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Compassionate Connection Begins With Companioning Our Own Suffering

Courtesy of Gerrit Vermuelen @ Unsplash Rather than seeing the “unwanted” parts of our life as inconveniences or obstacles, we have the choice to regard them as raw material for cultivating uncontrived and abiding compassion. Rather than evaluating these events as “unwanted”, i.e. bad, which results in suffering (because it is not the events that […]

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Courtesy of Gerrit Vermuelen @ Unsplash

Rather than seeing the “unwanted” parts of our life as inconveniences or obstacles, we have the choice to regard them as raw material for cultivating uncontrived and abiding compassion. Rather than evaluating these events as “unwanted”, i.e. bad, which results in suffering (because it is not the events that causes the suffering, but the thinking that makes it so), we have the choice to companion the suffering, and in so doing, be refined, elevated, and made beautiful by it.

Only when we have experienced walking towards, into and through our own suffering may we be able to compassionately connect with others. Because we are all bearing some form of pain, in some ways, and to varying degrees. Suffering is an inevitability, for any who have experienced love, would have experienced suffering in equal measure.

But, what does it mean, to companion?

Allow me to first offer 3 “raw material” from my life as examples:

  1. Violent childhood (of the genre “so strange, it has to be true”).
  2. Suicidal tendencies (twice).
  3. Eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia).

Thus, having had four decades to contemplate these raw material, my sense-making as follows to what it means to “companion my own suffering”. I will begin with what I’ve tried to do with these raw material that categorically did not work.

  1. Judging my emotions. When in my late 30’s, I experienced for the second time suicidal tendencies, I was vile and hostile towards myself, enraged with thoughts such as “Unbelieveable! Haven’t you learned anything!”, or “Snap out of it! How dare you feel this way with all the privileges at your disposal”, or “Obviously you were too dumb to get it the first time round!”. These kind of thinking succeeded not only to deepen my self-loathing – which naturally, is the opposite of helpful – it also prevented me from seeking the help I needed, that is, until I hit rock bottom. PS: I’ve been wondering though if hitting rock bottom was / is necessary, because it was precisely the very ground, hard and unyielding, upon which I used to push myself off …
  2. Martydom. The violence I experienced created a sense of entitlement that Life owed me, big time! Surely all that suffering had to be worth something! So I became real good at using the suffering as a tool for seduction, whitewashing it with poetic self-righteous grandiosity, and the attention it garnered was intoxicating. Problem was, I was blind to how much Suffering loves, and needs, Pain, i.e. my stories attracted pained beings, which further fed my suffering, which further deepened my own pain, which means I equated being alive with pain. It was a very expensive way of living, not only for myself, but as well for my family! Because I ended-up creating more suffering so that there was more pain to feed on. All in all = YIKES and YUCKS!
  3. Abdicating to the experts! When I accepted that I was bulimic (in the early 90’s, i.e. pre-www), I read everything I could to stop “it”, i.e. I thought that the “experts” knew best, and this / that “formula” must surely be the best. I completely ignored what my body was telling me, which was how I became anorexic. It wasn’t until I began to trust the inner knowing, the quiet intuition, that I returned to a semblance of equilibrium.

Now that I’ve shared what didn’t work, for me (i.e. you truly know yourself best, so please experiment honestly with what works for you, in this moment of your life), but in fact flung me even further away from healing, allow me to share how I companioned myself back to equanimity. Note I did not say that suffering will disappear forever, for that is an impossibility, for it would mean I would never love again. Instead, what I am saying is that, keeping compassionate company with my own suffering, enables me to create the space for others to do the same for themselves. For ultimately, the most enduring and kindest act we may gift another is to help them return to their inner knowing.

(1) Befriend my own suffering. Which is to say, when I began to understand that the emotion triggered by the event is an independent phenomena happening outside of “me”, I could externalise and objectify the emotion that is causing me pain, and have a conversation with it, i.e. I regard Anger, Jealously, Shame etc. as a separate “being / person”, and don’t “moralise” it by thinking that it is bad / undesirable / sinful. Instead, I got curious, and almost like a scientist or detective, wonder, “interesting that Anger looks like this …” or “if I responded in this way, or that way, how would Jealousy respond …” or “Shame, this is a really inconvenient time for you to visit, so could you come back when I am more centered?”

(2) I am playing an INFINITE game. In the throes of my suicidal period, a close friend asked, “have you considered the possibility that you will have to live with this for the rest of your life?” I hated that question with a vengeance, for surely, with my intellect and iron-clad will, I can make anything go away! Well, with the wisdom of seasons past, how wrong I was. My friend’s question did not imply that I would remain forever suicidal, but rather that some expression of this period of my life will forever, be a part of my shadow (Peter Pan style), so how then would I live with “it”? Knowing that I am running a never-ending marathon changed the way I spend energy, strategise, pay attention … and most importantly, it made it ok to rest.

(3) My path is mine alone. As much as someone else would like to take my suffering away, they can’t. Among the many who’ve tried to “help”, the least helpful were those who were afraid of my pain, and advised me on the innumerable remedies to make it “go-away”; afraid of my silences when words failed me, and distracted me from my own truth with their insecurities; afraid of my confusion, as if I’m no longer the person they thought I was. The most liberating and peaceful “help” came quietly when the other person did not pretend to understand, but in their gentle silence, and as our breaths synchronised, my inner knowing grew stronger, and I could hear the thundering whisper “It’s going to be ok, for this too shall pass. For as long as you can draw the next breath, there is hope”.

With that as my ground-ing, I understand that to companion another as they suffer is to first understand that just like a butterfly breaking from its cocoon, the path is theirs alone. And accepting that any “instant” help I may be capable of administering may have quite the opposite effect. Accepting too that perhaps the greatest help I can gift is simple companionship, i.e. keeping company with you and your suffering, and trusting that it will take the time it takes for you to return to your own inner knowing, and being ok that this is an infinite game with no clear rules, but worry not, “you’re not alone, I am here to keep you company as you figure it out”.

May this sharing be meaningful to you, in your journey back home to your inner-knowing.

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