DIFFICULT PEOPLE: A Gateway to Enlightenment ~ Lisette Larkins [updated]

For most of us, difficult people are the bane of our existence. They annoy us, they throw us off balance, they test our patience, and—to one degree or another—they provoke reactions that are decidedly unhealthy. But it is also true that difficult people (DPs) mirror our own dysfunctional mental states and provide us with wonderful opportunities to understand ourselves, heal ourselves, and learn to live in the moment.

Lisette Larkins realized the positive aspect of dealing with difficult people when she was providing care for a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient. Through daily interactions with a DP, Larkins began a personal journey of exploration that ultimately led to spiritual awakening. In Difficult People: A Gateway to Enlightenment, Larkins shares her journey and guides readers in reaching a “chronic state of well-being.”
Lisette Larkins
Author of Difficult People
Using Our Experiences With Difficult People For Spiritual Transformation
Difficult people have been for most of us the bane of our existence. They annoy, hassle, and irritate us and provoke various degrees of unhealthy reaction. What few of us have realized is that they also mirror our own dysfunctional mental states and provide an opportunity to heal them.

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Lisette Larkins has worked as a sales director in publishing and a spiritual guide. In 2007, she took a job as the caregiver of a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient, an experience that pushed her into a permanent state of “presence” and revealed the possibility of living in a “chronic state of well-being.” Larkins, who has had extraordinary paranormal experiences since childhood, is the author of three books.

Best of You Today’s interview with Lisette Larkins
The Search for True Happiness

What is true happiness? Author and spiritual teacher Lisette Larkins has written several books to share what she has learned on her journey to find what she calls a chronic state of well-being. She found some profound answers where she didn’t expect it: as caregiver to a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. She explores her experience and revelations in her latest book, Difficult People: A Gateway to Enlightenment. Here, she answers our questions in this first part of a two-part interview to give BOYT readers a glimpse into her time as caregiver to Jeanette and the life-changing enlightenment she gained.

Self-AwarenessBOYT: Can you give us some background on your spiritual development? You have had paranormal experiences since childhood. How has this influenced you?

Lisette Larkins: When you see and hear things that others do not, it can be initially unsettling, but the experience can also serve to turn you more inwardly focused. This is what I feel happened to me at different periods throughout my life. As a young child in school, I would begin to notice that hours would go by without hearing a sound or being aware of anything happening in my immediate environment because my attention was on the vastness of the sky, or on the greater meaning behind my incomprehensible paranormal experiences. I recall how hours would pass while sitting in the classroom and it was as though I had not been there at all. It’s remarkable that I was still able to pass my exams and graduate.

Later, as a young wife and mother at age thirty, I was catapulted into a more intense round of experiences involving clairvoyance, clairaudience, and paranormal phenomena that created inner turmoil. I wondered what was happening to me. Although I didn’t always understand or remember the details or nature of those visions and otherworldly experiences as they were occurring, a deeper, broader interest in the meaning of life started to bubble up within me. After my husband and I divorced, I struggled with worldly concerns such as being a single mother and worrying about an uncertain future. But my paranormal experiences had ignited an interest in seeing behind the veil, with respect to these experiences themselves but also to see below the veil of our human personalities. I became very interested in the dynamics underlying normal human interaction, as the collapse of my marriage left me devastated. I wondered why relationships were so difficult.

BOYT: Did these paranormal experiences relate to how you thought about and lived your life?

Lisette Larkins: Most definitely. The test is always how we can grow as human beings and reclaim our authentic selves, and one of the key experiences in that regard is relationship of all kinds. So, perhaps due to my sense of isolation and loneliness as a result of my extraordinary experiences, I longed to find a courageous, inwardly mature companion, someone with whom I might intimately share my inexplicable spiritual journey.

Deeply yearning to experience true intimacy with another, I began to find that this was the most challenging type of relationship to develop. To me, intimacy means a mutual desire and willingness to courageously observe and then transform self-defeating behaviors. Because romantic partnerships so beautifully expose less than ideal behavioral habits and faulty mental processes like no other venue, it’s ironic that once exposed, so many love relationships suffer and collapse. This doesn’t need to be the case. Two people who love each other can successfully transform the challenges that block their intimacy and grow together. When there are issues that diminish trust and fondness, this is a superb opportunity for individual spiritual expansion, which always results in a boost to the other partner. This is why the ultimate “use” of all love relationships is to expand spiritually in order to awaken. While we once believed that serious spiritual practitioners should retreat from the messiness of romantic ties, most of us today have little interest in leaving our usual routines and setting off for an isolated spiritual ashram.

Becoming aware of the real cause of our relationship problems, without flinching and without holdbacks, takes less courage and maturity than you might imagine. But without benefit of any effective spiritual practice, it’s almost impossible. Throughout my life, I struggled and suffered within the context of all types of interpersonal relationships, especially those involving romantic ties, because romance always brings unhealed aspects of oneself into the light of day.

True intimacy requires that the authentic self, the real essence of you, be reclaimed. It is not your life roles, your body or mind, or all of your special abilities, skills or talents. When we become practiced in quieting the mind, we come to hear the quiet voice of our inner being. This inner voice is our true essence and by allowing the soul’s gentle voice to be heard, we can determine the best course of action for ourselves.
The authentic self has no fear of bonding in love relationships. For most people, the voice and tenderness of their authentic self is buried underneath the bravado and false roles of the ego; so of course, true intimacy remains elusive. It’s common to “hold-back” our real selves out of fear of intimacy, a somewhat typical male behavior that gets explained away as a demonstration of strength, rather than as evidence of one’s inner essence having been obscured by the false goals of the ego. Developing an entire identity around being aloof and less than affectionate actually advertises weakness and fear. Loving readily and easily is the domain of the courageous.

The ego is loathe to allow this degree of intimacy because its hardened sense of moral superiority fears the vulnerability of accepting and forgiving, and being tender and affectionate. Our natural state is to love readily and deeply, but most of us are incapable of sustaining it. It seems to me that the most important aspect of life had to do with relating to others in this way: deeply, meaningfully, and spiritually.

This perspective also informed my professional experiences, and I became aware of all tension, superficiality, mistrust and the ups and downs of all kinds of relationships, not only romantic ones. As young children, our natural state is to be naturally affectionate and trusting. Later, we become cool, distant, and protected—less ready to genuinely and easily allow love to inform our relationships. Of course, since I had contributed my share of dysfunction, I was deeply motivated to know why lasting harmony within relationships was so elusive, particularly romantic ones. I had earnestly begun the quest of the true spiritual practitioner in which I suspected that there may be an insidious reason why so few couples experience deeply meaningful and lasting fondness for each other. I suspected that perhaps there is some real culprit forever standing as a watchful sentry, guarding against dangerous vulnerability.

And so a deeper exploration began, in which I looked more intently at those mechanisms that prevented deepening intimacy over time, within the context of relationships. Even so, I didn’t make much progress.

This period was painful from an emotional perspective because I could not find any example of a romantic couple where lasting harmony was demonstrated. My own attempt to experience true intimacy was thwarted again and again in the context of romance, and they were punctuated by periods of simply giving up the search and leading a life of a near recluse.

Then I met Jeannette. Making a complete change, professionally speaking, I decided to accept a position as her caregiver with no prior experience and thus began my three-year “partnership” with her, helping her to navigate all the horrors of her late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Because I had already shifted my focus to my own spiritual progress prior to accepting the position, my motivation was already in place to courageously identify mental patterns that block harmony. Because Jeannette was so miserable, angrily protesting her deteriorating condition and creating intense suffering for herself and those in her environment, her home became my laboratory for spiritual practice.

Jeannette was an extremely difficult person. How was I to care for her? It was this question that propelled me to discover the precise mechanism that thwarts harmony in all types of relationships, whether professional or romantic, and to find a way to transcend it.

BOYT: What’s the difference between dealing with a difficult mate and a difficult boss, or in your case, a difficult Alzheimer’s patient?

Lisette Larkins: While either party in a romance can be and are often difficult, our feelings often prevent us from seeing the other objectively and thus revealing the mental mechanism of resistance that is the real culprit here. Seemingly stuck in a state of chronic annoyance, Jeannette was my perfect difficult person, frequently angry and judgmental, and quite incapable of noticing that her ego’s sense of moral superiority only worsened her decline—the toll of her underlying illness.

In the way that most of us embrace ego pursuits, Jeannette’s interests that were carried over from her earlier life were on competitiveness and comparing herself to others, whom she usually found to be lacking. She was deeply motivated to purchase and accumulate things, and to enhance her physical body. Naturally, without an accompanying willingness to grow in self-awareness, true satisfaction could not be found, as is the case with all of us. She was stuck on a hamster wheel, looking for satisfaction outside of herself, which of course was excruciatingly frustrating.

She, like us, was caught in the vicious cycle of self-perpetuating misery, which, in her case, had begun long before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Like Jeannette, we are all mostly quite cowardly in the way we cannot or will not look inside ourselves at what truly blocks inner peace, which in turn makes partnership possible. Whether there is a dementia diagnosis or not, we all tend to mirror each other in this regard, if only by degree.

I had never expected that by taking a job as a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, I would discover the virtual same mental patterns alive within me that she so strongly demonstrated. Because it is so much easier to experience longstanding, albeit shallower intimacy with friends rather than with our romantic partners, we often tend to shy away from the very intensity that actually can save us—to thus reflect back to us where we also need improvement. Because long- term romantic relationships more readily bring out our inner beast so that we can identify faulty mental patterns, this is the very context which can best serve the goals of the soul which always presses us to grow, rather than stagnate.

Jeannette shared with me many of the challenges that arise within the context of romantic partnerships: the nitty-gritty, down and dirty, day-in and day-out exposure to the normally hidden aspects of the disowned parts of ourselves—those aspects buried by our “social personality” when dealing with friends. For this reason, once a deepening interpersonal relationship was initiated, it seduced her “bad behavior” out into the light of day where it was sorely evident to me, and I was agog at its nature and scope. Ultimately, our relationship allowed me to see how our inner struggle was the same.

Healing ourselves and going forward into wholeness requires tremendous vulnerability, which of course requires warrior-type courage. Not everyone is up to the task of exposing deep emotional, sexual, and spiritual wounds so that they can be clearly observed and thus healed. But whatever the cause of suffering, the antidote is exactly the same: quiet the mind’s protests and inner peace arises.

This was my conundrum with Jeannette. Because she had no ability given her illness to delve more deeply into the nature of her suffering, I was pushed to explore the nature of her dysfunction and my own in order to save us both. Although I didn’t expect that she would survive her terminal diagnosis, I was determined to find a way to maintain as sane an environment as possible to midwife her through the stages of her disease. I wouldn’t have been able to continue as her caregiver with any degree of effectiveness or sanity had I not been driven to look more deeply at the true cause behind our mutual suffering. It’s ironic in the extreme how our loved one’s inability or unwillingness to grow along with us, still serves to push the one who is motivated further along the path of emotional maturity.

My journey with Jeannette continues to symbolize my journey with everyone I have loved since that time. You either grow together or the relationship ends. But even if it ends, for whatever reason, the partner who shuns the cowardly tendency of the ego to “hide out” from true intimacy, will go on to experience the rewards of deeper, more mature interpersonal relationships with others. Replacing the false goals of the ego, with all its inherent superficiality, always brings its own transformation.

BOYT: When you were taking care of your Alzheimer’s patient, Jeannette, was there an “aha” moment when you realized what was happening and what you needed to do to transform yourself? How did you deal with that at the time?

Lisette Larkins: Alzheimer’s disease is the perfect example of the way that the pain body takes over a person so completely. This brain disease impairs mental functioning; however, this is precisely what happens when the pain body comes out to feed and we lose all mental clarity! In this way we are all subject to the same “disease” when mental impairment sets in and clarity and equanimity go out the window. Does it really matter whether the reason is Alzheimer’s or an active pain body feeding?

Jeannette was a reaction machine, negatively reacting to one thing after another, leaving me trailing after her as she chronically found fault with everything from the weather to the body weight of a stranger who walked by. She would complain about the traffic, or a pothole in the street; she would whine about having to wait in line at the grocery store. She was a perfect snapshot of the way that everyone’s ego upholds its moral superiority over other people and other things, and how it resists what arises in every moment.

After I had been with her for only a few months, one day after returning from an outing we pulled into her driveway where she had expected to see her newly trimmed olive trees. Instead, they had not been trimmed and there was no sight of the gardener. Jeannette flew into a rage and began to pound her fist on the car’s dashboard and later, on the window. I was aghast and cried out to her, objecting to her overreaction. With that, she jumped out of the car and slammed the door so hard that I thought the car window would shatter. It took a long time after that incident to regain her trust, because as her new caregiver my reaction further fueled her mistrust of me.

That night at home in bed, I openly wept, feeling helpless to continue on as her caregiver. How was I to survive such a bad-tempered woman? It appeared that it would be no small accomplishment to find a way to keep us both on an even plain of emotional comfort. Not wanting to quit and to abandon her and her family in the middle of their crisis, I lay there reflecting on the incident and suddenly became aware of how we had actually demonstrated similar traits.

This was a turning point for me because I recognized that we were quite similar: she had reacted to the untrimmed trees, and then I had reacted to her reaction. In this way, we were both “afflicted.” The antidote, then, became readily apparent: Dissolve that aspect of myself that reacts and responds negatively to her, and we could both be healed. Even though the majority of my judgment about Jeannette was internal and nonverbal, it was apparent that it was I who had spiritual work to do. Until I could dissolve that aspect of me that we both shared, there was no need to judge her for what was alive within me too.

BOYT: What inspired you to write about this remarkable awakening using your Alzheimer’s patient as your “difficult person” model?

Lisette Larkins: Although I had previously published three books, I had given up the role of “author” having realized how my previous strong roles and egoic needs impeded my spiritual growth. I had realized the pitfalls of striving for professional success as just one more false role of the ego, and I didn’t want to be part of that dance any more. Then, two years into my employment as Jeannette’s caregiver an awakened state began to gently arise and one Saturday morning I sat down to write. Words began to spill out of me, but it did not feel as though I ever made the decision, “Okay, it’s time to write a new book.” To the contrary, it almost felt like a gentle pressure or inner force that wanted to arise through me. These were words that gradually formed a book; they spilled up and out of me and through me. It didn’t feel as though I sat down to try and create something clever. There was nothing else to do but to allow it to move through me and on to the page, which turned into the book, Difficult People. When it was finished, I gave it to my publisher, but with its publication I had no more need to be a “success” in the traditional sense. It was an act of service.

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