Home→Forums→Emotional Mastery→The Discomfort of Others
- This topic has 4 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 9 years, 6 months ago by John.
September 23, 2013 at 7:00 am #42628
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had this acute awareness when others are anxious or stressed out. It’s almost as if when they’re experiencing anxiety or stress, I can either sense it or experience it myself. It’s no paranormal or anything, but just an acute sensitivity to body language, tone of voice, expression on someone’s face, or just the silent void that’s created in those situations.
The issue is that in these situations two things seem to happen:
a) I start checking myself, “Is there anything I did to cause this stress or anxiety?”, “Is it my fault?”
b) I start wondering, “What can I do to alleviate this person’s stress or anxiety?” or rather “What can I do to alleviate the anxiety and stress that I’m experiencing as a result of this person’s stress and anxiety?”
I recently experienced this feeling and I tried not to fill the void of silence and discomfort with an empty diatribe to break the tension, but it was almost unbearable. I tried to create a space for it and just let it be, but it got the best of me and I blurted out someone inane nonsense to try and put a more ‘laissez-faire’ perspective on the situation. All that to say, that didn’t help. It just makes the person more anxious and in turn makes me more anxious.
Any insights or perspective on this experience?September 23, 2013 at 7:40 am #42631MattParticipant
You continue to amaze me with your beauty and inquisitiveness. Its great that you have a strong empathy, and as you continue to grow your compassion, what to do with what you sense becomes more obvious. In this case, it sounds like you haven’t come to respect the teaching quality of suffering. For example:
When someone is anxious there is a fear present, either manifested in thoughts or just a general unknown discomfort. That’s just fear, we all feel fear. When you sense this, perhaps you are not net secure in your understanding of the impermanence of these feelings, as though if you don’t do something they will be stuck forever. So you become afraid of their fear. Whoops, second arrow! Perhaps then you are afraid that your fear will make you unskillful, that you will say something dumb or unhelpful. Whoops, third arrow!
Instead, we can just take a breath and open up the space. “You seem nervous, what’s up?” Let them unfurl the coil inside them, let it pass through. If the fear is justified, just sit with them. “Yeah, I can understand why that would be scary.” If the fear is because of you, be assuring. “Oh, I do that too, you’ll find no judgement here friend.” Or whatever comes to heart.
If you’re wrong, and its some other emotion, just flow with it. “Oh, anger? What happened?” Let the puss come out of the wound, don’t drink it, but give it attentive detachment and let it drain if you can. Your love is so strong and wise, brother, that your spontaneous unbound heartsong will naturally move toward healing, toward soothing. The trick is just to not try to cover the tension with laughter… if it seems right, give it space to unbind, invite it to relief, invite them home.
MattSeptember 23, 2013 at 9:21 am #42634
Thanks Matt. I appreciate your kind words and advice.
Open and honest communication is hard. It seems to be mired and covered by so many layers. To ask such poignant and direct questions creates the space to bring the anxiety, stress, and anger out into the open, which I’ve always personally found very difficult.
At the same time, I also recognize a lot of judgement and criticism on my part, “Really? Are you seriously stressed out or anxious about such an insignificant thing?” Not that I would say that out loud, but it’s usually concealed with a veiled rationalization on why the person shouldn’t need to be anxious, which I recognize is also not helpful.
To let it pass through me and not take it so personally. To not preemptively apologize assuming it’s my fault in some way. To create a space for it and allow it to unfold. Wow, I think that would be amazing growth.
September 23, 2013 at 10:07 am #42638MattParticipant
- This reply was modified 9 years, 6 months ago by John.
Many people think that compassion is a warmth for others, such as love or kind regard. That’s not the case. Compassion is an openness to let what is, be what it is, without automatic reaction. The way I visualize it is like an open field of empty soil. If a weed arises, there is no need to blame the soil, or judge that it shouldn’t be there. Its there. That’s enough, its there. With people, its the same. They have the potential of a Buddha, but suffering is there. It isn’t there for “no reason” or “the wrong reasons”… its there for exactly the reason it is. Buddha said it distills down to clinging to self, but it arises in them for the same reasons ours arise in us… ignorance. That’s enough. Its painful for them, and that’s enough. Our metta meets up with their pain, and as we open the space, accepting that their anxiety or painful spinny fears arise for them from a perfectly balanced harmony of karma, judging it is naturally silly, unneeded. For every fruit, there is a seed. There is never a fruit that did not come from a seed, and knowing that is enough.
As we develop, sometimes we forget how much blessing and teaching we’ve received to become what we’ve become. This leads us to pride, or the “ex-whore” goofyness. A prostitute is picked up by a benefactor, who takes him in and offers him education and enlightenment. The prostitute gains wisdom and clarity, and becomes a light for others, perhaps finding a job of helpfulness, honor and just compensation. One day, the now healthy man walks by a group of prostitutes and thinks “Oh my god, you dumb whores.” Its normal and usual, and just another petal unfolding as we release our judgment for our self and others. Namaste.
MattSeptember 23, 2013 at 11:09 am #42647
It does feel like an automatic reaction, a reflex that’s difficult to control to let things be allow to rise and fall without judgement, criticism, defense, or offense. To explore and examine and just see what’s really there.
I like your story and that’s definitely I’m something quite aware of – not taking my new found sense of peace and equanimity as a means of looking down at others, but very much as a means of helping others deal with their own pain and suffering and perhaps find the same kind of freedom and release that I’ve discovered. As I grow and develop, I’d eventually like to develop the skill to pass on what I’ve learned to others, but I recognize that there’s quite a different set of skills required between knowing and being able to pass that knowledge to others.
For now, back to the cushion I go. 🙂