The Way of CompassionWords for Hard Times

My New Favorite Way to Deal With Icky Emotions

By August 12, 2010 14 Comments

I don’t know why the thought occurred to me, but it did. It showed up suddenly, fully formed, like a telegram delivered.
I was sitting in my office at home, feeling disappointed about something that hadn’t worked out the way I’d hoped.
And suddenly popped up the thought: “Instead of thinking about your disappointment, Tara, think about everyone’s disappointment, every human being that has experienced or is now experiencing disappointment. That ache in your chest? Feel it as it exists all over the world, that very ache in so many chests.”
I thought this sounded like a good idea, so I did. It helped. It was better. I thought about all the people in the world feeling disappointed. The kids and the adults and the people in cities and the people in villages and the people in places I couldn’t image. I felt for them. I related to them.
Suddenly my upset wasn’t all about me – what had happened in my day and what it meant about me and what I would do next and all that. It was about being human, about disappointment as part of the human experience, about all the other pain on the planet, and oddly, the comfort of connection to other human beings in that pain.
I could feel two different movements in this that made it helpful. One was getting out of one’s self, one’s ego, one’s personal story, because getting caught up in our egos and stories always takes us down the path to greater suffering. The other was about compassion. The instruction was: use the pain you are having at this very moment to cultivate compassion. To cultivate connection. To realize your belonging. To know your basic humanness.
Will you try it? Next time you are in fear or rage or rejection or failure or insecurity or frustration, bring into your heart and mind all the other people, planet-wide, feeling just that thing. Be with yourself by being with all of them. Be with the self that is connected to all of them. Be with the emotion itself, the energy of it, the sensibility of it, rather than with your personal story’s intersection with it.
Something tender and expansive and healing occurs.

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Joy says:

    Wow! Your idea is so wonderful! I am feeling disappointment and rejection right now and it seems like it is suffocating me. And indeed, when I think that many other people are experiencing this pain, it breaks my heart and makes my suffering bearable. What a lovely thought God gave you!

  • SusanJ says:

    This is lovely Tara! And I’ve tried it too, it definitely works.

    There’s a Buddhist practice that’s very similar and that goes even a little farther with this called “tonglen”. It’s where you breathe in the disappointment of everyone else and transmute that in your heart into the antidote, like joy, and then breathe that joy out to all those who were suffering with the disappointment.

    When I do that, it feels SO good to send something good back out there.

  • Empathy is indeed a human emotion and capable of providing healing.

    Thank you for reminding me of this technique during times when I feel disappointment.

  • Sandra Lee says:

    Tara, Such a beautiful spontaneous idea showing the depth of your compassion.

    I also practice Tonglen, which has incredible healing power.

  • Dia says:

    Hi Tara,

    When we remember other people’s distress and sympathize with them, our problems tend to get easier. Thanks for this.

  • Jaky Astik says:

    My favourite way to deal with frustration and that creepy angry feeling is ‘sleep’. I just get off to sleep whenever I feel such or go out and have a bicycle ride.

    What happens is, ok technically, the blood pumps faster, you breadth more, fresh air gets in and relaxes your muscles and tension.

    Psychologically, it’s just helpful. Try it out.

  • Farouk says:

    that certainly made me feel better, Good trick Tara 🙂

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Joy – thank you! I’m so glad this little reframing tool relieved some pain for you. And isn’t it interesting that when we connect to the even greater pain of the world, it eases things a little?

    Susan – what a beautiful practice, thank you for sharing it. Seems like a sister version to this one. Thanks for reading and for being here.

    Alex – well put. The healing power of empathy. Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

    Sandra – thank you. i think we all are hardwired for a great depth of compassion…and then the veil gets put over it through the roughness and conditioning of our life experience. And I’m going to try this Tonglen practice! Thanks for being here.

    Dia – it’s so true, isn’t it? And such an interesting paradox. Getting out of ourselves always works.

    Jaky – yes, no question. Exercise and sleep are very, very powerful. those simple solutions can resolve a lot of the problems that we think are so complex. Thanks for the reminder.

    Farouk – oh good! Glad it had impact for you. Thanks for letting me know!

  • Jacqui says:

    In my mind this links back to the idea of community – but on a more global scale that what we usually consider to be our communities. Moving us away from the ego and towards that connectedness (community) to others that we all need, yet have difficulty finding when we allow ourselves to sit in the ‘icky emotions’. Thanks for the reminder!

    Fueling Karma (through community)

  • Linda says:

    Just found out about you from today’s post on the Productive Flourishing blog. I can’t believe you’re out there. I have been so stuck for a couple years because I haven’t been able to process some icky feelings and to read your thoughts on that have turned on some light bulbs in my head. I can now see why I’ve been having so much trouble moving on. I’m not processing, I’m just being busy. I’ve perused the blog and like what I am seeing. Thank you

  • Tara says:

    Linda – thanks for coming over here from PF. So glad that this spoke to you. I think you’ve said it so beautifully – so foten we are not processing, we are just “being busy.” I hope taking some processing time helps to get things unstuck for you.

    Jacqui – yes, yes, yes. I look forward to the day when we experience the whole planet as a community we are part of. We think of this as “giving” something to others, but actually its about coming home to the belonging we all have – which is a gift that’s already been given to each of us.

  • This is, without a doubt, one of the best blog posts I’ve read. Ever. Your words ring so true. I want nothing more than to live my life focusing on others, connecting, experiencing a shared existence. And you put those feelings into words.

    I am so happy that your feelings of disappointment–that ache in your chest–subsided. When we turn outward towards others, we are given the opportunity to heal.

    Thank you, dear friend.

    Secret Agent L

  • Bridget says:

    This little practice is such a great way to expand our consciousness. I use it too, and I love it.
    When we know that other people feel the same way, we get out of our bubble, and feel connected. Even if it’s pain, that connection can sure help.
    Thank you, Tara!

  • Misty says:

    I know when I am having these feelings I am seeking validation and compassion. This is a good technique to secretly find just that without having to “share” with a live person when you really don’t want to. Having this quiet connection to others, without judgement, advice, noise, etc…just helps…

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