I began the practice of “stepping aside” only after years of stepping into business that was clearly not my own. I had mistakenly assumed that helping others make their decisions was an important calling. It showed them I cared. It was my way of remaining important to them. Or so I thought . . .
From childhood on, I had virtually always felt on the edge of abandonment. By girlfriends. By boyfriends. By husbands. Thus, I felt the constant pull to live in the middle of everyone else’s life. That way they couldn’t forget about me. They couldn’t go off, leaving me behind, the way Marcia, my best friend in the sixth grade, left me behind when she chose to ride her bike with Mary after school rather than waiting for me to join them. It stung. It happened again and again. And I carried the fear that would continue to define my life well into my thirties.
Putting to Rest the Fear of Abandonment
The joy I experience now, having finally put to rest the fear of abandonment nearly forty years ago, still remains one of the triumphs of my life. Perhaps this seems like a strange triumph, at least one not worth crowing over, but it’s huge to someone like me. Someone who simply had no boundaries between herself and everyone else. It wasn’t until 1971, in fact, that I even had a glimmering of what I was doing. What I had always done, in fact, in the presence of others.
What jarred me into a new perspective was a passage in a book by a Jesuit priest, John Powell. The book was Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? On page thirty-eight of the edition I was reading, a truth rang out, louder than a train whistle. Powell shares a story with the reader about an experience he had while walking in New York City with a good friend.
The friend stopped to buy a newspaper from a street-corner vendor, a stop he made daily and one that Powell had observed him make myriad times. The vendor was always gruff and never said thanks for the generous tip his friend always offered him. Powell, in exasperation, finally asked, “Why do you give him a tip? He is not worthy of one. He is rude to you.” His friend quietly replied, “Why should I let him decide what kind of day I am going to have?”
I knew, instantly, this explanation was the key that I could use to unlock the shuttered house I had lived in for so many years. I still remember the awareness I had, as though it was yesterday, that my life could change immediately if I utilized this nugget of information as a guideline for my own relationships. However, we often have to hear a message many times before we can actually adopt it as a tool we can apply to situations that we experience. The seed had been planted, nonetheless. Although it lay dormant for years, it was never forgotten. Never.
Trying to Force Your Divine Plan?
Dancing around the many others in my life, seeking both attention and any opportunity to choreograph the experience for all who were present, was my life’s work. Or so I thought. Allowing others to create their own dance was far too frightening for me. What if they selected a partner other than me?
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Living like this constricted me, of course. It prevented me from discovering the very specific elements of my personal journey, a journey that was significant (as are all journeys), unique, and a divine complement to the journeys of the “chosen” others I met on my path. But trying to force what I wanted my divine plan to be was unsuccessful, of course. Highly unsuccessful. Fortunately.
What was, and remains to be, my journey will always call me forth. If I fall back into the pattern I had so painstakingly crafted in the first few decades of my life, I will cease to grow, to understand, to cultivate the seeds that remain within that want me to move to the next level of Karenhood.
Before you think my life is stalemated, or yours too, if what I’ve shared here has a familiar ring to you—it’s not. Far from it, in fact. And that’s because I was introduced to a concept I had heretofore neither known nor applied: detachment.
Detachment was first explained to me in Al-Anon, a program that I continue to cherish. My ability to use detachment in my life was rife with ample starts but unfortunately with more frequent stops. Detachment was illusive. It slipped through my fingers with ease. A sense of freedom was the reward, however, whenever I successfully detached, stood aside, when the drama that was unfolding before my eyes clearly didn’t need my input.
Stepping Aside for Peace
Now, stepping aside is a tool, a truly practical tool that I simply never leave in the toolbox. It’s by my side 24/7. It’s applied 24/7 too. You may be wondering what stepping aside looks like. It looks like peace. It feels like peace. It initiates peace. It is utilizing the innate ability to observe a situation rather than getting personally involved. It’s knowing and practicing how to stay out of the personal business of others. It’s being able to remain in a state of relaxation when everyone around you is adding to the drama of the moment. It’s staying quiet inside and reflecting the relief that’s felt when we know we have just avoided a pitfall that used to snag us every time but no more.
Being able to joyfully look toward our remaining years, knowing they are destined to be as peaceful as we make up our minds they will be, puts us comfortably in the driver’s seat for making sure the journey we are celebrating is one that enhances not only ourselves and those close to us, but also every member of the human community, here and on the other side of the globe.
How we live in one instant is communicated throughout the cosmos. No doubt about it. Are you ready to take on the charge of helping others, worldwide, to live more peacefully? Then step aside when the drama unfolding before you wears someone else’s name. The peace you will feel will mindfully transport you to a place you’ll never want to leave. Never ever.
Let me not take to myself, and suffer over, the actions and reactions of other people. Other adult human beings are not my responsibility, no matter how closely their lives may be intertwined with mine. —One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
Let’s stop, truly pause, and breathe in this idea if it’s new to you. See and feel how stepping aside when a friend or family member is trying to engage you in a drama you want no part of relieves you of anxiety. In fact, recall when you have tried this most recently, if you have an example. Journal about how that felt.
If you don’t have an example, take a moment here to recall a situation during which it would have been perfect for you to step aside, but you got right in there instead. What was that outcome? Journal about that situation.
Make a plan for what you might do next time and write it down. Now close your eyes and envision yourself having a successful experience of stepping aside.
Job well done. Go forth now and spread peace.
©2015 by Karen Casey. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
Living Long, Living Passionately: 75 (and Counting) Ways to Bring Peace and Purpose to Your Life
by Karen Casey.
About the Author
Karen Casey is a popular speaker at recovery and spirituality conferences throughout the country. She conducts Change Your Mind workshops nationally, based on her bestselling Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow. She is the author of 19 books, including Each Day a New Beginning which has sold more than 2 million copies. Visit her at http://www.womens-spirituality.com.