At work, or in our personal lives, we will sometimes be present when people get big news or experience extremely painful circumstances. People tend to respond in one of three ways when witnessing others in crisis. Some will avoid the situation, which leaves the other person emotionally isolated and the person doing the ignoring feels helpless and weak. Some move toward the situation with the intention of helping the person feel better and they’ll tend to hurry that process and create more resistance to the act of acceptance. And in the third instance, the witness is simply open and available.
Creating a safe space for someone requires a certain type of clarity or/or courage. You have to appreciate emotions as transient experiences, not problems to be solved. They are less like a lock to pick or a weight to lift and they more like weather. That means you should appropriately prepare. If you can’t be quietly comfortable with a crying person, you will lack the necessary strength to make a difference in a “big” situation.
Keep your eyes open today. Hopefully you won’t run into something huge, like a death or shocking betrayal of some type; but while most won’t see anything huge, we will all have our own versions of the most emotional thing we’ll witness all day. When you see it happen–when you watch someone transitioning through a level of understanding about something–don’t rush them through it. Let them set the pace. Simply be present. You’re more powerful than you think so that makes a bigger difference than you think.
Start paying attention to the emotional weather others are experiencing and begin to open up to the idea of simply adjusting yourself to their weather, rather than pushing them towards your own expectations by forcing them in a direction that you’d find more comfortable. Simply put: you’re not who you should be worrying about if someone’s facing something big. Fortunately for you, there’s no way for you to suffer if you’re so busy taking care of someone else that you never even ask yourself what you’d want. By not setting any expectations, you become available to the present moment.
If you do this exercise today you will make a difference. Either way, you’ll stand a decent chance of getting an opportunity to practice this life skill again soon. Keep this in mind; that big moment isn’t about you, it’s about the other person. Your job is not to save them, it’s to be with them in hell while they find their own way out.
Rather than its relentless pursuit of perfection, our society will actually see significant gains when each of us simply develops our own personal skills and strategies for coping with the rigours that make life feel worthwhile and meaningful.
Today let us say that the change we want to see in the world is a greater level of compassion and connection. And now let us go forth into our day and watch for our opportunity to help make the world even just a little bit better.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.