As the 4th of July holiday weekend approached, my wife, Kate, asked me about tackling a couple of little fix up jobs around the house. She asked me innocently enough, starting out her request by acknowledging how hard I had been working lately and apologizing for suggesting any additions to my workload. Still, she reminded me that we also had to take care of our house and keep it livable while we helped others. She said she was doing her best not to be critical of me and I believed her. I wanted not to take anything personally from it, but became extremely aware of something the more she described the request. I was cringing inside. Not only did I feel resistance to doing the jobs, I was feeling an unwanted sense of responsibility that I wanted to push back against. It felt like she was saying that it was because of me the jobs were still undone. I’d had this feeling before, but this time I was very conscious of how I was processing it.
I was able to step back from myself and see that my reaction was not about the couple of simple tasks that Kate had asked about, but the way she had brought them up that had somehow triggered something bigger and deeper. I readily admitted that I had been increasingly resistant to taking on not only household repairs, but also some other things in our life that could improve our lot and I didn’t like being reminded about them.
I couldn’t say why I retreated from them exactly; not consciously, anyway, just that I dreaded some painful yet unnamable result. I wasn’t afraid to work hard, figure things out, or engage in a little worthwhile struggle, but continually put off these things and felt badly towards myself for shirking them. I also knew that when whatever it was inside of my inner operating system decided to let go of that resisting, I would jump right into any given one of those endeavors, complete it quickly and masterfully. I just didn’t know how or when that would happen.
Kate reiterated that she didn’t mean to upset me by asking, but there were things she just needed my help with. I answered that I knew she couldn’t do the chores alone and acknowledged that she didn’t mean to insinuate that I was lazy or uncaring. I admitted that I was having a negative response to being asked and was, by then, literally vibrating internally as some very deep conflict in my psyche was becoming more activated by our conversation. Kate was aware of it too, and gently encouraged me to keep talking. Other things I had been avoiding without being able to put my finger onto why came to mind, and the one that had I especially been stalling over for more than two years; an online store for the Mesa’s website.
There had been all kinds of little problems with getting it put up on the internet that I had eventually resolved, but newer ones still stopped me. Trouble was, I knew I was letting them. Something made me give up before I got even close to building the store; something I obviously wanted to avoid. In the past, I had speculated that I was just balking at wearing any more hats; administering the store and filling the orders turning into more unwelcome work for me. As Kate and I continued to talk about it, I muscle tested myself about unpleasant scenarios with the store, and additional work wasn’t a contender.
One loose thread I remembered had to do with how people might react to what they were charged for shipping. I pointed to figuring out fair shipping costs within the confines of the software as the latest roadblock, but I could admit there were likely ways to get around it. One muscle test showed an inner fear that customers might be unhappy and complain. As I thought about it, I speculated out loud that sooner or later someone would not like how long it took to receive their merchandise, complain about color variations, criticize how the store was arranged, or want a refund. That kind of thing just comes with the territory of doing business. I wanted increased business. I just didn’t want to deal with feeling whatever that feedback might translate into emotionally for me and I was imagining the pain already happening.
As I kept talking, a word came up in my mind that said it all; fault. I imagined that people would find fault with our web store, our merchandise, or, worse yet—me, and I would feel responsible, exactly what they (and my parents) would want me to feel. That’s what I was seeking to avoid by putting off building the online store. Muscle testing confirmed it, as did the little light that had come on in my mind when that door was opened. Not only did I want to avoid any beef that people might have with me but more so the imagined fault I might locate in myself and the searing despair I might feel at being unable yet again to “fix” it.
I had taken Kate’s request for help around the house the way I habitually took things. I heard her saying it was my fault things weren’t done without her actually saying it. That outer “fault” reflected the internal faults I was tallying within myself; bad partner, irresponsible caretaker of possessions, inefficient time waster, etc. I felt like Kate was criticizing me when she actually didn’t because my internal critic’s fault finding radar was locked on target. Kate resonated with the same issue and felt badly about even asking. It was like guitar feedback and seemed to amplify things somehow.
I felt a little angry and didn’t want to be. Feeling angry was a way of pushing back with righteous indignation against the injustice of being on the receiving end of fault finding so many times when I was growing up. This was the tip of an iceberg-sized suppressed pain and fear from a pattern frozen into my mind by hypercritical parents and other family members, likely well before I was 5yrs old. My mother, father, and paternal grandmother constantly found fault with everything and everyone and especially, it seemed, …with me.
The question: “What’s wrong with you?!!” was burned into my brain. That’s the kind of question that makes our internal hard drives spin out of control as they search through infinite possibilities to find THE answer. The problem there is that NOTHING is “wrong” with us, so the search is always fruitless… and endless. My soul knew this but my little kid mind didn’t register any more than my parents’, teachers’ and other big peoples’ angst and dissatisfaction with something about me. I could only imagine what it was and make up scenarios. This pattern became well established inside of me and grew over time as selected faults were repeatedly pointed out to me, causing me to constantly watch vigilantly for possible “wrongnesses” as a means of self-protection.
From early on, my eye instantly went to what I saw as flaws in things. This was a blessing and a curse. It allowed me to have the “artistic eye” that enabled me to make beautiful things, but drove me crazy when an unavoidable, uncontrollable, or undesirable “wrongness” showed up in something I had done. Outwardly, I became a reluctant perfectionist. I had more trouble living with the flaws I saw within myself. The spiritual teachings I had studied told me to accept and love them as part of my Shadow Self and I did my best to weather the feelings. The truth was, I hated the fact that I had become so adept at noticing what was “wrong” with things, instead of what was beautiful and good. Mentally, I wrestled against such thoughts, but an emotional engine inside of me made life’s little imperfections stick out like so many sore thumbs—and I was the biggest one.
The significance with how this issue was presenting itself this time was the contrast in my mind between concepts of flaws and faults; a fineness of language. A quick check showed that while some dictionary definitions used the two words synonymously, there were slight differences. Flaws are often viewed as unseen or concealed imperfections that impair soundness, whereas faults can be classified as unattractive or unsatisfactory features, especially in a piece of work or in a person’s character. Ahh…, character.
Flaws can just be manifestations of nature, like an unseen crack that causes a delicate vase to break spontaneously without being touched. We don’t see them unless we’re looking for them. Faults show. They are glaring “wrongnesses” that other people, (and often we, ourselves) are unsatisfied with. They’re right there grinning at us. Some unspoken agreement implies that we have responsibility for the dissatisfaction ours cause for others and that we could do something about them but just don’t, because we’re ignorant, lazy, or incompetent for instance. We seldom have control over our flaws. Faults are willful and blamable breaches of character.
If we’re “properly trained”, we take on this onus. It wasn’t screwing up the home repair projects or the potential imperfections of web commerce I was worried about, it was experiencing my face being pushed yet again into responsibility for my own imagined shortcomings. I needed no help with that. The way I grew to observe was biased and narrow in that my focus went to things and behaviors that stuck out as faults. I would see any lack of symmetry in a particular leaf, flower, or person as imperfect or “deformed” instead of as an individual miracle of nature. I wanted to see only what I considered perfection. I saw them as unattractive and they reminded me of the pain of what I saw as my own ugliness.
I was doggedly doing what I was impressed to do; taking notice of all the pock marks, scratches, pimples, stains, asymmetries, and crooked edges on things and the fear, anger, reluctance, greed, jealousy, and unsatisfying incompetencies in people. They leapt out at me even when I didn’t want to notice them. What I was missing was that these were only tiny parts of the whole picture and a glaringly selective one at that that my fear repeatedly directed my attention to. I realized that some part of me was keeping a running inventory of faults in the world around me, consuming a tremendous amount of personal energy, attention, and unconscious “data space” in the process. It was even worse when it came to myself.
Finding fault in another takes scrutiny and pressure off of the beholder. Several episodes with angry fault finders at The Mesa who couldn’t see their own hand in life’s situations were blindsides and usually came on the heels of some good deed or service we had done. I took them very personally and traumatically. Over my lifetime fault and responsibility became much the same thing to me and everything became my fault; people not showing up for a visiting teacher’s class, a student’s lopsided project, a client that didn’t heal, and once that lightning had set Mesa Verde on fire. (It’s a long story…)
Over time, my need to avoid additional pain of new fault finding from within or without approached phobic proportions and the safety mechanism of avoidance behavior would kick in to stop me in my tracks. Better not to even attempt things or interact with people than to risk feeling “faulty”. I was saying NO to fault finding in my world and retreating from living my life more fully because of the need to avoid the pain of possessing implied faults.
As Kate and I have come to realize with things we say NO to in life, the rejection of fault finding was causing us to look for and see it everywhere. Unconsciously, we suspected everyone as potentially finding fault with us, including each other. We passed it back and forth between us. We rejected fault finding because we knew in our hearts and souls that that kind of continual and usually trivial criticism was tremendously hurtful and an unloving way to deal with other people, not to mention our own inner selves, but we had bought into it. That we indulged in it ourselves made it all the more painful. We saw fault finding not only as a personal issue, but for the hardened, embedded societal system that is part and parcel of what needs to change in our world for humanity to live spiritually and humanely.
It was time to do something about it. I laid down on the floor with Kate by my head so that we could shift this paradigm to one of acceptance, change, and release. As we went through our little head turning therapy to shift what we shake our heads at in life, I could feel how much I was suppressing anger and pain about all the internal and external fault finding I had endured in my life. The word endure comes from the Latin “to make hard” and I had so tightly compacted my feelings about fault finding that it took a while for them to melt into the tears that I had been holding back for so long. (“Why are you crying?!!”) I had wanted to accept myself more fully and couldn’t because of irreconcilable “faults”. I wanted to stop seeing the “wrongnesses” in everyone and everything, but had felt morbidly compelled to seek them out. Now that pattern was breaking up and falling away with each guided head movement.
It took many repetitions for my saying NO to fault finding to change to surrender and acceptance and I felt the eventual conversion inside of my psyche. It felt very freeing and expanding and muscle testing confirmed that the inner change had taken. Kate required far fewer go-rounds after witnessing for me and she too, felt freed by a new inner choice. We checked in with each other and saw how fault finding was destroying the lives of many people we knew. We would no longer fight with this entrenched system. We’d just create new ones for ourselves and spread the word to others.
The big lesson we both took away from the experience was the need for all of us to give up the fault finding system we silently agree to and replace it with one that universally looks for compassion, love, and beauty in all. This is a choice each one of us can make in our lives, the cumulative effects of which will be a shift in how all people deal with each other. This is where Creation is urging us to go as we have entered the 4th Day of the Mayan calendar on 7/25/11. It’s time for new points of view and ways of doing things to take dominance. We can each declare our individual independence from popular but antiquated systems of separation and competition like fault finding that are destined to fall away. That way our separate drops of water may change the ocean of humanity. Happy 4th of July!