“‘No man is your enemy. No man is your friend. Every man is your teacher.’ So one should be impersonal and learn what each man has to teach him and soon he would learn his lesson and be free.”
-Florence Scovel Shinn
Ten years ago, I purchased a small red book with an intriguing title: “The Game of Life and How to Play it,” by Florence Scovel Shinn. Ms. Shinn was an artist and illustrator, metaphysician and lecturer (1871-1940) I read it through, cover to cover, way back in 2009 just as the Recession brought its worst for us. I was looking for a silver bullet, a way out of my struggles and hoped that maybe the idea that life was a game and I could learn to play it would lift me from my troubles.
Six weeks ago, I was on an errand to my office to grab a meditation book, but found myself pulling The Game of Life from my bookshelf instead. “I must be intended to read this book again,” I thought as I held it my hands. It never hurts to re-read books from time to time; it’s always interesting to see whether new insights can be gained, to see things you might have missed or points that may be understood differently with the passage of time.
Many of the passages seemed to suit what was going on in my life. I kept feeling as if a Divine Hand was guiding me through the book. Do you ever get that?
As I came upon the quote above, I had discovered a person I’d been working with for some time had made a series of changes to our project and it was no longer a collaboration. We had not talked about the changes so when I made the discovery, I knew something had to be said, and I began praying for the right time and way to bring up my concerns. I found myself afraid to broach the subject—fearing a “blow up”.
Having read the quote, I took a step back realized that this was an important learning experience. I had been quick to trust and slow to discuss things I knew might create conflict, and had been busy working on other things so I’d left our project on “auto pilot” and wasn’t checking all bases. I realized that the changes had gone on for two or more months, while I was blithely ticking along. And by not keeping an eye on all aspects of the project, I was letting this person take advantage of our arrangement.
I decided to look a little deeper to see what held me back from keeping the project and relationship in focus. All of it centered fears of loss and abandonment. I was afraid of a “blow up,” of ostracism, and feeling as though I was no longer safe and might not survive (irrational, I know).
Growing up, I had been taught that dissolution of a relationship, no matter what the circumstances, is tantamount to failure; that friendships should be maintained at all costs. And I felt shame for not having caught the matter earlier. There had been red flags, and I had chosen not to address them, thinking I was keeping myself “safe”: I wasn’t.
A few years ago, I would have looked at this situation and blamed the party involved. I would have painted them as horrible and evil. I would have gone to my friends and anyone else who would listen to tell them of my injury and it’s injustice. But when I learned to look at these situations as “teachable moments.” They became a treasure trove. I chose to confront my fears and benefit from what I learned. I made a list of things I want to be more mindful of in the future. And finally, I was reminded that most of the things we are afraid of often aren’t as unpleasant or enduring as we imagine; I wasn’t going to die, for example.
I remembered that others can’t treat us in ways we don’t treat ourselves; I needed to pay attention to what was going on and treat myself: truthfully, with grace, compassion and integrity.