.. to stop trying to fix the world.
Tell me if this rings a bell: most of my life, especially during my growing-up years, I knew an insatiable need to fix others’ hurts, stop their pain, and generally make it all better. The closer they were to me, the more I felt their pain and thought it my duty – my purpose on earth! – to relieve them of it.
I was certainly right about the part where I “felt their pain” because – I know now – I was taking something onboard that didn’t belong to me. I was feeling their pain, without any of the rich detail of their context, their experience, their life-view. Just, the pain.
The part I never understood: once I took it into myself, it wasn’t their pain anymore. It was mine, and I’d feed it like I’d found a starving stray animal… and by feeding the pain, I was flowing all my attention to it – insolently forgetting that whatever we give our attention to is amplified. Still, I’d think this existential discomfort was theirs. And I’d try to make it all better, y’know, for them.
So there they were, having their own experience and getting whatever they needed to get out of it – being in their own business, doin’ their thang. Perhaps having some major life-crisis or mid-level growing pain, or (most often) the little misunderstandings between people who love, but do not understand, each other.
I was. not. okay. with. that. Here I’d come, watch what was happening, and put myself in their place and imagine how painful it must be. How painful it would be for me.
Then I’d assign myself the duty of – fixing it! (Hear that bell ringing again? welcome, friend!)
The simple truth: the real reason I’d try to fix someone else’s pain was to alleviate my own discomfort.
(I cringe, thinking of it. Even the memories sting. But stinging truth always feels better in the long run than cushy lies.)
I caught myself doing this again a few days ago with someone I’ve danced this particular dance with for a very very long time. (Details are their biz and not important here. Which I get. now.)
The great kindness of experience is that it shortens the frequency and duration of visits to our old hells, and when we remember to breathe back into calm and simply observe ourselves, it’s possible to See. With a measure of compassion.
So when my old hell returned as a new fresh one, I could See, first, that the level of pain I was experiencing “on someone else’s behalf” was completely under my control.
[interesting aside, here: in this case, observing myself, I noticed that the more I tried to “solve the problem” and mentally referee for the players involved, the more actual physical pain I felt. “I’ll be the diplomat, though you never asked, though you don’t even know I know what’s going on, and get a skull-splitting headache in the process.” Now, THAT got my attention!]
I’d put myself into their business, after all. I could take myself out! (and, lordylordy – they could .. have their own experience! how nice for them!)
By letting them have their own experience, and refusing to take their pain and make it mine, I stopped hurting… and gave them space to do the same.
Instantly, and once and for all, I saw it: I’d been increasing their pain, and my own pain, by pouring the fuel of my attention on it.
The very opposite of my heart’s kindest wish.
Now I know. And when I perceive a dear one’s pain or struggle or discomfort and feel the old tug to insert myself, to “fix” it, I ask myself this question: is my desire to help born of discomfort?
love to hear your thoughts on this… please share in the comments, or private message me. thanks for being here! Kathleen.