This is a small example, but it has very serious implications. As devotees and seekers, we practice Orisa Lifestyle in order to grow and become better. If nothing else, spiritual development is a learning process. If we are sincere about our desire to have spiritual integrity, it is obligatory that we constantly seek the edges of our understanding. All the really good stuff is happening outside of our comfort zones. Most people get distracted by exploring their EXTERNAL comfort zones: The rituals, ceremonies, beads, pots, charms and icons offer an endless array of new experiences. Unfortunately, NONE of those activities will create the kind of INTERNAL growth you truly seek. you don’t have to look far to find thin-skinned, hyper sensitive orisa devotees who have lots of paraphernalia but almost zero spiritual maturity. For serious aspirant, who is committed to real spiritual development and empowerment, you will benefit greatly from subjecting yourself to rigorous introspection and reflection. Ask yourself, Why is it so important to be right? What does it mean when you prove somebody else wrong? Recall a time when you were so stubborn that you rejected good advise just so that you could be right. Maybe it was at work. It may have been in your marriage or relationship. What were your strongest feelings? How did it turn out? What did you learn from the experience?
Let’s consider what Ifa says about being stubborn:
The dog that we taught wisdom but who refused to learn
The dog will become the dog of Elegbara
The ram that we taught wisdom that who refuses to accept
The ram shall became the ram of Imole
The human beings who we taught wisdom wisdom and understanding but who refuses to accept
He shall live with the regret for the rest of his life
Ifa’s message for Orunmila
When going to start swimming inside the ocean
He was advised to offer ebo
The Akoko of the high sea
He who trained as a swimmer inside the ocean
He who provides for ones as an Oba
- Holy Odu IworiIrete
Orunmila is THE babalawo! But half of the verses of Ifa are about him going to his students for assistance and guidance. Can you imagine your elders and teachers coming to you for direction? It is highly unlikely. Most people in authority are too defensive to do such a thing. But it’s not only authority figures. Defensiveness is very common; just about everyone is defensive about something or another.
But for some people, defensiveness is a more dominant personality trait than others. It can manifest itself in different ways, but all defensiveness involves feeling challenged or threatened by a perceived threat to the ego. We tend to think we’re going lose something by taking somebody else’s advice. When you’re being stubborn, you will cling to your decision regardless of the consequences. In this regard, stubbornness reveals your attachment to your decision, which will eventually form a tendency to resist change in general. The result is always detrimental in the end. “The dog that we taught wisdom but who refused to learn. The dog will become the dog of Elegbara. The ram that we taught wisdom that who refuses to accept. The ram shall became the ram of Imole. The human beings who we taught wisdom wisdom and understanding but who refuses to accept. He shall live with the regret for the rest of his life...”
When I met Amalia, she was determined to get her ileke and then be initiated. At the time, she was in a “situationship”, had two young children and worked as a senior administrator in a large corporation here in the SF Bay Area. Amalia had read lots of books about Orisa Lifestyle, knew people in the tradition and seemed confident that the path that she had chosen for herself was ideal. But whenever I asked her why she needed ileke and what she was going to do after being initiated, Amalia would get defensive to the point that I eventually told her, “Something’s wrong with this picture. I’ve worked with you for just a few months but every time I ask you to get even a little specific about your spiritual plan, you get defensive. Sometimes, you get downright rude. What is THAT about?”
Gradually, I worked with Amalia to get closer to the root of her defensiveness. She came to the realization that she was approaching Orisa Lifestyle very similar to the way that she had approached her education and even the formation of her family. That is, she went to college and earned a degree just because that was what she thought she needed to do in order to be “legit.” Beyond the diploma, Amalia had no real concrete plans for what she would actually DO. It became a habit for her. She bought a house, got herself a man and had children without ever getting clear about how those experiences would enable her to exercise her natural gifts and talents. As a result, all of the emotional challenges associated with her achievements just seemed like burdens to her. Just under the surface of her pursuit of beads, pots and titles, Amalia was afraid that her determination to get ileke and then become initiated would become just another chapter in the same book of scratching off duties on her To Do List. That’s what was driving her defensiveness.
HOW TO GO FROM BEING DEFENSIVE TO SECURE
The best way to reduce all kinds of defensiveness in the long term is through cultivating a strong sense of self-worth. The more you value yourself, the less you will feel an instinctual “need” to protect your ego.
The key word here is VALUE. Experiences create values. More importantly, as it pertains to your sense of self-worth, it is your ability to make a meaningful contribution to the people who matter most that creates precisely the kinds of experiences that will increase your value.
Amalia was overly focused on what psychologists call the external locus of control. A person with an external locus of control attributes all success and blames all failure on EXTERNAL forces (e.g., I can only start a business if I have an MBA. I can only practice Orisa Lifestyle if I am initiated. The only evidence of my spiritual development is wearing beads and having a pot in my house).
The first step in overcoming defensiveness is to focus on the internal locus of control. A person with an internal locus of control believes that she can influence events and their outcomes. Ultimately, the ONLY events you can control are internal; how you think, feel and act. Here are three steps to being less defensive and more secure:
- Cultivate an open mind: Question your assumptions about everything. Especially when you feel yourself digging your heels in and preparing yourself for the epic showdown, ask yourself, “Are there three other ways to look at this?”
- Remember, you’re not always right: Even if you are really smart, you are not infallible. You might be fully confident in your correctness, but that doesn’t mean you actually are. I try to remind myself of the story about the three blind men and the elephant. If you don’t know it, google it for a good lesson in humility.
- Listen, listen, listen: This is the practical side of the previous two points. It’s not just a mindset; there is real action involved. You must make an honest effort to understand others, even when you don’t agree with them. Ask clarifying questions, if necessary. But make it a practice to listen twice as much as you speak.
Stubbornness and defensiveness are very detrimental personality traits to have. Yet and still, they are incredibly common. In fact, everyone practices them at some point and to a certain degree.
In the end, however, you never want to be that individual who everyone pushes away because you are always disagreeable.
I am available to work with you to increase your awareness and help you to cultivate a spiritual practice that will drastically reduce your stubbornness and defensiveness.