Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crabs-in-a-bucket Theory

The people in our lives reflect who we are. In different phases of life we may attract different types of people. As we grow and evolve as individuals the people in our lives will grow with us, fade away, or hold us back. We can influence others but we can not change them. Change can only came from within. If we make the conscious choice to improve ourselves, we may also have to make choices about the people with whom we associate. This is not always easy. We do not want to leave behind the ones we love. If they are not ready to make the same choice to evolve, we can allow them to keep us from our own goals or we can separate ourselves enough to move toward our personal goals. As we achieve our goals, we can offer encouragement and guidance. In any recovery or self-improvement program it is recommended to separate oneself from the people that you are used to being around, because it is often those people that were involved with the behaviors you are working to overcome. Any successful person will tell you they surround themselves with like minded people. When we are surrounded my positive motivated people, we lift each other up and propel each other forward. Wanting the best for others, attracts people who want the best for us. Operating from a place of limitless possibility, we do not need to compete to be successful. We can rejoice in the success of others.

Our society does not promote the idea of limitless potential. We tend to act from a state of lacking. We are taught to think another person’s success diminishes our own. We measure our level of success or failure by comparison to others. This is the cause of the crab-in-a-bucket theory. The crab-in-a-bucket theory refers to the behavior of crabs when placed inside a bucket. While a single crab may find a way to escape, when several crabs are put in a bucket, none will escape. As one crab claws its way to the top, the others will pull it back down. This is a true phenomenon. Crab mentality is also a metaphor for the human response to self-improvement in others. Often when people see others advancing themselves, they subconsciously reach out to hold them back.

John and Matt had been friends for a long time. They went to bars to drink and pick up women at least a few nights every week. They would laugh about being hung over and calling in sick for work. They did not have meaningful relationships. Women were merely a conquest. Eventually, Matt began to see the harm he was doing to himself; physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was sacrificing so many goals and desires for the same shallow experiences week after week. He decided he wanted to make a change. He told John he did not want to behave like that anymore. Instead of encouraging Matt to better himself, John took it as an insult. He saw nothing wrong with the social rut they had dug for themselves. He was comfortable with the way things were. He did not want change. John tried to drag Matt down any way he could. He even used guilt to try to keep Matt from changing. Subconsciously, he was afraid that if Matt found happiness elsewhere, it would reflect a weakness in him. Instead of seeing an opportunity for personal growth, he chose to hold his friend back.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever been in Matt’s or John’s position? I would love to hear your stories about crabs in a bucket.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Middle Way

While I see the value of being free from attachments, self-denial can become an obsession. Buddha did not achieve enlightenment until he discovered the ‘Middle Way’.

Siddhartha Guatama was born around 563 BC. According to the traditional biography his father was King Suddhodana. After examining the infant, the hermit seer Asita announced that the child would become either a great king or a great holy man. He was given the name Siddhartha, meaning “the one who achieves his aim”. Wanting his son to be a great king, not a holy man, King Suddhodana, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. He built three palaces to isolate him from the outside world. When he was 29, he went out to meet his subjects. His father did his best to hide those who were old, sick or suffering. When he saw an old man, his charioteer explained that all people get old. Later he saw a rotting corpse, a diseased man, and an ascetic. When Siddhartha discovered the poverty and disease that existed in the kingdom outside the walls of his palace, he renounced his life of wealth and luxury for one of asceticism. Giving up all his belongings, he turned to begging for alms in the street. In search of enlightenment, he pushed his austerities even further, by practising deprivation of nearly all worldly goods. One day, after nearly starving himself to death, he collapsed in a river while bathing and nearly drowned. After that, he began to reconcider his path. In his quest to give up attachments, he found asceticism had become a crutch and was keeping him from enlightenment just as much as the wealth and materialism from which he had escaped. Upon deep meditation, he discovered what Buddhists now refer to as ‘The Middle Way’; a moderation between self-indulgence and self-mortification.

After 49 days of meditation, at age 35, Guatama attained enlightenment. From that point on he was known as the Buddha or “The Awakened One.”