They say all relationships are like mirrors, either reflecting back to you the qualities you dislike about yourself, or things you like but perhaps don’t acknowledge. Well, I was thinking about this in quite some depth last night, having gone for an evening meal with my flat mate and elderly neighbour, who for the sake of anonymity I’ll call Frank. Over the course of two-and-a-half hears I have often bumped into Frank in the street, or when both in the garden, and we’d have a little chat. A couple of months ago, he seemed particularly down and said something that I interpreted as meaning he would like to have more company (his wife had died a few years previously), and so I went round to visit one evening and spent a couple of hours listening to his interesting stories about the war, people from his past – those loved and lost – and his family. I think I have mentioned him before so I won’t ramble on too much but suffice to say that over the past three months he has grown increasingly fond of me and having me round to visit, hence why he invited to take my flat mate and me out to Christmas dinner.
And I what to say that first off, 80 per cent of the time I spend with him is enjoyable – talking about many memories, showing me old photos, old coins, etc – but then he goes and says or does something strange or slightly inappropriate that makes not only me but my flat mate think he’s weird. Yes he is old, which is what makes us let him off somewhat, but it’s not age that makes him this way, I don’t think.
Last night at the dinner table he called me cruel (he’d done this before) much to the disbelief of my flat mate who jumped to my defence to say she had known me a lot longer than he had, and there was not a cruel bone in my body. His reasoning was because a few weeks ago, I promised to post a copy of the magazine through his door as he is now interested in it (having not liked it one bit when I first showed it to him). I said I would but not when I would, and being the busy, slightly forgetful person that I am, I hadn’t posted yet done it. And this is where life all comes down to interpretation: I saw this as me being forgetful, but in no way was I being intentionally malicious by withholding the promised magazine – I just don’t see it as that important, especially when I am running late for work and think ‘oh I’ll do this tomorrow’; however, Frank interpreted this oversight as me being intentionally cruel towards him nd deliberately withholding it – interesting!
Having come to know more about him and his past, I know he has spent most of his life, sadly, being suspicious of those he meets, studying their body language and trying to ‘figure them out’. But this reinforces the idea that I once read somewhere that you always get what you expect; i.e. if you expect the worst from someone you are more than likely to get it, where as if you expect the best and encourage a person to be their best, you will most likely get that, too. I know this is not the case all the time, but expectations can play a huge part in how things pan out. In Frank’s case, it’s as if he expects everyone he meets to be out to get him in some way (based on many things that must have happened to him in his past, which I wont go into here), and so he reinforces this for himself by interpreting my benign behaviour as cruel.
Another thing he can’t stand is people trying to control him – he is a total control freak. He purposely does or does not do things his family asks of him in order to a) annoy them, and b) show them he is still in control, despite being in his 91st year.
Mirror mirror on the wall…
So why am I telling you all this? Well, to come back to my original statement about how relationships reflect our good or bad qualities, this neighbourly relationship I have with Frank must be showing me something, for, having read as many spiritual books as I have, I believe we all come into each others lives for a reason, and it is that reason I am trying to discern. Is he here to show me patience (because God knows he really tries my patience sometimes!)?; is he here to show me the dire consequences of a life full of bitter regret, and therefore I should deal with any issues as and when they arrive and not drag them around with me like excess baggage, which clearly he has been doing his entire life?
Perhaps it’s these things, but this morning it came to me in a flash: he is a control freak and so am I!!! I admit it, I like to control things and if someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I huff and puff and grumble (even if only to myself and not to the person). In my jobs I have tended to be put in a position where I can work autonomously, and get on with doing things my way, by and large, and I love that. I used to find it really hard to take criticism, even if after the fact (sometimes years later) I could look back and realise that perhaps the comments were true. And I think I am getting better at accepting constructive comments now – it depends how they are put across though! But I recognise this stubborn, controlling streak within me and I realised, like a light bulb going off, that this was the same quality I disliked in Frank, which brings me neatly back to the mirror analogy: his control freak tendencies are showing what I dislike in myself, or rather, getting me to own up to them. Now, what I do about this or where I go from here, I am not sure, as his future speech and actions will determine whether I spend any more time with him (from our meal last night and some odd comments he made, my flat mate has pretty much already decided not to spend any more time with him).
But maybe I am in his life to show him the things he dislikes about himself and get him to change; he has, after all, already told me he actually wants me to help him change, to help him get rid of his bad temper as he doesn’t like being like that anymore. I’m not really sure I can help him do this, I can only offer a friendly ear from time to time (but not all the time – another lesson I am learning is about barriers, and how it’s important to be clear with others about what you will and will not accept, as if you give some people an inch, as I did with Frank initially, they can tend to want to take a mile – but that’s another subject).
So there you have it: the message for today is to seek to find what your relationships are revealing to you. Are they highlighting your strengths or weaknesses? Do you dislike in others what you really despise in yourself? I think it was the Buddha who said something like ‘our worst enemies are often our best teachers’. Not that Frank is an enemy of course, but he’s the one person in my life right now who causes me most grief, albeit unknowingly a lot of the time, so he therefore must be my best teacher right now.
Can you think of someone in your life that annoys you? Try thinking about what the lesson might be…
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