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Take Heart

No one likes dealing with difficult people. But by inviting them into your heart, you can create a radically different experience.

By Sally Kempton

It's All about You

The short yogic answer to the last question is yes. Of course, that doesn't mean overlooking antisocial behavior. Moreover, some relationships are so difficult that the best way to change them is to leave. But the bottom line is, you can't control other people's personalities and behaviors; your real power lies in your ability to work on yourself. Not even the best interpersonal technique will work if you use it in a fearful, judgmental, or angry state of mind. Your own open and empowered state is the fulcrum from which you can begin to move the world.

I used to do projects with a woman whose moods tyrannized everyone she worked with. She was bossy and cranky, so hardly a day went by when she didn't clash with someone. Yet one person, Terry, could effortlessly disarm this woman, and it was his inner attitude that made the difference. For years, Terry had practiced what I call the yoga of acceptance—holding the thought that since everything is an expression of a single divine reality, it should be honored and welcomed. Paradoxically, his attitude of deep acceptance allowed him to say and do tough things without creating any real resistance.

It was Terry who convinced me that relationships are all about energy exchanges. Real transformation in a relationship begins at an energetic level. You don't have to be a student of quantum field theory or Buddhist metaphysics to sense how much the energies around you affect your mood and feelings. What we call personality is actually many layers of energy—soft, tender, and vulnerable as well as powerful, controlling, or prickly.

These energies, expressing themselves through your body, thoughts, emotions, and mind, manifest as your specific personality signature at any given moment. What's on the surface, in body language and facial expression, is the sum of the energies operating within. When you speak, it's the energy behind your words that most deeply affects others. When Fran's landlord is being aggressive, his voice takes on a hard, strong tone. His body tightens and seems to get bigger. Fran, whose energy is much softer, feels scared in the presence of that energy, and she reacts by trying to placate Larry, by retreating, or by getting into her own aggressive energy and speaking harshly.

The Trouble with Being "Nice"

The beginning of change, then, is learning how to recognize and modulate your own energy patterns. The more aware you are—the more you can stand aside and witness rather than identify with your personal energies of thought and feeling—the easier it is to work with your own energies. This takes practice.

Few of us start out with an awareness of our own energy or the way it affects others, and even fewer know how to change the way our energies mesh with someone else's. In the heat of an emotionally charged exchange, it's not easy to step back and watch what's happening. To complicate matters, you may have disowned your more problematic energies—anger or vulnerability—so they come out sideways, in sarcastic remarks or sudden outbursts, or unexplained tears, as you react to energy patterns that trigger childhood programming or family dynamics.

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