Pursue Your Own Emptiness ONLY
Yesterday we discussed the importance of pursuing your emptiness–grieving your losses so that you can emerge on the other side free of suffering. Today, let’s discuss the importance of entering your own emptiness only, so that others can take on their own responsibility of handling their own.
I chose as my life’s work helping people pursue their own emptiness, because I believe in the power of grieving through losses to an outcome of freedom. In my personal life, I have to consciously remind myself to let my loved ones experience their own emptiness without trying to fill it up, so that they can reach that place of freedom, if they so choose. This week, I’m having to remember to let the culture do that on its own, without succumbing to my compulsion to make everything right.
Influence vs. Interference
To confuse the matter a little, healthy relationships don’t mean allowing someone who really needs help to suffer without meaning. Sometimes it’s important to offer influence, and at other times it means recognizing when influence is really interference. How to determine which to offer in any particular situation has everything to do identifying the real needs of the other, not my need to see them feeling better.
In other words, when do give someone a fish, and when do you offer fishing lessons? How do you know whether you’re addressing a true need? Or how do you know whether you’re robbing someone of the privilege, opportunity and responsibility to grow?
Never has the influence/interference dilemma been more clear than it has been this week in sessions with clients. I feel their pain, and I’m moved. On a larger scale, I see the protests on TV or other social media and I just want the fighting to stop. I long for peace in the world.
But what do they really need from me, I wonder? Would it be helpful to get involved in a crisis intervention sort of way? Or would it be more helpful to let the process work itself through? What will bring the most growth and freedom in the long run?
An Old Compulsion
In my family of origin, my role was to bring peace, stability and hope to chaos. Hard as I tried to fulfill this role, as compelled as I was to do whatever I could to get the fighting to stop, it didn’t. I simply wasn’t the one with the power or the responsibility to create peace and stability in the home. Now that I find myself feeling the same amygdala script running in the background, I feel compelled by the grief of half of our society to bring stability, but I’m aware that no matter what I do, I don’t have the power to get the fighting to stop. Trying to would be akin to attempting to fill the Grand Canyon with cup-fulls of water.
The Green Mile
The challenge is to allow the collective grief to have meaning without taking it on.
Remember the role of Micheal Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile? His character, convict John Coffey, took on the pain of the others in the prison as he heard their stories. He tells prison officer, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), “I know you hurtin’ and worryin’, I can feel it on you, but you oughta quit on it now. Because I want it over and done. I do. I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we’s coming from or going to, or why. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time.”
Coffey couldn’t help but take on others’ pain, and every so often he had to purge the poison from his body by expelling it in a ghostly fashion from his mouth.
For those of us who are empathic, the weight of the world’s pain is too much to bear because it’s not really our job to carry it. We must only carry our own. If we all did that….