When tragedy strikes, as in the case with the recent Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire, the heartache spreads beyond the borders of the affected areas to those with compassionate hearts. Family, friends, neighbors, people in the same state, country, planet (!) feel for those suffering unimaginable—or perhaps, far too imaginable—loss.
We feel for their suffering. We send prayers and good wishes. We connect and donate, We sift, clean, and carry. We bring them into our homes, board their pets, buy them dinner. We do what we can. And even a little is a lot. Because in times of grief, fear, and loss, caring of any kind is a reminder that we’re not alone.
But it can be painful to care, especially for those who take on the pain of others. Therefore, it’s important to remain strong so as not to detract from those in need.Compassion is not measured by how much we suffer on behalf of others, but by our ability to support and connect with those in the midst of suffering. Click To Tweet
When the comforters become depressed and fearful, they lose the strength of detachment and the clarity of a calm mind. Focus splits, emotional support weakens, and those wanting to help become hindered by their own desire to stop feeling the hurt.
I blogged about Empathy without Suffering back in 2015 after speaking with CSUN graduate students who were studying for their masters in social working. Needless to say, emotional balance was a major concern.It takes a calm mind and an unencumbered heart to provide meaningful comfort. Click To Tweet
When our minds and hearts are calm, we can be present for our friends in whatever way they need. We can receive their emotions as they journey through grief, anger, optimism, courage, fear, despair, gratitude—sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute—without feeling a personal need for them to be positive. And that’s important because no one stays positive every moment. No one. Especially in the midst of hardship.It's not the job of the suffering to inspire others with their courage and resilience. Emotions need to be felt, acknowledged, and processed in their own order, in their own time, and as often or long as necessary. Click To Tweet
Four years ago, when I was hosting the Empowered Living Radio podcast, I had the privilege of speaking with Shamar Rinpoche, the 14th reincarnated Sharmapa, about his new book THE PATH TO AWAKENING and the true nature of compassion. In it, he wrote the following sentence:
“You can help them by powerfully exerting your unemotional, unattached, unborn compassion.” – Shamar Rinpoche
A profound statement and one that resonated deeply with me since I had written about similar concepts in my book EMPOWERED LIVING: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection.
Shamar Rinpoche passed out of this lifetime two months after our conversation. I continue to treasure the experience and invite you to listen to the AWAKENING podcast. (Rinpoche speaks about how to embody compassion without suffering at the seven minute mark.)
If unemotional, unattached, unborn compassion seems too esoteric to embrace, then consider this quote from my own humble book.
“It’s not about us, is it? It’s about the one we love who needs our support. The depth of our relationship is not measured by how much or how visibly we suffer. It’s measured by how willing we are to be truly there for the other person. It takes a calm mind to recognize the needs of others and provide meaningful comfort. Suffering is not calm.”
So, please, feel deeply and care for others but do so with a calm mind and a peaceful heart.