“If we begin to surrender to ourselves—begin to drop the story line and experience what all this messy stuff behind the story line feels like—we begin to find bodhichitta, the tenderness that’s underneath all the harshness. By being kind to ourselves, we become kind to others. By being kind to others—if it’s done properly, with proper understanding—we benefit as well. So the first point is that we are completely interrelated. What you do to others, you do to yourself. What you do to yourself, you do to others.”
— Pema Chodron
Sometimes, when you learn a really Big Lesson you have to learn it again and again, in smaller and softer ways. Until you can recognize that lesson like a welcome old friend.
My Big Lesson came when I left my relationship/non-legalized marriage last September. To get clear about what was actually in the relationship, I stopped trying to help, do, fix, argue, convince, plead, support. All that mental and emotional chatter just had me going in circles searching for an answer. I was exhausted. At that moment, a Buddhist teacher told me to get real about my life. Stop spinning my wheels. I took his advice and stopped focusing on trying to help the other person (who really did not want to be helped) or fix the situation. In that space and silence, I began to feel my pain, instead of avoiding it. Instead of being destroyed by those intense feelings, I gained clarity and resolve.
Lesson learned right? Not so fast.
Fast-forward to this week. I was in a Facebook discussion group with some people, where some pretty heavy sharing was going down. Everyone was being totally unconditionally supportive of each other. You are so brave! Way to show up and be real! I was being very supportive too. But–I was also offering some thoughts. Okay, some advice. Some solicited. And some not.
I started to hear a Small Voice in my head, saying “Hmm, maybe you should just listen and not say anything else.” Oh, that is silly I told the Small Voice. This is an open discussion. I am just offering thoughts. And they are good thoughts! Really, I just want to help.
Small Voice didn’t buy it. So, I decided to stop the mental back-and-forth chatter about what I “should” be doing. Get quiet, and see what was up. How did I really feel? What I saw was that sometimes my efforts to help were genuine and open and warm. But sometimes my efforts to help were a bit . . . hmmm . . . anxious? forced? In those cases, I saw that I offered help as a way to avoid MY OWN strong discomfort when I witnessed people I cared about “stuck” in pain. I got uncomfortable for two reasons. One, I did not want to see my friends stuck. Second, I was quietly afraid that if they could not get free, then they would somehow drag me down too. Oh.
And then I saw it. This lesson-learning that it is not my job to help-is the exact same one I learned from my break-up. And one I know goes back to childhood too. Damn it. My worst fears are true–I AM “stuck” with me and all the crap of being human and in pain. This whole time I am so worried about the other person getting trapped in their habitual behavior, I failed to notice I am completely caught up in mine. And I got there completely on my own! This realization, ironically, makes me feel sort-of free and light and prone to laughing at myself. My mind cracks me up.
So, hello again to my lesson. It does not need to hit me over the head this time, but I appreciate it showing up in this small way. It is letting me know that I need to go back to focusing on my own heart.
And of course, when I center myself in love, I stop fearing other people’s pain. It will not eat me alive. I am strong enough to stay firm in my open heart. And I am weak and human enough to completely, totally relate. I can see a bit more clearly that what I feared from other people is really my own deep worries reflecting back at me. Once I can see that, the thought of others struggling to deal with their own stuff makes me feel warm and loving. Like when you watch a great romantic comedy, and at the end you get teary-eyed at how everyone is just incredibly themselves and imperfect, but perfect at the same time.