I went to the library the other day – it’s a great way to try out books you’re not sure you’ll like – and got an excellent book, The Deeper Wound by Deepak Chopra. It was written after 9/11, as the US was in a state of shock, mourning, fear and anger. The subtitle of the book is “Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering” so I had to take it out to read it, to see if I could glean any insight for the book I’m working on (see the About Me section). The rest of this blog is taken from pages 35-38 of The Deeper Wound, and I hope it gives you something to think about when you are faced with your own suffering, or trying to comfort a friend.
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On a practical level, nothing alleviates suffering like reaching out to another person who is suffering. Go and help, be of service if only in the smallest way. Each of us feels timid about reaching out to others; our society speaks of communication but mostly we drift like atoms in a void. It isn’t easy to reach over the walls built around our isolation, but any gesture–whatever you feel safe to do–is a step toward healing.
What if the pain that seems to be yours is not really yours? (And here I do not mean to belittle personal suffering, but only to offer a larger perspective that may help alleviate it.) The truth is that fear and anger exist outside ourselves. They are not yours or mine, unless we attract them. Negativity is an invisible parasite. It needs a host to feed off of, and the host is the ego. When you learned as a young child to cling to my toy, my candy, my pleasure, my happiness, at the same time your ego started clinging to the opposite: my scraped knee, my broken doll, my sadness, my pain. Absorbing an experience as “mine” was how you built your self up, developed a sense of individual identity. As we grew, we learned to see this self in a larger perspective, in the context of humanity. But when tragedy strikes, we often regress to this early state.
To counteract this, we need to find the spirit. For spirit can do one thing that your ego craves very deeply and can’t accomplish on its own. Spirit can help the ego escape that painful trap of I, me, and mine….
Spirit gives us access to an emotion that cannot be felt in isolation–compassion. Compassion comes from the root words “to suffer with,” and for that reason many people actually fear it. An audience member in Boston on a grey drizzly evening asked me, “How can I feel compassion for the victims of this tragedy without having it hurt me? I don’t want to be injured, I want to offer love and peace.” It was a very honest question, and I responded, I hope, on that level.
“Let yourself feel their pain. Let it come into you, and don’t be afraid that you’ll be injured. Trying to keep out someone else’s pain comes from fear for our own safety; in the name of safety we retreat behind our own private walls. Yet the truth is that your pain and the pain of the victims are shared. They make you human together.”
Compassion is one of the most honored and saintly feelings because it marches up to the front lines of suffering and says “Take me.” In this giving of oneself there is a direct experience of pain, yet in the giving there is love. Thus compassion has the power to dissolve pain by not avoiding it, but by trusting that love affords the greatest protection. By discovering that there is a reality–love–stronger than any pain, you mount your strongest defense.