Poise is a state of consciousness that can be tested and sustained only in the challenging arena of real life, surrounded by other people. As Ram Dass points out, the monk meditating for 30 years in a mountain cave may have achieved a profound quietude, but that poise will be disrupted as soon as he enters New York City and all of his uncooked seeds get exposed.
But most of us are not isolated and solitary, and so our disrupted poise happens in our interactions with others. I have always laughed at Sartre’s definition of hell as other people, but at times we may feel that we are, in fact, in hell with certain individuals and groups.
Imagine living in East Germany after World War II with the insidious Stasi, the state security organization that recruited neighbors, co-workers and even your family members to spy and report on you. If you questioned the state in any way, you could be harassed, ostracized, imprisoned or killed. The state was the smothering brutal tyrant, an unusual opportunity to test and develop one’s poise that is difficult for us to find in our relatively benign political reality, as we will see in this discussion.
The use of the term “petty tyrant” is borrowed from the work of Carlos Castaneda, whose teacher, Don Juan Matus, encouraged him to seek out petty tyrants in order to confront and defeat his self-importance and self-pity:
Self-importance is man’s greatest enemy. What weakens him is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of his fellow men. Self-importance requires that one spend most of one’s life offended by something or someone. Carlos Castaneda, The Wheel of Time
Other teachers, philosophers and psychologists have understood the horror of spending one’s life offended by other people. Petty tyrants, people who seem intent on harming us, are a necessary asset in confronting our victim-hood and its resulting loss of poise. As Ram Dass said, we must seek out whatever brings us down.
But nothing could be more counter-intuitive to us than to seek out people we believe should be avoided—avoided because we are convinced they are the source of insult, emotional suffering and serious harm. These petty tyrants seem to be a threat to our well- being, and our instincts for survival kick up when these people enter our environment or when we become obsessed with them—even though they are not physically near.
Now, however, we can use petty tyrants to test and sustain our poise.
WHO ARE PETTY TYRANTS, AND HOW DO WE MAKE USE OF THEM?
Petty tyrants are creatures of our imagination, in the sense that we believe they are doing something to us. We give them a huge role in our lives when we see them as personal enemies. We worry about them. We rehearse—sometimes obsessively—how we will deal with them, how we will handle or defeat them or how we will push them out of our lives.
The petty tyrants in our life may not actually be interested in us at all and may not be doing anything unusual in their relationship with us. The banker, for instance, turned down our loan request, but now we feel offended and feel the victim of the uncaring banking system. The applicant turns the banker into his petty tyrant.
One of my rural neighbors tells me he is angry with the federal government because he can’t get access to assault rifles and ammunition for assault rifles. Actually, he can purchase that weaponry, but my neighbor is convinced that the government is a threat to his ability to defend his home and family by considering gun control of any kind. He sees the government as a tyrant in his life.
On the other end of the spectrum, some petty tyrants actually want to harm us and do it intentionally and systematically. There are real thieves, muggers, scammers, rapists and murderers, after all.
Why call real bad guys “petty” tyrants? The answer is that we are making a transformation from victim-hood to sustained poise, and we want to shrink the significance of problems that other people seem to present, partly by laughing at them and ourselves. Thus, “petty tyrants” or “teensy, weensy, itsy-bitsy petty tyrants” remind us humorously that the challenges posed by other people are trivial compared to the power of our own creativity and the breadth of our consciousness.
As long as we think that somebody is doing something to us, we keep alive our invention of the tyrant, and we will continue to see our poise evaporate when a troublesome person shows up.
In sustained poise, we are delighted to accept full responsibility for the life we are creating, including the people and situations that we want to reject.
Poised, I cannot be a victim; I have only challenges and my decisions.
Troubling people that, in the past, I allowed to bring me down are now opportunities to overcome self-pity and self-importance. Tyrants are helping me get free, as I learn how to stop giving them any power in my life. I need them at this stage in my development.
You and your learning partner or partners should identify the petty tyrants in your lives, get to understand how they prick your self-importance and how you respond to them with self-pity and victim stories.
Holding certain people in your consciousness as petty tyrants requires a bad explanation of what is going on. Your victim story is the bad explanation.
Deconstruct the victim story and embrace these people by inviting them into your examination. Once you see who they are, people like us who are going to die, and see how you have given them immense power to bring you down by assuming that they are doing something to you, your petty tyrants will all disappear as realities in your own psyche.
Remember, even if you have a real bad person in your life, that person is your invention and cannot control how you feel, think or behave, if you take creative control of your emotions, thinking and behavior.
People who tyrannize other people are people who feel victimized themselves. Full of self-pity, they are angry men and women who think that someone has done or is doing something to them.
Consciously or unconsciously, tyrants want others to suffer in payment for their suffering. Poised, we will creatively ward off their toxic interactions with us, but we will not blame them for our own self-pity. We can only embrace them for the valuable role they play in our learning, however unconscious they are about their gift to us.
Your gratitude will soar when you can see clearly the difference between the self-pitying tyrant’s shrunken life and your life of sustained poise. How fortunate for you, and how unfortunate for the petty tyrant, trapped in a bad explanation of life, a bad explanation that you are familiar with because you have abandoned it for a much better explanation.
A milestone in sustaining poise is the realization that you no longer have even one petty tyrant in your life, and no new ones are showing up. You have successfully relegated self-pity to the harmless place in the background of your moment-to-moment awareness.
This post is an excerpt from my book, Poise: A Warrior’s Guide. If you want to chart your own path toward a consciousness of vibrant joy and practical advantage, buy the book or the Kindle version on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Poise-Warriors-Guide-Gary-Stokes/dp/0615534732/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410203947&sr=1-1&keywords=poise+a+warriors+guide