At one point in my erratic freelance career in Manhattan, I landed in a small branch of an environmental law firm with its head office in California. It was headed by a cold and beautiful woman with grave emotional problems that she made no bones about publicly sharing.
Her personal assistant was a petite red-head possessed of a voice as squeaky as a Pomeranian. I shall call her Candy. Now Candy sucked up madly to our boss—the benefit being that as long as she flattered the woman to bits, she was allowed to run the office as she damn well pleased. Candy was cute and funny and made us laugh with her endless fund of jokes—but she was also one of the most unethical office managers I ever came across in my history of freelancing. In fact, as soon as our boss flew west on business, Candy would hang a ‘Gone Fishin’’ sign on her office door, indicating she was not to be disturbed; it was common knowledge that she needed time to study for her evening college classes, and office work be damned.
These were pre-internet days and our attorneys had a hard time citing relevant cases when writing up their law briefs. So our head office commissioned an expert to create a database for our use; soon after he flew down from California to train us in managing this tricky animal.
Six of us attended his classes—a petite Filipina with a toothy smile and skimpy dresses, an earnest black gay man with thick glasses who yearned to make it on Broadway, a voluptuous Puerto Rican woman who considered herself “one hot sexy mama”, two white women whose names I do not recall, and yours truly. Of the lot, I and the Filipina seemed to be the only two willing to learn: I, because I am generally terrified of the consequences of not knowing what to do in an emergency, and the Filipina because she loved software.
Christmas holidays were almost upon us when out of the blue the Filipina quit. Since the others claimed they were not capable of operating the database on their own, I had no choice but to obey Candy when she ordered me to man it in addition to my regular duties. Or rather, I had a choice, which was to stomp out of the job—but for some reason I don’t recall, I did not wish to quit this crazy firm as yet. Besides, truth be told, my ego enjoyed the feeling that I alone was able to operate this critical software.
Shortly before Christmas I ended up putting in ten long hours of overtime to produce all the database work our attorneys required to file their briefs for the coming year. (It had to be overtime since my regular workload had to be seen to between the hours of 9 to 5.) Candy approved this schedule and I went through with the work, despite reservations. I marked those ten hours of OT on my time-sheet, made a copy for myself, and handed it to Candy. But, when my salary check arrived a few days later, I saw that I had been given only 1 hour of overtime—instead of the 10 I had marked!
Just an error, I thought—but when I checked my copy of the time-sheet, I saw the “10” was clearly visible. I went over to Candy’s office and saw the Gone Fishin’ sign hanging on her door. Pissed, I flung open the door and explained what had happened. “Just wanted to let you know I’m going to call Head Office and ask them to correct this,” I said, brandishing the time sheet. “Oh no, don’t do that!” Candy begged.”Why not?” I asked, puzzled. Whereupon Candy confessed that it was she who had whited out the “0” after the “1”, therefore depriving me of 9 hours of overtime! She might have gotten away with her callous theft of my time and money—except that I had been so furious about being forced to put in that overtime that I had actually checked my time-sheet to see that I was properly remunerated.
Candy squeaked on and on about how Head Office was “getting on her case”—they frowned severely upon overtime, she went on righteously, and it was a black mark against her when a time-sheet went in with even a single hour of overtime on it. I could only stare at her dumbfounded. What an unethical creature!
My eyes turned heavenward and happened to fall on a framed statement hanging on the wall over her head. It was an ALANON (12-step program for the families of addicts/alcoholics) statement about taking personal responsibility that went something like this: no matter what happens, take personal responsibility—if you blame, you give away your personal power. If someone betrays your trust, take responsibility for trusting an unreliable person; if someone humiliates you, assume responsibility for choosing such a friend; if someone cheats you, be aware that you put yourself in a position to be taken advantage of. Take responsibility because doing so gives you options—then you can either accept the situation, attempt to repair it, or walk away, a wiser person than before.
I told Candy I felt betrayed by her action.”Suck it up, Mira,” she advised me coolly. “I did what I thought was best for us all.” Her attitude only served to piss me off the more—I told her she could either fix the problem herself, or that I would make a formal complaint to Head Office—and then I would quit the bloody firm, leaving her to operate that darned database herself.
I stormed out—and yet that statement of Personal Responsbility stayed with me. What’s more, I empathized with Candy’s moral weakness: I knew she came from a severely dysfunctional family. Like her boss, and though their backgrounds were very different, Candy too spoke openly about her family: an alcoholic father, lunatic mother, and weird siblings. I’m the only one who’s sane, she’d say with a hysterical giggle, yeah, I’m the only one that flew out of the cuckoo’s nest, bay-bee. But now I wondered: had she truly flown out of the nest? .
Back at my desk I brooded over the incident. What had I done wrong here? I’d obeyed my superiors and done what others had refused to do. So really, where had I gone wrong? Had I erred because my heart had not been involved in taking on this extra work? Whatever the case, as the Americans say, Candy had played me for a sucker. And suckers always pay a price.
Once I accepted personal responsibility for the situation, my mind began to wander into other territories of my life: why, I wondered, did I continue to cling to a stagnant marriage when my goal was to seek liberation from desire and fear? Was I blameless? No, I decided sadly, I was not: It was my own egoic need to succeed, as well as to mask my inner suffering from the outside world, that had created this monstrous situation. The bald truth was that my own personal dishonesty was keeping me in chains.
Ever since I choose to honor the wisdom of assuming personal responsibility. And when friends bitch and moan to me about anything ranging from the trivial to the major—an unreliable gardener, money worries, a marriage gone sour, the onset of a debilitating disease, or the end of a job—I advise them to first take personal responsibility for the situation; do this first, I suggest, and you can then act properly—otherwise your thinking will be cloudy and weak and you won’t be able to walk free.
It was years after my face-off with crooked Candy that I met a Buddhist master who grilled us on the essentials of eastern philosophy. As I dived deeply into the ancient teachings on karma, reincarnation, Shunyata (emptiness) and enlightenment, I resolved that no matter what “happened” to me, I would accept it as the result of my own past karma. (The word “karma” just means “doing”—the results come later, in this or another lifetime.) If I could see my present situation simply as the result of my own past thought, speech and action, it would be easier to deal with—but if I blamed others for it, my power would drain away and I would be just another victim.
This holistic attitude of accepting everything I experience as my own projection has empowered me so greatly that, despite continuing ups and downs, I feel I am now on the right path up the mountain. That said, I send you greetings from Arunachala, the sacred hill of pure consciousness that vows to burn down our ego so we can experience our immortal and blissful Self!
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I have been there Mira, truly said, it is not to be afraid to take responsibility, our choices, our fears and guilt’s. After I retired I realized why I disliked my jobs and found everything so hard. With me, I never spoke up. Now, I am in a personal situation which is wounding me (my ego) however I fully admit I placed myself there. I can forgive myself, honor myself, bless the people which brought about the drama and the healing. It always helps to know we are not alone in our feelings, experiences and healing. Thanks.
What helps me enormously, Antoinette, is the Advaitic definition of “real” and “unreal” – seen with the cosmic eye, none of us suffering is “real” – it is temporary. (Real = that which is permanent and lasting). I have used and still use my east. phil. tools to pull me out of every little and great gutter. Much love and hope you find full healing and peace. Om!
As always, Mira, such wonderful insights based on personal experiences… Yes, it is normal for our egoic minds to ‘play the victim’ in order to look past our own shortcomings. By abdicating responsibility for our actions, and explaining them away; like your ‘dear’ Candy, we also lose touch with our integrity. How can we grow spiritually when we feel like phonies? Perhaps the suffering this inevitably creates will wake us up in the end! Om Namah Sivaaya!
Yes, how grateful I am to be out of a world where folks can excuse away all their bs! Not that it doesn’t exist everywhere. Much love dear Dave!
Thank you, Mira. This is a concept with which I have long been familiar, but with which I still struggle. Your telling of your enlightenment about your marriage was especially meaningful, as I have often felt myself to be the victim of my abusive former husband. I had many reasons for not leaving much sooner than I should have – some the same as yours, as well as fear. At some point I realized that nothing that I feared could be worse than the slow death through stress related illnesses that I was experiencing. I owned up, womaned up, and got as far away as I possibly could! He turned out, like most bullies, to not have the courage to come after me. I now live a life free of fear, and am making huge strides in accepting responsibility for all things that impact my life.
Yes, taking personal responsibility – the beginning of freedom. Brava on doing what needed to be done!
I just went through a similar experience with a Spiritual Center I joined after moving back from India. I was grateful that I was called to go there to heal myself after dumping my brain in India, and after spending 4 years there doing Seva 3 days a week, I can see how far I have come in recreating myself. I took responsibility, and now I feel free to take the energy that I was putting out to help other into myself. First time I walked out on a situation feeling compassion and empathy for the people involved. The Universe was testing me, and I believe that I passed the test.
Good for you, Lenda! Love, Mira
Responsibility is taken ,where as people normally look for being given a responsibility by some one superior or higher up. Once we start taking responsibility for all other things around us then we become responsible ourselves too. Nice to be reminded Mira that we should take responsibility for our actions to be in control of our lives.
Thanks for this wonderful post Mira written so clearly and it’s so enlightening. We need to be reminded to always take personal responsibility for the situations we find ourselves in .. but how does one explain a car accident out of the blue caused by another reckless driver … I guess my reaction to it is what counts .. perhaps in a previous life I caused someone injury, I’m thinking as I write …
There’s another longish post I wrote on this blog, dear Susan, that might explain the eastern perspective on your valid question. Check out: https://miraprabhu.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/freedom-from-the-matrix-samsaras-seven-flavors-12/ – its 12 posts, I think, but the meditation is analytical and explains a lot (for me it was a great help and I still teach it now and again). If you have further questions, would be very happy to help, if I can. Love!
Thanks Mira, have book marked it and will check it out xxx Love
It made a nice reading Mira, the concept of Taking personal Responsibility in perticular, but as usual Mira I have my own personal views also to take the matter further….
The thoughts n advices make one wiser to keep one in check with the situations, but in overall one acts as one is preprogrammed, one acts out of one’s habitual attitude, habits than the wisdom or knowledge one aquire , they may b of some help off course but only to some extent. …….Sorry Mira, I m not as learned or exposed as you to b expressing myself differently, but it’s only as I have gathered till date. That we are the product of our environment .
Now wen was at the brink of relinquishing my dream of studying n studying till it could b afforded as I dreamt of becoming a Medical research scientist to win over the pain of deceases in this world, that was the time my self confidence reduced to Zero. I used to contemplate as to why one has no option of choosing ones parent, neither one can avail the option of divorcing as the married have. (later was made to realize this neither that easy in our part). Now where could one apply the concept of Responsibility.
There was time n still is I used to get bored of viewing the movies where one of the character wronged n wronged continuesly. Used to take that for unrealistic, as to how can b that be possible. But not now, abused at home then abused outside, as preprogrammed to getting abused. The story thus continues, yes while choosing my life partner, might have erred , may go to take personal responsibility. But wait a while, was corrected for this wrong choice while reading a book by Dr………..dot just recall the name, he being the partner of Deepak Chopra, as he goes to explain this so happened, in the anxiety to connect with the would be life partner we fail to notice the negative signs n signals. Yes it was quite true in my case at least, as was emotionally wrecked in my father’s house, was anxious to get away again this time permanantly after settling with my spuse n was so overtaking by my anxiety to connect to her that could not even take the Crust le clear sign she been giving of herself during our meetings prior to marriage. Ultimate what happened was as I went to term in Hindi KUE SE NIKLE KHAI ME GIRE, meaning in anxiety to escape from the well, fell into the deep ditch.
Then began divorce process , blackmailing by her taking away my darling daughter of Three ( twin daughters one already with her) the one who had walked over to stay with me. Tragedy being I could not do anything in d matter, as also had no one else to take care of her.
At my father’s house used to think that I will b considerate father n friendly with my kids not a rash dictator like the one I had. But irony of fate had its own known plans , despite all this had been a responsible father, friendly n loving father but the trend of abuses not ending with this all. Again abused by even my once loving daughter. At the same time though realizing her state of mind as she over the years being tutored n programmed to hate her father, the devil, she had even been into depression for some time.
Hah, Mira must have felt bored by my story of abuses, but what make me to elongate at this length was again the same Taking personal Responsibility concept, I dot say it does not work, it does bit it may differ from situation to situation. Now in my case, it’s matter of pride for me at least that I have been a responsible son, a responsible husband again a responsible father, but it’s still……..
Anyway Mira, enough now, opened up a lot n at the same time grateful in other many things I m bestowed with, despite my failures in all the above relationshipslife goes on n on, have many positives to fall back upon …….
Thanks to you Mira that you have made me to make light of my burden of negatives.
Kkrish, you are right – the context differs. Nevertheless one cannot break free of bitterness and move forward if one does not take complete responsibility for all that has happened — and by that I mean karmic responsibility. We can speak of this more in private if you like. The idea is to move from negative to positive so you can achieve your own highest potential. Thank you for sharing. Om!
Well would like to dwell over this karmic responsibility, until now such things like karmic pass through over my head not into…..
How true is this, Mira! Beautifully put together! I realized this long ago – almost 26 years back when I walked out of a really unhealthy and emotionally wreaking marriage, with 2 small daughters in tow and no one to support. But that decision, no matter how reckless it seemed then, was the best decision of my life! And the second best decision was not to let my kids be affected by my decision – allowed them full freedom with their father and my family had nothing but praises when in 2008, my daughter got married and I invited her father and all family for the wedding. We conducted all marriage rituals and rites together as her rightful parents.
Ever since then, there has been no looking back. And all it took was courage to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and walk away, my self-respect and self-worth intact!
Thank you for your friendship – much appreciated. Hugs to you
Congratulations!!!! Rare to find a mature and loving woman like you.
Much love, Mira
As always Mira, your wisdom touches my heart. Have been in similar situations as you – but it has taken many years and tears along this journey to realize I will not be a victim – and I am responsible for my life, actions, words, thoughts. We are truly reflections of one another and If I want another to change, I must be the change. Thank you for the reminder. Love