Plainly put: to decrease your suffering you need to increase your empathy. By focusing on yourself your mind is required to create a suffering you to star in all of those painful narratives. When you focus on others you might still feel the engaging pain of empathetic connection to someone in a bad situation, but because it’s not about you your mind spends no time creating a you nor then can it attach those painful ideas to you. This is why you can be in pain experiencing a movie and not mind. You’re experiencing it but you’re detached from it.
A great way to add more joy to life is by doing the same thing with the positive things you do. This can be done with any small gesture but for the sake of example let’s use donating items as a test case. Someone I know recently donated their daughter’s old wheelchair because it’s the type you have to manipulate yourself and her daughter can no longer do that.
Now many people would focus on the me story and they would incessantly tell themselves sad and painful stories about their own child no longer being able to manipulate their chair, the challenges of getting the new one etc. etc. And I’m sure she did a bit of that. She is human if I forgot to mention.
She’s not only human, but she may be the best text-based student I’ve ever had. She reads every blog and social media post with the same earnestness that I write them with. On my social media she genuinely tries to find every quote in her own life, she tries every exercise and she’s seen noticeable results that she’s been very grateful for and I appreciate her sharing that with me. So, being who she is she was actively looking for positivity and that leads her to think she thinks to donate the old wheelchair.
Now she can do like most people and she can drop it off and feel pretty good that it didn’t go to waste. And she can be happy that at least if her daughter only had it a short time that means it’s in unusually good shape for the second user, which is quite rare I understand. But then you could do the same thing but then drive away and start thinking about you again.
Or you could invest as much time in the happy stuff as you tend to invest in the sad, angry or guilty stuff. If you have to think at all, you could really think about who could be looking for that chair? Whose financial situation could be even worse than our own? Who’s child in even greater need? Or a child in less need, but a mother new to it all and much more frightened. And we all know the intense shower of relief that cascades over us when we find a solution to a serious problem. That is one of the most grateful feelings in the world.
Maybe it’s just the feeling that your exhausting search is over. Maybe it’s that you feel terribly guilty about the chair you think you have to give your child and then you see this one in much better shape and your heart just flies. Maybe you already lost your husband in an accident and the insurance company is creating all sorts of hassles that demand so much attention and the kids are all in pain because they’ve lost dad and yet your daughter still needs that chair and you’re just so so so so tired and then there it is: just what you need, just dropped off a few hours ago by a very nice lady and you cry tears of relief because you just love that lady. In that moment over time and over space you love her.
That’s what we’re actually giving. We’re not giving things. We’re giving experiences. Give a kid too much and you give them the experience of no connection to the work required and the kid will be very naturally lazy. Give a person an idea that they can do a big and bold thing and the world might change. Giving is the ultimate universe-expanding act. That’s why it feels stellar.
People spend so much time trying to use negative thinking to beat down negative thinking. It’s getting it but not-getting it. The lady who reads carefully gets it. It’s a verb. You literally set down the negative thinking and choose something positive with the clear recognition that you innocently chose the bad thing previously. That humility—that willingness to be wrong about that first choice—is at the heart of why that woman has been so successful. She won’t always trade for better thoughts but at least stays aware of the act of choosing, and in doing that she can’t do anything but get increasingly deeper into this beautiful spiritual knowing.
Now go give because giving feels good. Be selfish in your giving. Revel in your achievements. That sense of gratitude you feel after contributing to someone else’s life is a clear sign that the universe loves you and always will.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.