How to empty out and be the compassionate person you want to be
To offer people real compassion, you almost need to disappear completely.
I used to have a friend who had been jilted by her husband. She was angry about it, and fair enough, but it began to colour every conversation she had.
So I would say something like, “Can you believe my car broke down again? I had to pick the kids up because hubby was playing footy, and I realised my head gasket was flat.”
(I’m no mechanic.)
And she would say, “Typical. Where are men when you need them? Off messing around with each others balls.”
“umm… that wasn’t really what I was talking about. But ok no, we can talk about how much men suck again if you need.”
She wasn’t really able to meet me in the companionship I was looking for in that moment – that shared understanding – because she was too alive to her own stories.
And so to be able to really offer compassion, you need to be empty of your own stories. You need to have no agenda other than to listen deeply to what that person needs, and respond from there.
… and almost no one does.
It’s hard. Our stories are who we are. They drive us in ways that are difficult to see from the inside. We don’t see their influence. The way a fish doesn’t see the water it’s living in.
And freeing yourself from your stories is a life’s work.
And how is it done?
Well, it’s not done by denying your stories their place inside you.
When I say you have to be an empty vessel to really offer people compassion, most people will imagine smothering their impulses and reactions in order to be a good listener.
It’s possible to fake deep listening and to fake compassion this way, but hey, what kind of friend do you want to be?
Oddly enough, the way to become free of your stories is to let them live fully – give them to room to move you and move inside you.
This in turn means being willing to accept the pain and discomfort that these stories might carry with them.
Take my friend for example. She was stuck with her anger. Why? Because she was afraid of what was on the other side. She was afraid of sadness.
When her marriage broke up, it broke her heart. She really loved that bloke. They had dreamed big dreams together.
But she couldn’t face the pain of that mourning. So she kept her anger alive. As long as she was angry she couldn’t be sad. Anger wasn’t fun, but it was better than the sadness that was waiting for her.
And so at every opportunity, she instinctively relived her anger – gave it life again, kept it alive, long past the point where it served her, because its presence crowded out any capacity for sadness.
And in every moment, she was full. Full of her anger and the life-support systems she had built around it.
And because she was full, she was never empty. Never empty enough to be that friend who could listen without agenda to whatever crap I was on about.
And that beautiful symmetry lives here to. To be able to offer compassion to others, you need to offer compassion to yourself. You need to listen to yourself without agenda, without a need to protect and guard, and just allow whatever it is that moves in you.
As your emotions move and move through you, you will empty out, and be empty enough share an emotional reality with another.
Compassion, like most things, begins at home.
Isn’t it always the way?