them, with the accompanying emotions and dramas; to try a completely different path; to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable, especially to ourselves? Why protect our egos?
I guess it’s difficult because we have to put ourselves in an uncomfortable situation where we don’t know the outcomes. We are afraid of ourselves, not of the other person. This new thinking will change the dynamic of the relationship with the other person of course, but most importantly with our story about who we think we are.
So we dither. Why we dither and how to get around it is one of those ‘good to know’ things to which this Greek Proverb alludes. It’s probably one of the hardest things in life to learn to know and accept yourself, warts and all and then test it out on other people.
Anyway I digress. I believe if you practise learning to center yourself, calm down and forgive yourself it becomes easier with time. Say sorry to people. See how they react! Are you nervous of their response, of making them feel uncomfortable or of your being rejected? If so, a hug goes a long way and does just the same as words, without any need for eye contact.
And if they push you away, you will still feel good for trying. You haven’t pushed you away. You are now a stronger person. Their response has nothing to do with you. It is their journey; only they can mend their inner world. You can only work on your own inner peace and happiness, but I bet you will have left your mark.