The girl was at work when one of her coworkers said something demeaning about her work, and she immediately got upset, felt defensive, and thought all day about how the coworker was wrong and how she could prove it to him.
At home, her boyfriend left his dirty dishes in the sink and the trash was overflowing and she felt irritated by his lack of consideration. She thought about how wrong he was, and why couldn’t he just do these little things to be more considerate?
As she was stewing in her anger over these two people who had wronged her … she wondered what was going on. Why did she have to be so frustrated, angry, irritated, by these little comments and actions?
The next day, she went to work, and noticed other people also frustrated and stressed out and angry at different times in the day. She saw it in the faces of strangers on the street, then in the complaints of her friends when they went out for a bite to eat after work.
What was going on?
Then she began to see something strange.
What she saw was this: each person had a treasure they were protecting. A beautiful gem that no one else could see, but that they felt was really valuable and that needed guarding. An Inner Gem.
When one person would interact with the other, even if the actions or conversations had nothing to do with the Inner Gem … each person would worry that the other was trying to attack their Inner Gem. Everything became about guarding the gem, protecting it from attack, making sure it was safe.
The girl realized that the gems didn’t really exist. She realized that we just imagine them to be real, and don’t realize we’re doing it.
She realized that it’s all an illusion.
And it’s making us unhappy.
So that day, she stopped trying to protect an imaginary gem. She stopped trying to be right, to be seen as good and competent and smart and perfect, to see herself as a good person at all times. She stopped thinking that other people’s words and actions had anything to do with what she imagined herself to be. She stopped trying to protect her position and self-image…and, gently letting go of these illusions, she became happier.
She would smile when someone else would start protecting their imaginary gem, and realize that their frustration or rudeness had nothing to do with her, but everything to do with the gem they were protecting.
She would go about her day, enjoying herself, and trying to make the world a better place.
Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.
It also happens to be one of the Top 25 blogs and Top 50 websites in the world, with more than a million monthly readers, and is uncopyrighted. Zen Habits features a couple powerful articles a week on: simplicity, health & fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment.
My name is Leo Babauta, and I’m the creator and writer. I’m married with six kids, I live in San Francisco (previously on Guam), I’m a writer and a runner and a vegan.
very interesting and well written piece!
Loving God and knowing His mercy, trusting in His goodness, is what helps me to let go, to see through what shows to the real gem of God’s creation inside.
Great post Leo. The band Styx called it the “Grand Illusion.” Here is a sample lyric:
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because your neighbor’s got it made
Just remember that it’s a grand illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same
As I see it, the gem you define is the grand illusion we all keep to make others think we have it together more so than we do. When others are a perceived threat to exposing a person’s “gem” or “illusion,” then that person’s defenses go up, as he/ she does not want to be uncovered. If it is uncovered, the dissonance that is created is very unsettling.
Sorry for the rock band analogy. Well done. BTG
Another great post
This is so profoundly immediate and perfect to what I am experiencing. Thank you so much!
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