Last night, I stayed up until dawn after taking in too much suffering. I am trying to learn tonglen, a method of breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, but I forgot. I forgot, and found myself dwelling on my own misery.
Earlier in the day, I wrote a letter to someone whose partner killed himself. Later in the day, I answered an email from a man whose depressed wife has taken to her bed, leaving him with two jobs and the care of their children. Then I read about the mother who killed her 14 year old autistic son, incurring the understandable wrath of the disability community and beyond.
So many problems and so many tragic circumstances with no easy solutions. It’s overwhelming. You have to do something, though, right?
I have a bunch of Facebook “friends” who I don’t know in real life. I acquire them for the usual reasons. One of them, Jon, had an accident a few weeks ago that left him paralyzed in a wheelchair and unable to keep his apartment. His story triggered memories of Max’s despair over his injuries.
I was determined to help Jon. I noticed that he had more than 1,000 Facebook friends. He is a political activist and provokes lively discussion on his Facebook page. So I posted my idea on his page: I exhorted Jon’s friends to each make a $5 donation to his Paypal account. What a great idea, I thought proudly! I felt deeply satisfied by my plan to rescue this person in need.
Jon received four donations, including mine.
He was okay with it, but I was horrified. I couldn’t get over it. Five dollars?? Wouldn’t anybody give five dollars to a human being in such difficult circumstances? What the fuck is wrong with people?
I’m upset by indifference, even though I’m guilty of it all the time. I would like to see more compassion. Coincidentally, I just came across this study in how compassion and kindness can be taught and developed, literally changing the brain in the process.
More kindness would be great. The messages I’ve received from strangers who read my blog have often brought me to tears, just because kindness seems like such a meaningful gift. When we breathe in each other’s suffering and breathe out compassion, we are all that much closer to healing the unbearable pain of being human.
*photo (c) Nandini Valli Muthiah