Earlier this year during my travels in India, I stayed in the town of Bodh Gaya where Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500+ years ago.
It was a very sacred experience to sit in the same spot where Shakyamuni Buddha himself sat at the time of enlightenment. It felt exhilarating to follow the same footsteps of where some of his first-ever teachings were held. The moments of making circumambulations around the Mahabodhi Temple while chanting mantras were divinely spiritual.
What I wasn’t prepared for though, in this geographical location that lies host to some of the biggest insights about happiness in humankind, was the amount of extreme human suffering.
It wasn’t so much the relentless begging, poor living conditions or trash-lined streets that got me. Instead it was the even-more confronting moments in between - like seeing disfigured, limbless children dragging themselves along roads, and elderly people with blinded, white eyes in very obvious malnourished states.
I felt really saddened by the sheer mass of people living in such poverty and with such extreme health issues. I felt helpless, knowing that giving away fruit or money, or anything else material for that matter, would only offer very temporary relief – no long-lasting change.
Donning a face mask to minimise breathing in all the dust off the streets (and being the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic) just made me feel uncaring and so disconnected from those without facemasks who were constantly approaching me for some kind of help.
Since my trip to India, what I’ve come to realise is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s people suffering from physical or mental dis-ease, a friend in need of support, a family member having a difficult day, someone you know facing a health crisis, a friend going through relationship troubles, or a stranger at the shops being overly dramatic about something seemingly small...
Suffering and pain is everywhere.
(the intention of this post isn't too make you feel bad - hang in with me here!)
For a lot of us empaths, we have the best intentions when it comes to caring for, supporting and showing compassion to others. We tend to want to ‘fix’ other people’s problems for them, so they can be free of suffering and ‘just be happy’.
But have you ever gone to help out someone in need, and you’ve been left feeling drained, emotional and exhausted afterwards? Or when you haven’t helped, because you've felt like you've got nothing in the tank to give, you’ve been left wracked with guilt and feeling somewhat disconnected?
Here’s the thing:
It’s the way in which we offer support to others that’s important, when it comes to managing our own energy levels and personal levels of wellbeing AND for getting the best and most compassionate results for others too.
What I've realised since my trip to India is that my aversion to the contorted bodies, the relentless begging and the half-starved children on the streets of Bodh Gaya was only ever going to contribute to the suffering. Because now my pain was adding to the greater problem. Instead of helping anyone, by doing nothing I was only adding to the problem.
Yet buying a bunch of bananas and handing them out one at a time, was only helping for a few minutes at most. And even then, it wasn’t influencing anybody in an empowering way.
It was during the moments when I was able to be on the streets and sit amongst the pain of others, without my own thoughts and perceptions on the matter, that I really began to notice something different unfolding...
If I held the intention of compassion in my heart, turned to face what I previously thought/felt was unpleasant, and then wished that the people be free of suffering – it was these moments when I felt energised again, and refuelled to come up with new thoughts about how I could take positive action.
I’ve been practicing these three steps in a lot of areas of my life in the last few months and am finding it of great benefit.
Here's how you can do it too:
You might think of compassion as kindness, gentle-heartedness, or caring. An intention is simply naming and claiming the experience of that which you intend to have. Make a decision in this moment now, that your every thought, speech and action will come from a place of compassion.
Accept all the emotions. Other people. Circumstances. Your own negative and positive thoughts. The way of the world in this moment. Come to see it all as it’s presenting in this moment. Remember that acceptance isn’t a passive resignation, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes moving forward. Instead, it’s an important step to making your next step forward come out of wisdom, rather than reaction.
See a future, whether it’s in the next minute, next year or in a future lifetime, where pain gets transformed into happiness. Make a wish that your friend who is going through cancer treatment right now will experience full health again. Breathe in your child’s hurt and breathe out for their relief. Notice your partner’s worries and wish for a positive outcome. Observe those living in poverty and wish that they come to experience abundance.
Notice that this method doesn’t involve jumping in and taking over control of someone else’s problems to turn things around. It doesn’t involve you being drawn into the depths of despair with the other person.
Instead, this practice allows you to keep your heart wide-open, with loving boundaries that say:
‘I’m hear you and I feel you. And I’m committing to staying focused on the solution.’
Through this process of compassionately observing the pain and suffering of others, and then wishing that they be free of it, you’ll soon notice that you’ll have more energy reserves to tap into than before.
Instead of feeling as though you’re constantly expending energy out to people and things outside of yourself, you’ll notice that this very process is a way of filling up your own tank more than ever.
So now you’ll have more to offer the world. And not only through your presence and demonstration of compassion and wishing for the happiness of others. You have also left yourself space in your own tank to fuel some life and world-changing ideas. You'll be operating out of an expansive and creative mind, rather than a stressed and constrictive one.
From that space, you might just come up with some very wise actions to put into place, that will contribute to great change in the world.
Go forth and be the change!
If you need more support on self-care, becoming the best version of you, and ways to maintain your energy so you can continue making the world a better place, then check out my Happiness Online program.
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