September 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm #41960JaneParticipant
Hello, can anyone knowledgeable about meditation advise me?
I recently became involved in animal activism – it’s been lovely, met a few charming, courageous and incredibly compassionate people (who were very intelligent and very far from the ‘loony eco-warrior’ stereotype, actually), but it’s also been absolutely terrifying discovering how many appalling things are still done to the non-human beings we share this planet with. I did not know about them until recently. I don’t know if you’ve glanced at Peta.com recently to run your eye over the current issues, but they certainly aren’t ‘making up’ the appalling cruelties they describe – thinking, feeling, nonhuman beings really ARE being skinned alive, burned alive, beaten, tortured, raped, killed, starved, drowned and abused, on a daily basis. And it’s billions and billions of them this is happening to.
How to cope? I have the knowledge that this unimaginable cruelty is going on, along with a few other animal activists, but I think the scale of the atrocity is so incomprehensible and the industries that perpetuate it are so keen to hide the truth, that the average person on the street isn’t very aware of it.
I’ve started Tong-len and Metta meditation recently, but I’m not sure these are good for me. Tong-len made me suicidal, and Metta, although lovely…I don’t know I need help feeling more compassion, feeling so much compassion gives me terrible pain already!
Knowing about the suffering of others and yet not being able to stop it gives me such pain I contemplate suicide just to escape it, or even wish I could somehow un-know the horrendous things I know (though I don’t think that’s physically possible, and it would only make me part of the problem to try and forget and ‘join in’ with causing cruelty).
Does anyone have a recommendation for a meditation technique I could use to calm my brain down? How can I manage the pain of knowing about others’ suffering? Or am I just being selfish – after all, the pain of watching a video of someone being skinned alive screaming is, I suppose, considerably less pain than actually BEING skinned alive screaming? Perhaps my suffering is nothing compared to theirs…September 10, 2013 at 4:53 am #41982MattParticipant
I’m sorry for the painfulness you’re experiencing, and I think you’re great for dedicating such energy to the well being of living creatures. That you’re seeking to restore your own balance, your own peace of mind… its not selfish, its needed. There is a balance that we have to find between become stable and yet not burying our head in the sand. A few things came to heart as I read your words.
Consider that perhaps what you’re experiencing isn’t compassion, but empathy. Empathy is the emotional vibration of painfulness or pleasantness that arises inside us as we watch the emotional states of others. Its is good to have a strong empathy, but it is also important to have boundaries.
Compassion looks and feels a little different. As you watch a company and person skin an animal for instance, compassion arises as you recognize that the actions are producing suffering for all. The person skinning is generating karma from his ignorance, as he or she blinds the empathic eye to be able to do such a thing. The animal suffers from the confusion and panic arising along side the painfulness. The people who eat the meat of the animal help fund and institutionalize the process. Compassion is the well rooted sense that investing our energy in such enterprises just doesn’t make sense, and is well balanced for all beings involved with the actions. When empathy is stronger than compassion, sometimes we can over extend our focus onto the direct physical painfulness, such as the skinning, and produce pity. Pity is not helpful.
It sounds to me that you’re experiencing emotional fatigue, perhaps even burnout. Its good that you wish to press into the bowels of the world and help right wrongs. However, it is more important, or at least equally important, to grow your peacefulness deeply. Your experience with tonglen is a great example of why. As you breathed in the suffering of the animals, ideally the breath collides with the crystal web of warmth inside your chest and evaporates, and your out breath carries with it love and peacefulness. However, for you it seems as though it “stuck” inside, like mud being thrown on a white shirt… until it grew heavy.
I highly suggest that you move toward a metta practice, and stop watching videos of animals being tortured. Perhaps if you become complacent and lazy, watching a video will rekindle your motivation to help humanity shed such practices. If you already have that motivation, then what benefit does entertaining yourself in such a way provide you? Isn’t the suffering of the skinner and skinned enough? You’ve noticed that your voyeurism is producing even more pain for the world in the retching within your heart… its OK to do something else with your time.
Its not selfish to do so, its wise. Consider the net energy balance of the world. As you turn away from the videos, your body will become warm again, flowing with love and light. This increases the amount of love and light in the world, which helps move you and all who empathize with you toward joy. If you spend time absorbing and watching painfulness, your body is suicidal and depressed, which doesn’t help you or those around you find peace. This is why respecting suffering and yet having wise boundaries is so important.
For instance, say we see someone with a broken ankle. We can sit down and stare at it, really feeling the painfulness and brokenness of the ankle. Our heart focuses so intently that we begin to feel our own ankle hurting. Now, instead of one ankle being unprepared to carry the weight, there are two. Where you could have been someone to lean on for support, now you and the other need supporting! Now, the ankle has to be tended by four beings instead of two! The one broken, the one to support her, you, and the one needed to support you.
The shift toward metta is what allows our heart to become resilient. I would say that it increases compassion, but not directly. It increases our inner warmth, and smooths out our mind. We become free from greed, hatred, and aversion. Metta is more about kindness, friendship. Being able to work with others in a way that is mutually nourishing and respectful… knowing that that is how the world moves toward joy. Not through hate and judgment, but through peace and understanding. Namaste.
MattSeptember 10, 2013 at 6:24 am #41984Loran HillsParticipant
When I first started tonglen, it was very difficult and I felt worse rather than better. But right now what you might need is some boundary work. I know I take on a lot of emotional energy from other sources.
Imagine yourself in a protective bubble, surrounded by light and love. Practice compassion towards yourself first. And, Matt is right – stop watching the videos! Create the intention to focus on things that are beautiful and that create delight for you.
When you feel healthy and whole, you can be of better service to others. Good luck!
LoranSeptember 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm #42071JaneParticipant
Thankyou so much, Matt – it is so helpful of you to take the time to write a long and detailed reply. Thankyou also Loran, you both make good points.
I should really have tried to ask assistance from a teacher at my local Sangha before attempting difficult meditations, but I wasn’t sure how to broach the topic (even to my own ears, it sounds like an odd and unusual question!) or if it would be right to ask a stranger something so personal. A yoga teacher isn’t there to be my personal therapist, I guess! However, in future I will try and seek at least a little guidance from like-minded people and not get myself into unhealthy mind states through my own ignorance and poor application of techniques.
Thankyou both for the good advice! xNovember 13, 2013 at 4:45 am #45233ImaginativeMeParticipant
Thankyou for this brilliant post,
I was looking on the internet hoping for some similar advise. A few years ago, I went to medical school.
Slowly, I began to realise, through the general aura of the place and meeting people there the vast shadow
of medicine. It was after having dropped out that I finally read the statistics on abortion and that people
now call it an abortion holocaust. Generally the process was too much for me and I did lots of bad things
and I have lots of things which now cause me pangs of guilt.
But putting aside self-control issues, and thinking more about inner stuff, I feel mainly that now I have learned
how to experience empathy (I was born with dissociation disorder and didn’t used to know how to generate
much in the way of emotion)….I’m finding that I sort of miss my old self, even though my former self was very
unaware of the amount of suffering had by people in the world. I reflect each day on things like homelessness
and prostitution, and like the person above, has got into a habit of keeping up to date with my main concern,
abortion. Reading about that each day has upset me a lot, but I can’t seem to stop reading the news updates
and seem preoccupied with thoughts about the after-lives of beings who are doing these things.
I feel I understand Buddhism more since developing these deeper emotions, but also feel I must not be doing it
in a balanced way because, like the person above, I have begun to feel suicidal/ life is less worth living.
I don’t want to ignore the pain of people, but on the other hand, I would like to spend some of my time as I did
formerly, sort of trusting the universe and practising gratitude and so forth. But if I do that now, its come to the
extent I feel guilty for “cherishing” having a place to live and I start to get quite unhappy almost as if these various
things are happening to me.November 13, 2013 at 5:37 am #45236MattParticipant
I can understand how deeply the suffering of others can impact us, and agree our collective home needs a good scrubbing. Consider that cultivating happiness within yourself is not selfish or self cherishing, rather it honors the suffering of others by increasing the light and love in the world. For instance, if we see a war veteran that lost her legs, it wouldn’t honor her to chop off our own. Rather, we could strengthen our own legs so if she asks us for a push we are prepared to give it. Namaste, friend, you have the heart of a bodhisattva!
MattJanuary 16, 2017 at 2:36 pm #125455BeetleParticipant
Jane, I found your post when I was struggling with a similar thing. Matt, your response hit me like a ton of bricks. All of these responses did actually.
I know this is a very old post but I want to thank all of you for giving me clarity when it comes to empathy, compassion, and pity. I have been weakened by my own empathy and this insight is allowing me to now move to responding to pain and cruelty from a place of strength.
It will take time for me and meditation. Jane, I hope your journey has made you stronger.
January 19, 2017 at 4:39 pm #125742XenopusTexParticipant
- This reply was modified 5 years, 10 months ago by Beetle.
PETA – People Eating Tasty Animals 🙂
In all seriousness, sometimes culls are necessary. The deer population exploded in my area. The predictable population crash happened with deer stacked up like chord wood around watering holes because of the extreme thirst caused by bleeding to death internally from “blue tongue.” Biting gnats spread it like wildfire.January 10, 2018 at 7:51 am #185885JenniferParticipant
Thank you for keeping this very old post up and running. I, too, am fatigued by empathy. And yet, of course, I feel guilty for complaining about it (what with all the true suffering in the world). It’s a cycle I couldn’t seem to break, but this discussion has truly helped me to see a path towards a more productive (yet still empathetic and compassionate) regimen.March 8, 2018 at 7:31 pm #196401PASCALParticipant
Dear Jane. I fully understand as i have been in the process of « opening my eyes » to the unreal cruelty towards animals with articles, videos, documentaries, etc. The process of « exiting denial completely » is extremely painful, as you end up exhausted by the amout and extent of cruelty AND how essentially very few people care enough to bother pondering where that bacon / hamburger / etc comes from… on top of this « indirect cruelty through denial of reality », there is the pain felt about « why / how » these cruel people exist and sleep at night… it is a heavy burden to carry…
But in the end, you must deeply ponder and live by the very wise words of the saying: « O Lord give me the courage to change what must change, the strength to accept what i cannot, and the wisdom to tell the difference. »
You will not eradicate cruelty from this world. Not now and not within your lifetime. Nobody will. But each little contribution will eradicate cruelty in the long run. A typical human and animal lives less than 1 second in cosmic time. The Universe is 15 billion years. Earth is 5 billion years. There are at least 100 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 planets in our Universe. We come to Earth like those flies that live 24 hours… let go!! Without denial… letting go is NOT denial, and is also NOT inaction. If you want to help animals and humans, do it, yes, by all means, get invilved and make that small difference… from a place of love. And i know that part is incredibly hard, because when you become very aware and informed, you tend to hate humans and humanity, because the supply of cruelty, cynicism, and apathetic denial seems to dwarf everything that shines… it seems that way, but it’s not quite like that…
Social norms have evolved a great deal. 5000 years ago, slavery was very standard. 2000 years ago, walking the streets of Rome and seeing fields of people crucified and being eaten alive by birds was standard. 300 years ago in the USA you could buy humans on an open market and dispose of them as you wanted. 70 years ago, people were « dry castrated » in UK for being gay and women could not vote… these are all things that have been eradicated.
I grant you that all these great improvements did not much extend to animals, but it is starting to make its way…
You needed to become aware and « confront reality » and the « cold facts. » ok: mission accomplished. Now, it is time to help yourself by shining again, which will help others, including animals. Get involved with animals rights if you want, but remember the big big BIG picture, remember that you are not helping animals or changing anything by watching videos of cruelty… the people doing these acts are lost and blind. We are clueless about the grand mystery of life and why all this cruelty is there. We just don’t know. Maybe we (you and i) were the cruelest animal and people torturers in another life and now we are feeling the need for purification? Who knows!
Add a lantern to the darkness in the world by shining with love, knowledge, and compassion… for all humans, all animals… all life… and yes remain in « action and reality », but at the same time… « let go »… regards. P.September 2, 2018 at 11:56 am #224089YvonneParticipant
It’s been so helpful reading this…I feel crippled by sorrow sometimes when it comes to animal suffering, to the point where it dominates my every thought. It’s so counterproductive since I can’t help anyone in this state, yet it seems almost impossible to escape. I already avoid social media for fear of horrible posts or videos, but of course you still see and hear about these things.September 13, 2018 at 10:15 pm #225635kateParticipant
I found this post after googling How to Cope with the Suffering of Animals. A midnight search after waking in pain about the hunting of whales. I have recently been to watch the beautiful humpbacks in Iceland so when I read about the hunts I was immediately connected to the suffering and the pain. And didn’t know how to calm myself. I didn’t want to numb myself or turn away but such a reaction isn’t helping anyone.
Thank you so much to Jane for asking the original question and to Matt for his incredible and wise answer.
I don’t think I have ever understood so clearly the difference between empathy and compassion. Of course because I am extra connected with the whales after my holiday, the empathy route is more open than ever. Just as when my friend had a new baby, her empathy connection with other babies and their cries was extra strong.
It is good to be empathic and helps in so many ways but of course it needs managing – boundaries and conscious work to keep it from overwhelming me
Compassion on the other hand is for all beings – the hunter and the hunted.
Amazing and powerful post. Thank you all for contributing and for clarifying something deeply important to me.
Best wishes to you all
KateMay 9, 2019 at 5:15 am #292981June 30, 2019 at 4:37 am #301417PatriciaParticipant
I am so very thankful to Jane for starting this conversation and for Tiny Buddha for keeping this post running. Similar to Kate, I stumbled upon this thread while searching how to deal with the suffering of others/animals. I do animal rights education/activism and have found it difficult to function or be active right now bc I don’t know how to cope with the suffering of all the animals at our mercy that we hurt for no reason.
So grateful for this post and for Matt and others here who speak to this topic to assist others experiencing this. It has been so helpful to find this and to learn better how to manage. My sincerest of thanks and gratitude. I will return to this or print it out so I can look over it again and again.April 16, 2021 at 11:46 am #377880TinaParticipant
what does one do when emotional burnout because of all the horrible things people
inflict on animals has left one with little empathy or compassion for a lot of people?
It seems some do their best to improve things, it takes years to get some real change going and
in the meantme people come up with new sht to cause suffering for animals and others.
Im so fed up with the human species.