In an ever bigger world, our human challenge is to internalize the understanding that we are all more the same than we are different. We suffer, our hearts break and no one avoids facing what I’m calling the tsunamis of life; rogue wave events that completely throw us off course and leave us wrecked. We secretly hope that our difficulties won’t be as bad as our fellow travelers. When something hits us so unexpected, we think, “How could this be happening to me?” Instead of “This is happening, how can I see my way through it?”
The gift of any difficulty, we would hope, is that our ability to be more compassionate for ourselves and others would increase. But because of pain we have suffered, we bear down more intensely, hoping that by bearing down we will keep pain away. We also presumptuously believe that because we have endured something difficult, we have the answers for everyone else. “Why don’t you….?” becomes the question which only makes others who are suffering feel pressured and alone when faced with their own challenges.
Recently I’ve realized two ideas. First, I honestly don’t know anything about anything. And what I mean by that is that in the biggest picture possible, I don’t anything about what is supposed to happen. And my railing against Divine Source, God or the Universe that I know better, and “life should be this way or that,” only makes me more miserable. I don’t help anyone or myself. I actually get so caught up in my rallying cry of injustice I miss some important opportunities.
I must grieve the life I got, and grieve the life I didn’t. I don’t know about you, but this was not the life I ordered. No one told me in the fairy tales that life often hits you with horrible uncomfortable circumstances; that horrible uncomfortable is the “normal” for everyone at some point. If we see movies educating us about the bigger viewpoint of how one is born, lives and serves, we think, “Thank goodness that’s not me.” But when it’s our turn, we are so shocked when we are not immune to suffering; As if we’re special. We’re not special. But nothing is wrong with us either. We simply get “our turn” so to speak, with some of us having more turns in one life than others, granted.
My second revelation is what would happen if we thought that all people are doing the best they can? Now that’s not to say that I feel good around their choices, or that I wouldn’t like them to be different, honestly, but again, who am I to say? When I simply repeat to myself, “they are being the best version of themselves at this moment,” then I can let go of my judgment that I know better than they do. I know nothing, remember that. And my “should-ing” anyone simply makes me unhappy.
To clarify, I’m not saying that someone doing or being destructive is the best version of a human. I’m saying that they are on their own path and it’s not for me to say whether they could do better, think better or anything else. What do I know? Maybe they have to go through something to arrive at some other place I can’t possibly imagine. This is a deep spiritual understanding and practice. And I choose this practice so I can create internal peace.
Don’t confuse this idea with being a doormat for someone else’s suffering or destructive behaviors. You must stay safe. But simply stop yourself from knowing better and thinking you are superior. Remember when we compare, someone ALWAYS loses.
The other major important point, is that if I think I know better, if I think I am “right” then I also assume that our values, experiences, upbringing and conclusions are the same. I suffer because I can’t imagine why you feel differently, and yet, I haven’t walked in your shoes, suffered the way you have and therefore, how can I possibly think I know what is absolutely right for you?
All of this possibility needs great compassion. Realizing your own arrogant interjections of how the world should work, has meant that you haven’t felt your own pain at the discomfort of not being in control. And you are not in total control. Your focus on how others should behave and how life should be, just keeps you away from the pain of feeling out of control. You don’t have to focus on your feelings of powerlessness when you know so well what everyone else should do or say.
There is a Buddhist practice called Tonglen. It is a meditation practice of consciously bringing in suffering into your being and sending out compassion. It is a transformative work. Start with yourself before extending compassion to others. When you can understand how your suffering creates strife and dis-ease because of your perceptions, you gently let things go. You start noticing that you are more tolerant of other’s choices because you understand from your heart that their choices are often a result of their suffering. They are avoiding suffering, like your choices are avoiding suffering.
Your heart softens when you see the larger scope of our human bond. You don’t just intellectualize our similarities you internalize them. And you slow down. You are more patient with yourself, others and life. You learn to be. Not do. You don’t try and push boulders up hill, but instead learn to flow in the river of life. And when you hit a bolder, and you will, you don’t try and hit it with your fist, saying, “Move boulder! You aren’t supposed to be here!” Because what would that do? It is there. It is in your path. If you learn to flow around it, you can see opportunities moving forward.
Judgment of others means, “I know better than you.” Compassion work helps us soften our hearts to understand, “I know nothing for you. I’m working on myself.” Judgement of others assumes we’ve all had the same life, same upbringing, and the same outcome to come to what should be the same conclusions, right? Compassion teaches, we don’t know anything about anything because I haven’t walked in your shoes. And while we may have and similar experiences, they cannot be the exact same experiences because I experience it different; I am different.
But in the end, human feelings are a shared experience. We can spiritually hold others and ourselves closely. While other’s circumstances will be different than mine, I can empathize with our shared feelings. I don’t need to know better or offer advice, but I can listen. I can tell you I too have felt these feelings. I can sit with my friend and just be.