Once upon a time, a thief hadn’t had any luck for many days in a row. One night he went out with resolve that he wouldn’t return home empty-handed. He scoured the streets looking for the right home, the right opportunity, without any success. Tired and dejected, in the wee hours of the morning, he sat on a footpath and fell asleep.

A few minutes later a drunkard was passing by. He saw the thief and fell sorry for him thinking he was also some drunk who had passed out on the street. He stopped by to see if there was any bottle lying nearby because that’s what he was interested in — more liquor. But, there was none. Feeling angry, he left. Hardly had he gone when another man, who happened to be a gambler, saw the thief.
“Poor loser,” he thought. “He must have lost so much that he’s scared to go home.”
An hour passed and another thief happened to pass this way. He looked at the sleeping man and thought, “He must be an unfortunate small-time burglar like me who couldn’t get his hands on anything tonight.”
Dawn was breaking over the horizon when a yogi was going to a nearby river for ablutions. He looked at the thief and began admiring him.
“This is a real yogi,” he thought. “Unlike me, who’s still caught up in rituals, he’s just lying here carefree, without any belongings. This is the way of a yogi.”
He derives deep inspiration from the thief, bows before him and gets going.
Another hour later, the sun, now warm and bright, wakes up the thief and he leaves for his home. Empty-handed.

This is how our world operates. It doesn’t matter who, how or what you are (or aren’t), each one will see you according to their capacity. They will form their opinion based on their own perceptions and preconceived notions about you. Some will think you are a thief while others will label you a gambler. Some may mistake you for a drunk and some may see you as a yogi. Often, most of what they think about you is dependent on them, their own conditioning. It is not as much about you as it is about them. The more you realize this, the less bothered you will be by their opinions.

I once read a quote: “You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.” And, even when people do think about you, often it is more along the lines of what they want to think about you. As they grow and evolve, as their priorities change, they begin to think differently. They may or may not admit that their opinions about you have changed because our world expects consistency in everything. A change in opinion is not always taken so kindly. But regardless of whether they express it or not, as their own consciousness expands, they’ll see you in a new light. There is, therefore, little wisdom in chasing ever-elusive thoughts of others.

I am not suggesting that you should lead a debauched life completely disregarding others thinking that, well, their opinions about you are wrong, but, I’m stating that, sooner rather than later, it is a question you must ask yourself: how much are you willing to stretch yourself to gain others’ positive opinion of you? How important it is to you that others think highly of you? Quite interestingly, though not surprisingly, almost all of us want to be in the good books of others. We want others to think highly of us. There’s a certain sense of fulfillment and accomplishment when others approve of your own opinion about yourself.

The funny thing is they too are working hard so you may see them and think of them a certain way. Both want to create an impact on the other person to ultimately accomplish the same outcome: feel good about oneself. This urge for others’ approval is one of the strongest urges, it’s almost innate. Because since childhood, we are constantly seeking approval of others. Someone else is always marking us against a criteria they’ve set. We are always matching it. In doing so, we are eternally manipulating ourselves. This leads to great inner unrest and turmoil. One of the definitive ways to rise above others’ opinions is to turn inward. And, how exactly to turn inward, you may wonder?

If you are honest with yourself, if you are leading a meaningful life, if you take a pause and reflect on your life and your actions, you’ll automatically begin to turn inward. Countless virtues will bloom in your heart like flowers do in spring. An inward mind leads to contentment. What others have to say about you will bother you less and less then. Turning inward doesn’t mean that we become so selfish that we are only focused on ourselves. On the contrary, it means seeing ourselves as an extension of the universe. It is feeling the interconnectedness in everything there is. And, with this experiential understanding dawns the wisdom that you are complete, that you are a universe in your own right. And that, in your universe there’s plenty of space for everyone and their views.

If, based on your actions, you see yourself a certain way and believe that with utmost conviction, the world will start seeing you that way too (if at all that matters to you). Because, everything is interconnected and interdependent. Absolutely everything. Whether you choose to be the sun, a moon, or just any star in your own galaxy, it’s your personal choice. The greater your magnitude, the less affected you are by the smaller stars. How you see yourself matters a great deal more than how others see you because your happiness and peace is dependent on your own honest view about you.

And, by the way, in the end, it doesn’t matter whether one is seen as a thief or a yogi, both will go empty-handed eventually. Everyone does.

Peace.
Swami

P.S. Many readers wrote to me requesting another meditation retreat in the near future. I’m pleased to announce one from Jul 3 – 7, 2015. Go here for more details. Only  75 spots left. Booked out.

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