Updated: Sep 9, 2020
For many of us there are moments when we feel absolutely stuck in life. Sometimes those moments can last for hours, days and for some of us it feels like most of our life. And when we feel stuck long enough we begin to feel trapped, and once we feel trapped we begin to suffer. Maybe we are suffering in a relationship, or in a job. Maybe we are suffering with our health or our children. Perhaps we have tried everything we can think of to stop our suffering, and maybe we begin to wonder if it isn’t all somehow our fault. I’m sure we have all, at some point, been down this muddy road. And for those of us who have mostly been high achievers or performers, this is particularly damaging. But it is my opinion that what causes us to feel stuck is that much of our attention is with the surface level of the problem, the particular situation or person. But if you dig deeper often we will find that the suffering we experience around the problem is rooted to those secret questions, in the darkest parts of our psyche, which we direct to ourselves and the world. Do you love me? Do they love me? Will I be alright? Will it hurt? Can I win? If we look closely we will see that these questions are at the heart of the human condition and inextricably linked to human suffering and flourishing. I say that the cure for our suffering is compassion.
At this point you might be asking, what I mean or what am I talking about. Simply put: Compassion is the key to freedom. Whenever you get upset or frustrated with people, situations in life, and all the answers, and those feelings start to transform into resentment and regret then you are suffering. Think about all the time and energy we burn thinking about how to solve difficulties in relationships with our boss, or our significant other. Maybe we struggle with the belief they can’t listen to or understand us, or feel frustrated that we don’t understand them. Does that frustration ever become silent resentment? Do we resent them or ourselves? When we face hardships in the world and maybe we wish things were different, and the wishing becomes regret. This is also suffering. The painful part is that most of us know from experience that our wishes or struggles often do absolutely nothing, yet we cannot stop thinking about them and as a result, in our actual life, we find ourselves as fatigued as if we were wrestling with a flesh and blood adversary. This is the definition of suffering, burning energy on something we cannot control anyway.
That is why the first step in compassionate healing is surrender. This is the first and hardest step because for many, surrender is annihilation. We have so much of who we are wrapped up in our struggles and our own personal dramas, to surrender would be to give up much of who we see ourselves as. But surrendering in this context is nothing more than admitting the plain hateful truth staring us in the face, we couldn’t do anything about it in the first place. We cannot change the world all at once, we cannot undo the past, and we can’t really change other people, but boy do we try. Once we realize our struggle is false, a petulant defiant ego trip, that doesn’t even work, it becomes easy to surrender. We may even find ourselves laughing at how hard we were trying before.
So what do we do once we have given up trying so hard, after all our problems haven’t gone away? First of all take a breath! Surrender is not some new egoic gimmick to make your problems disappear. Surrender is for when you have tried everything and nothing works. The next step is service to others. Ask yourself what can I do for others, in what way could I make life better for another person? Reach out, be with someone and share yourself freely. Call your mom, your child, your friend, ask them how they are doing, and listen. Share your light, be someone else’s strength, love on them just as they are.
I won’t insult your intellect by pointing out the obvious limits of this and I am not telling you not to take care of what there is to do. But just try this on for a week, when you are spinning your wheels in the muck of your life, take your foot off the clutch and change gears to compassion. There is a power and beauty and grace in mindful compassion practice. Stop thinking about your problems for a minute and go make a difference for someone else.
And here is the best part. Something happens to us when we practice being our compassionate selves. Our problems often feel a whole lot lighter. Our concerns suddenly fit back into the box called perspective. Also sharing with others we often find unexpected allies, resources and answers, things we would never have found on our own.
Which is why I am writing this. I am not writing this for the world, I’m writing it for you, compassion is your key to freedom. Compassion for others and the world is the only way to secure it for yourself. So for once be selfish and go do something for someone else and you will feel so much better.