When I hear someone is having a hard time with life, miserable, or suffering through a painful experience, I also experience pain at the empathy level. I can almost feel it, viscerally, inside my body, emotionally, and mentally. How did this happen? How was I softened? I can tell you, when it was time to end a relationship that was over 18 years long, it was difficult. I held on to the bitter end. It was me being foolishly loyal to someone who did not have my best interest at heart. It felt like torture to be in this relationship every day. I seemed to do something wrong, not make my partner happy, and no matter how hard I tried, I was made to feel that everything was naturally my fault and I failed at every attempt to ‘fix’ things.
You might think my compassion was born of simply going through a divorce, but it was not. You might think that ending the marriage made me more compassionate, but it wasn’t that. You might think the pain I suffered through the marriage was where compassion was born, but it was not. What really opened me up was, when I considered all options, and I knew without a doubt I would be dead if I didn’t pull the cord on the marriage, that it would still break my partner’s heart in two. As mean and as cruel as he seemed to be, I knew that he really had no intent on truly hurting me. But the relationship was beyond fixing. I knew the day it broke apart, it would break his heart more than mine. That’s what opened me up from stem to stern all the way to my backbone….totally opened up, hurting, and in pain from knowing I would hurt the person I loved for so many years.
That ‘opening’ never completely healed, the wound never really fully closed. But that is a good thing. Suffering is an opening that gives you the gift of compassion on a human-being level. It is where compassion is born. On the most basic level there is, you are gutted. But it is through this wound that you are softened. It is a place from which Spirit is allowed to flow, and where you can give of yourself, to help others.
My hurt and pain seemed to be on the surface for so long after that opening. I hurt for others going through the same thing. It’s called empathy. I also love the study of the Buddhist philosophy and practice of Tonglen, as taught by and Pema Chodron. “Tonglen is a meditative practice for cultivating love and compassion. It is a gentle, step-by-step process of opening the heart. By embracing, rather than rejecting, the unwanted and painful aspects of experience, we overcome fear and develop greater empathy for others.” It’s worth checking out.
If you have never had an opening like this, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you are immune to experiencing empathy for others. There is no requirement for every human to have an opening like this. It was just what I experienced. It was almost like after that painful opening, Spirit burst through me and has never stopped flowing. I couldn’t be happier! It’s like the story of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She went through a difficult ordeal, but was a better person for it.
Please feel free to add your personal experiences or stories in the comments section below.