“One of the things that has been inspiring to me is to realize that I am not alone in this process…I realize that I’m tied as if by invisible strings to billions of people, and that somehow my gesture of courage or bravery is also helping them. I also always think that when the courage comes, to actually stay open and receptive to my experience when it’s so vulnerable, so tender, so painful–I also know that my courage is the result of many, many other people, who all over the world, are lifting themselves up and walking forward, for the sake of all of us and the sake of the planet. So it’s not like we are all alone, me personally struggling to “be a warrior” to “face my fear” and not run from the shaky tenderness. It’s like we’re a vast society of training bodhisattvas, training warriors, we are all in this together. When I do it, I’m helping a lot of people. When they do it, they are helping me.” –Pema Chodron, Unconditional Confidence
When I was depressed, I was of little use to anyone. I didn’t feel I had much of anything to give, so I gave very little. I didn’t think that I had the power to create change, so I didn’t create any (in my life, or in anyone else’s life).
A story of isolation is at the root of all depression. In that far-away place where we don’t think we matter or that our lives amount to much, we don’t see that we are intimately connected with others, and that everywhere there are people in the wings who are rooting for us to not only survive, but to also thrive.
It’s not just your birthright to live a joy-filled, happy, courageous life. Choosing to live this kind of life is also how you help others. When your own well is dry, you don’t have anything to give. When you empower yourself, you teach yourself the very tools that someone else can use to empower themselves.
In other words: the world needs the kind of help that only those who have transformed pain and suffering can give.
If you are in pain right now, if you are suffering, if you are lost and alone and hurting and confused, you are not just in the experience of those states. You are also poised to train as a warrior who can come out on the other side of this, and help others.
Yes, there are people who are starving, who are abused, who suffer far more than you, and yes, it’s good to be grateful that you have so much.
Yes, it’s good to note any navel-gazing tendencies on the path of becoming more fully human (navel gazing narcissism isn’t so very human, anyway).
What’s dangerous is when people beat themselves up for their insecurities, isolating themselves further. Why can’t I get my shit together, be grateful, give a little back? Isn’t it selfish to work on myself? Those thoughts–especially of trying to give something to the world when you don’t feel you have anything in the reserves for yourself–are particularly exhausting. The shame of “not being grateful enough” weighs you down.
When you feel completely lost, or even just a little forlorn, it’s good to remember that there are people who only want your highest good. People are always doing things: meditating or praying, or creating art that will light up your life via the living room wall, or fighting for freedom in a war-torn country so that you don’t have to, or, yes, feeding the hungry.
In other words: there’s someone right now who is acting as a force of love. They act on your behalf, whether you know it or not.
In those particularly low moments, your act of courage is to simply remember. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve got it in you to make a single choice in the name of deep self love, just remember that there are thousands, millions of people who are making those choices on your behalf. They rise in the morning and practice courage and compassion and love because they know that there’s going to be someone who is positively touched by their actions. You might run into one of these exquisite humans in line at the grocery store, or reaching for the sugar at the cafe bar, or when you look to your right at a stoplight.
And one day, even if today does not feel like that day, you will be that exquisite human for someone else. You will be the link that helps someone find their way back from the darkest of emotions.
That, my friend, is reason enough–carry on, courageous warrior, carry on. Your courage is for all of us.