How To Stop Being Concerned About Other People’s Opinions
It all comes down to your own mind. We are so trained to believe in the concept of "other people", to believe in separateness, that it can feel very real in the mind. Other people exist for us mainly as thoughts. For example, a family member. It is likely that when you think about them, you get a certain feeling, along with a mental image and a name. This is all imagination. It is the mind's interpretation of another being. Names are just labels, thoughts are just thoughts. To see someone as they really are means to not add labels to them, to not add opinions and thoughts onto who the mind thinks they are. Then they are seen as they really are – nameless, pure being, perhaps with an overlay of ego or personal mind – but this is sensed energetically rather than it being an interpretation that sticks inside you.
If you withdraw your judgements of others, then other people are on your mind less, since they no longer exist for you as concepts. If someone else does not exist for you as a concept, then the idea of them (which is purely a mental creation) can not plague the mind. Most of us think about “what he or she thought of me”, question “what will they think of me?”, or perhaps “what do they think of me now?” – but all of this is pure imagination, fictional identities created by the mind. Even the “me” that fears being judged is just another thought that is believed in.
If you give up having opinions about other people, if you are less judgmental, or at least give less importance to your mind’s judgements, then the importance of judgements from “others” about “you” will similarly fall away.
If you really value the mind’s opinions about who you are, the mental labels that it has assigned itself over time, then naturally you will value the opinions of others just as much. The only reason the mind fears the judgement of others, is that it fears its own judgements being exposed, and the personal self being diminished as a result.
Let’s take a common insecurity, such as someone believing they look too old. One human being carries no opinion of themselves, cares not how the body appears to others. The other person believes that the body is who they are, believes that it looks old, and for some reason hates this. Someone then approaches the first person, and begins to laugh at how old they look. “You look so old it’s ridiculous” – this doesn’t mean anything to the first person. There is no person inside the body that holds an opinion of “me looking old”, and there is no-one inside who cares either way. So the inner state is untroubled. When this happens to the second person, however, there is trouble. A huge reaction flares up in the body, resistance, embarrassment, shame – all sorts of things. The opinion is being held “I look old and this is bad”, and so when the same opinion seems to come from outside, it charges the latent negativity in the person to come to the surface. The negativity is fully felt as if it were true. Perhaps counter- opinions or self-justifications arise to combat the negative opinion – “I don’t look that old!” – in an attempt to suppress the negative opinion and identity, more opinions come to fight it. Instead of fighting, if the person were to let their opinions of themselves come to the surface and naturally be seen as only thoughts – then this experience is a therapeutic one – the outer criticism shows the negativity they are clinging to, perhaps without even knowing. The outside voices just highlight the inner ones, the ones that may escape the radar.
Whatever judgements you fear from other people simply show you what you still believe, and do not like about yourself. That is all. It is no more than that. The mind does not want its imagined flaws to be confirmed. It wants to pretend it is strong and indestructible, rather than weak and shaky – which of course it is, since it is not real.
It all starts with you. If you are less judgmental of other people and yourself, the judgements or potential judgements of others become far less potent. If you take your own opinions less seriously, you will naturally take the opinions of others less seriously. You feel less of a need to protect any idea or image of yourself or your life. If you realise that all of your opinions and ideas about who you are, what’s good about you, what’s bad about you, what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong – if you can see that these are all merely ideas, subject to change, extremely unstable, not to be taken seriously – then you can see this in other’s opinions as well.
As the sage Nisargadatta Maharaj, in response to praise, said:
Opinions are so transient, so fleeting, so unstable. Yet our belief in them makes them seem very solid and real. We are trained to believe that praise means we are good and criticism means we are bad. We are taught there is value in being perceived highly, and there is shame in being perceived badly. All of this is nonsense.
We attach our Self to so many opinions – “I am this, I am that, I am so and so”. The truth is you are, all else is false conditioning. You feel you are, that you exist, that you are alive, and then the parents and teachers basically say: “this feeling of existence that you are aware of, is directly linked to and dependent on this fragile and transient body. You are this body!” And so the fear of death, along with great psychological personal suffering ensues.
Simply relax from judging yourself and others. If you have no opinion of yourself, how can the opinions of others affect you? It is all meaningless. No matter what opinion anyone has of you, no matter what is said, does it actually affect who you are in truth? You are awareness – can awareness be affected by anything in it, including opinions of self? A remark by another may destroy your surface identity, you feel diminished as a person, but what knows this? What is aware of this person’s feelings being hurt? Does this awareness care for any opinion? Do opinions affect it, or is it naturally and effortlessly beyond the judgements of the human mind?
Whenever anyone claims to have an opinion of you, it is not really about you. It is about them. Their opinion is a creation of their own mind, based on a bundle of thoughts that they call “you”. Do you see the illusion of it all? The same goes for your opinions about other people – it is all a creation of one personal mind, trying to understand things that cannot be understood through concepts. Everyone’s opinions about you are only reflections of their own minds. They are not really to do with you at all. That’s why some people may think highly of you, and others may not. Fully accept that no one has to like you or think well of you. Be fully with the feelings or the fears of not being liked, or of being judged a certain way, be with the feelings, accept them as they are, and they will no longer dominate you.
As the spiritual teacher Gangaji has said:
There is nothing wrong with opinions, but when they are believed to be the truth of things, and when the identity becomes attached to them, we suffer.
Drop the belief in good and bad judgements. Someone’s judgement of you, or your judgement of yourself is not what does most harm. Trouble comes when you believe the judgement is either good or bad. Then the “good” judgements inflate the ego, making it feel less of a burden. This is a pleasant feeling. We can become attached to this pleasure, and so habitually seek approval or acceptance from others. The “bad” judgements are then seen to be painful, since the ego resists and contracts, and so we believe that being judged negatively by others is something to avoid. See things as they are. Drop the labels of good and bad, just to see how it feels.
The Being Prior To Opinions
Your real being is the simple sense of existence, the feeling “I AM”. It can first be felt when you take your attention inwards, just to feel your own presence. How does it feel to simply be, to be here, without needing to be elsewhere? What is important is how it feels. This natural feeling of existence is your true Self, all the other ideas of “I am this” and “I am that”, are merely ideas, mostly brought about through conditioning of society, parents, teachers etc. The true essence can only be felt, the feeling that you are alive, awake, existent. Let this feeling be the background of your life – to be felt as the foundation of your experience. Without you, nothing else would appear. Your existence is the source of everything else being experienced. Pay attention to yourself as this being, which is one with silence, or space, or existence itself. You then notice that out of this being comes the dance of Life – the outer forms and the inner forms all rise and fall in this ocean of being. This sense of being is not limited to one body, it is within all bodies, all objects, it is the one, impersonal consciousness, in which the imagined personal self temporarily arises. It is beyond opinions and ideas – prior to them, without which no opinion could exist.
Taken from the book:
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