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Is it My Fault?
by Sarah Porter
Audio version of this article.
Sat Chit Ananda Guru Ki Jay.
Sadguru Kedarji has said that a yogi’s first responsibility is to take full responsibility. When I first heard that, I thought, whoa – wait a minute! Because I wanted to be a good yogi, I asked myself: What is this ‘full’ responsibility? What does that mean? It sounded scary. Right?! Does that mean I am to blame for everything that happens to me?
Of course, I was understanding the word responsibility in terms of duality: right or wrong, good or bad. Is that what it means?
If you have ever been blamed for something you may know how hard it can be to take total responsibility for what happened. Usually, I don’t even want to know how to take full responsibility because I don’t think I should have to!
How can we be expected to take responsibility for an event or situation when the other person was so clearly in the wrong: maybe they misunderstood me, or they were way too sensitive and over-reacted or maybe they were even convicted of a crime or perhaps it was something totally out of my control like getting rear-ended?
So, I really needed to have the right understanding of ‘take full responsibility’, lest I collapse under the weight of guilt, regret or recrimination.
In the amazing sacred text, The Shiva Sutras, it begins by explaining that there is actually nothing but Consciousness. There is only one Divine experient: The knower, what is known and the knowing of it are all one and the same. That would mean that in terms of responsibility, what I did, the knowing of what I did and ‘I’ are all the same and equally the same for the other person.
There is no separation. No right or wrong. No justification or story about what happened. Yet, as we individuals become bound or constricted by taints, these mistakes in our understanding cause us to see ourselves as small, separate from that Consciousness and insignificant. Instead of Consciousness; we see the world and events in terms of duality, good/bad etc. and we become entangled in doership – I make something happen instead of all emanating from the Divine.
From this tainted, constricted or contracted point of view, in our mundane world, that world of our culture, our society — an interesting understanding of individual responsibility has evolved, coming from the field of social-psychology. It is about attribution.
To what does one attribute cause? It was my fault or under my control or it was not my fault, or out of my control. For example, I made this happen (I didn’t study hard enough for the test or I didn’t check my rearview mirror). I didn’t make this happen (It wasn’t my fault, the professor creates lousy tests or getting rear-ended is always the others fault).
It is easy enough to blame another (hold that person accountable) when the outcome is bad. We tend to blame others for ‘making us feel angry or sad’ for example. We even blame others for ‘making us happy’. We attribute cause to another person or situation. This blaming can happen rapidly and unconsciously – for example if someone bumps into you on a busy street, or that clerk short-changed you. When in reality, who bumped into whom and who did not count their change before they left the store.
We may habitually blame others or habitually blame ourselves. Blaming implies doership emanating from karma mala one of the impurities. Blame comes from the dualistic mala called mayiya mala because it implies a good/bad dichotomy. It also implies doership or karma mala, which is thinking that one has the power to cause something to happen.
Blame is a judgement implying right or wrong, as in ‘it is your fault, shame on you’. Responsibility on the other hand is a value free description of one’s actions. Did I do this or did I not? Was I involved or not? If so, what action do I take to repair any damage. To really grasp the significance of taking full responsibility it is critically important that I separate blame from responsibility, not only in the way I think but also as reflected in my actions.
Recently I visited a friend of mine. He was very eager to tell me about his visit to his new health-care provider. He began talking about this new ‘doctor‘ and all the questions she asked him. It quickly became apparent to me that the healthcare provider was not a doctor, but in fact, a nurse practitioner.
I interrupted him with a sidebar into his account by saying, “Oh, she isn’t a doctor she is a nurse practitioner. You should call her a nurse practitioner not a doctor.” Actually, this was the third time I pointed out to him, as well as his sister and wife, that nurse practitioners are not doctors and don’t want to be doctors and it is a risky practice to call someone, anyone a doctor when they are not.
And so, he stopped and began telling me off – He said, “that sucks when you interrupt”, and went on and on. I was stunned. Excuse me, but where did he get off being offended? I was the one offended? I was also a nurse practitioner who had spent decades battling with the medical profession for practicing rights, trying to work within the medical domination of health care and being dismissed, discounted and ghosted.
Why would it be so hard for them to say nurse practitioner, especially when they were so enthusiastic about their care? But, while that was muttering in the background of my mind, I listened to him.
As I slowly reached for compassion instead of defending my ego these questions emerged: Why did he keep repeating himself and how long was he going to keep saying the same thing? What did he need? That was the question. What could I say they would let him know I heard him? My heart was beginning to open. So, I said I was sorry!
That apology did not stop him, he continued to repeat himself. Then I said I was really sorry that I interrupted him. That started to shift the conversation!! That was me starting to be responsible by coming from my heart. It didn’t mean I was to blame for his upset. It meant I felt badly that he was upset.
Then I shared why I interrupted him; I shared those background mutterings. And as I did, I began to realize we had such very different realities and understandings. We had such different understandings attached to the words. Neither of us had initially stopped to say: What does that mean for you? Neither of us had stopped and acknowledged that something had been triggered that was related to our individual past experiences and that we were both superimposing that past onto the present situation. We had both reacted defensively instead of responding lovingly and were thus engaged in blaming each other.
By Grace, I moved into a more compassionate and loving state, I was able to actually hear how hurt he felt. I was then able to mirror back to him that I indeed saw how hurt he felt and that I understood. There is only one Experient, the Divine.
The experience of That is a feeling of compassion and love. The experience of That is having Inspiration to say what is needed in the moment from that loving and compassionate space. That is what is involved in taking full responsibility.
A few weeks later the same conversation arose. My friend started talking about his ‘doctor’. As he continued to talk, he said ‘doctor’ again (while I said nothing – just listening); he then paused and said nurse-practitioner and continued to use nurse-practitioner. This time I was not triggered. I felt a sense of peace and acceptance; it was a spacious loving feeling and provided space for him to reflect as he spoke.
Sarah Porter, PhD MS MPH RN CHTP/I is a certified healing touch instructor, teaching in Hawaii and Japan. She has over 15 years of Healing Touch practice and 30 years of practice as a psychiatric mental health nurse and clinical specialist with a holistic perspective. She is the co-author of the book, “Women’s Health and Human Wholeness”, emphasizing the necessity of bringing wholeness back into the health care system. She also serves on the Board of Directors for our school