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31 Jan

Lessons from a Baby: Essence v. Behavior

Isn’t it interesting that when a new baby is born we all see how precious and lovable that child is. But as soon as they grow up, we tend not to see the magnificent essence of that being? I was talking to a client about her two-year-old daughter and how she would sit in her highchair and throw food on the floor, spill her milk, and make a complete mess. The mom would patiently clean up the mess and continue to speak kindly to her daughter. Most of us would respond that way to our children. We understand on a basic level the difference between who that child is and what her actions are. But guess what? Adults still have the same precious, lovable essence they did when they were babies. It may be challenging to see, but it’s there.

One of the most fundamental tools I teach my clients is the awareness of essence vs. behavior. This is such an important concept. Our essence is our intrinsic goodness; it’s the part of us that is innocent, precious and connected to Spirit. We see it so clearly in babies. That’s why we love to be around them. Well, each one of us still has that essence. Even the person in your life who aggravates you the most has that essence.

If you’ve heard the Buddhist greeting “Namaste”- that’s a recognition that the soul within us recognizes the soul within another. One essence seeing another.

Behavior is what we do – the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes we behave appropriately and sometimes we don’t. But the greatest action that we can take at any given moment is to decide to see past the behavior (our own actions or the actions of others) and find the essence. When you can see the person in your life who is really pushing your buttons as a soul- a spiritual being, you can then appropriately direct your feedback to their behavior. You have shifted your focus from, “this person is an idiot and how could they…” to “this person’s behavior is like spilling milk. And yes they need to clean it up because they are an adult, but they are still a worthwhile person who deserves to be treated with respect.”

It takes some practice to shift your focus from behavior to essence. I encourage you to:

  • Take a deep breath;
  • Remember the story of the baby in the highchair;
  • See the essence of who the person really is; and
  • Give your feedback about the behavior with respect and kindness.

I believe it was Wayne Dyer who said “when you change the way you see things, the things you see change.” When we change our focus from one’s behavior to his/her essence, we see ourselves and others differently. And that difference is a gift of love to both us and to others.

Leah Brecher-Cohn, LMFT, MS, MA a pioneer in the emerging field of Spiritual Psychology, is a Senior Staff Therapist at our Center City and Wynnewood offices.

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