Compassion has enemies, and those enemies are things like pity, moral outrage, fear.
This one is by far my most voluble Self.
He takes on the form of a child (my “inner child”?) and posits vivid scenarios in which I am subjected to harm or distress.
The resulting reaction of pity from onlookers or even the perpetrator is most pleasing to him.
He feasts on it, growing emboldened and conjuring ever more elaborate and tear-jerking evocations of pity.
He gorges on hopes unrealized and goals unmet, lending me the most abject visage possible to elicit maximum pity.
So ravenous is he that only the sight of the entire Universe pitying him/me will sate him…
…and perhaps not even that.
Rather than actively feeding him, I give him space.
I notice and observe him, neither supplying him with his latest pity fix nor chastising him for his addiction.
I recognize him as one voice/Self among many.
I treat him respectfully but dispassionately, just as with the other Selves.
In so doing, I honor him without fueling his delusions.
When given room to speak but no pity on which to feed, he soon grows weary and slumps back into his seat.
I see people as haunted by the selves they don’t know…
I see a long rectangular table in a dim room lit by a flickering fireplace.
Around it sit twenty or so people.
I rarely see their faces or clothing. Thus far, the ones I’ve glimpsed have all been male.
They are all different…yet they are all me—and they speak, act and live through me.
Who Are They?
One is Anger/Blame at the Universe/fate for my so-called misfortunes.
Another is Sadness. He mostly sulks and mopes in silence.
Then there is the ever-popular Victim. His histrionics are legendary as he prattles on and on, rarely letting the others get a word in.
Alongside these are a host of others—Guilt, Shame, Regret, Hope (the positive ones sit far from the fireplace and rarely show themselves), and some whose acquaintance I have yet to make.
Sometimes they listen respectfully and speak in turn.
More often than not, they bicker and drown each other out in a cacophony of shouts.
Those are the sleepless nights.
Commit yourself to riding the currents every day, until the skill becomes an integrated part of you.
Find the path of least resistance.
What allows you to journey onward, all the while casting no more than a fleeting glance at the grimy signposts and decaying monuments to past struggles?
Whatever it is, embrace it—provided it is healthy and authentic.
On that note: do not mistake oblivion for progress.
Progress ≠ Forgetting.
Moving forward is acknowledging the past as past—all the while inhabiting the present and leaning into the future.
Old habits die hard, yes—so create a new habit.
It takes, on average, sixty-six days to ingrain a new habit.
For ten weeks, then, move forward every single day.
Even if progress is agonizingly slow; even if you can only drag the burdens of your past a few seconds at a time; even if you collapse and crawl as the razor-sharp rocks shred your hands and knees…
Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.
I had to become bigger than my depression.
How much space did my pain need?
Could I accommodate it?
Was there room in the guesthouse?
If there wasn’t, the guest never would’ve arrived.
The very presence of despair means you are strong enough, vast enough, to enfold it.
I had a vision.
I was the boundless vastness of space.
Within me floated bubbles of thought, emotion and experience.
I zoomed in on one, poked it with an inquisitive finger, spun it around, held it in the palm of my hand—then let it go and zoomed out as it rejoined its bubbly brethren.
Many, many of these bubbles contained pain…
…and I just let them float.
I was boundless. My pain was not.
However big your agony…become bigger.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
–Rumi, “The Guesthouse”
When pain spoke, I refused to listen.
In so doing, I deprived it of its right to be heard.
If Rumi was right, and we are guesthouses for our transient thoughts and emotions, why are we such inhospitable hosts?
Why do we allow some guests to speak while forcing others to keep silent?
Who are we to decide who gets a voice?
Could the secret to inner peace be—becoming better hosts?
When pain speaks, I listen.
Once it has spoken, the pain thanks me and sits down.
Until next time.
And that’s ok.
I am not my pain.
I am the guesthouse.