In speaking recently with a friend, I was reminded of the great bias in our culture toward the light and away from the darkness. When we meet with someone who is down, hopeless, empty, or otherwise not beaming and joyful, we can become quickly convinced that something is wrong, that they are “broken,” and that we must act urgently to “fix” them.
We scramble to put them back together, to remind them of all the gifts in their life, impart spiritual techniques and advice, suggesting that they just “focus on the positive,” letting them know that everything will be better soon, and that it will all turn out okay. Or, in an even more aggressive way, we admonish them to “get over it” (this can often happen very subtly in our communication or body language), to stay in the present moment, to immediately forgive the one who has hurt them, or to just be grateful for the “opportunity” that their suffering is providing to them.
It is so natural to want to help another and to lessen their suffering and pain. It is a noble intention to help and to use whatever skillful means we have at our disposal. But we might also begin to see the subtle aggression in our strategies, this insistence that they come out of their immediate experience and into the one we believe they should be having instead.
We can start to see how much of this “fixing” activity arises out of the disconnection with that which remains unmetabolized within us. For it is to the degree we are out of embodied contact with our own rage, heartbreak, lack of meaning, and the looming shadows of our unlived lives that we will remain misattuned to what is arising for integration in the life of our sweet, precious, suffering friend.
It is possible the kindest thing we can offer our friend is to sit in the darkness with them, conscious of what their suffering is evoking within us, and removing the burden that they change, transform, feel better, or heal in order for us to stay near. As we turn to embrace our own unmet sadness, grief, and despair, we remove the projection of our unlived lives from them. And by doing so, we lift the weight that they take care of our unresolved anxiety for us.
As we learn to trust and to rest in the wisdom-field of our present, embodied experience, we see that love is a movement of the totality. It is whole, never partial, and is raging and alive even in the darkness. In the core of the fire, the sadness, the grief, and the despair is something very real, making an attempt to break through the thick forest of partiality. But what this is may never support our cultural and spiritual fantasies of a life of invulnerability and endless happiness. The psyche is always attempting to reach us and to remind us of what is possible.
May we stay close to our own suffering and to the suffering of others, careful not to cut it too quickly, curious and available to the wisdom as it unfolds in unexpected ways. May we open our hearts to the golden, full-spectrum nature of love, as it shines out of the dark, and stay open to the mystery and the wisdom of the one in front of us, daring to know them for the very first time.
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