This morning in yoga, when Niight asked us to set our intention for the class, I remembered something I had read yesterday: “Eventually you realize you can only help those willing to help themselves…And that begins with helping yourself,” (from a post by Jen Gresham on Everyday Bright). I shortened that to “Help Yourself” and set my intention for class.
But as often happens, my intention for Monday morning’s yoga class is really much bigger than that, and follows me off my mat. I have been struggling with some family situations, two specific people who are in trouble that I really want to help, but they don’t want to be helped, don’t see the problem. They aren’t just making a mess of things for themselves, they are hurting people close to them, people who love them and want to see them safe and happy. Then, in turn, this second set of people become stressed out and strained and sick. Ripples of suffering continue out, and out.
It goes back to that empathic intuition and awareness thing again, the center of my power but so often the source of my pain. I can feel what they are feeling, understand their experience of things, but I can also see how wrongheaded it is, how confused. I can see their internal motivations and where this is going to lead if they don’t wise up, what they should do instead that has a real chance of providing comfort and positive change.
It’s as if they are headed straight for a cliff, but I can’t figure out how to convince them to take their foot off the gas, maybe even hit the brakes. I am not in the car with them, so the only thing I can do is watch them go and pray something happens between now and the edge.
And yet, even with the intellectual awareness that you can do nothing to stop them, that everyone has to live their own life, make their own choices and endure the consequences, you find yourself at times running after them, screaming “Slow down! Stop! Please turn around!” until you lose your voice and drop to your knees, your breath choked by the trail of dust they’ve left behind.
So it comes back around to this: “Eventually you realize you can only help those willing to help themselves…And that begins with helping yourself.” You can’t force other people to change, to do what’s right, to make better choices and live happier lives. You have to continue to chose balance and stability for yourself, stop making yourself sick thinking about their situation, their suffering. Like the 3 C’s of Al-Anon puts it: “Didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, and can’t control it.” Leave the chaos and the co-dependency behind, let it go.
And yet, it takes a strange sort of courage to give up on, to renounce people you love, those you want to help–“give up” meaning that I accept you can make your own choices and I cannot control what you do. I cannot keep you safe. I cannot make you happy. And if you attempt to draw me in to your circle of suffering, insist that I agree with your confusion, even adopt it as my own–I cannot go there with you. Courage is necessary because by saying “no,” by letting go, you run the risk of being alone.
Even if you find yourself having to let them go, you can continue to be a good example, someone who is sane, healthy, happy and safe. And I suspect, even as there are those you have to “give up on,” there will be others who seek out your kindness, who welcome your help, and who return your good will.
I’m giving up, and I am going to help myself, as I continue to wish nothing but love to those who are stuck and who are struggling. Eventually, we’ll all find a way out.
- “It’s not going to stop ’til you wise up, so just…give up.”