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Lions Roar : July 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN jULy 2009 75 just make it happen. we are helpless. we can be strong for others, but we cannot make others strong. the struggles of people we care about can be harder to face than our own difficulties. it is not uncommon, for instance, for a dying person who has come to terms with their own mortality to still be in great distress because they are worried that their family or loved ones do not have the inner resources to face up to what is happening. you recognize that your family is caught up in fear and anguish, pain and confusion—and there is nothing you can do about it. the fact that you are aware of your own situation and are dealing with it as best you can does not help. in some ways, that even makes things worse, because you see the contrast. you can work with your own situation but cannot protect the people around you or remove their confusion. And much as you might like to do so, you cannot simply transfer your understand- ing to others. so in addition to facing the pain of dying, you suf- fer from the frustration of not being able to help those you love, no matter what you yourself have learned. it is so lonely to know what is going on and be unable to fix it. But you cannot walk the path of another, and another cannot walk the path for you. the reality is that each of us is a traveler, and we travel utterly alone. this pattern repeats itself in many contexts. in the current eco- nomic climate, many people have lost their jobs or are afraid they might. money is tight and prospects are dim. savings are disap- pearing and investments tanking. it is a time of belt-tightening, constriction, doing without, in which many people are cutting back on their expenses—those lucky enough to have expenses beyond the bare necessities. if you have lived through economic booms and busts before, you may be pretty sure that you can weather another round of tightened circumstances and uncertainty. in my own life i have experienced many different economic conditions, and i am grateful for that. i’ve lived on food stamps and unemployment and i’ve lived as a middle-class homeowner. Be- cause i’ve experienced these extremes, i know i can adjust to both times of poverty and times of economic well-being. it is empowering to face poverty and loss and find yourself not destroyed but strengthened by the experience. But even if you are able to weather changes in your own health or your economic situ- ation, that is not enough. what about your children? what about your friends? how do you deal with the pain of others? you see so many people struggling just to cover their basic needs and support their families—working to the point of exhaustion, never being able to save a cent, and seeing no end in sight. you see people beaten down by the pressure of trying so hard to succeed, but not getting anywhere other than deeper in debt. how do you not feel despair? you may be worried about your own children, wondering wheth- er they will ever escape from living paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by. you worry that they may never reach the same stan- dard of living as you have, no matter how diligent and hardworking they may be. the desire to see your chil- dren flourish comes up against the harsh reality that you cannot make it happen. you want to help, but your own resources may be limited. And even if you have resources, it can be really hard to know what is truly helpful. it is like the story of a child who comes upon a chrysalis, and touched by the struggling of the moth inside, decides to help it break out. But when the child pulls open the covering, the moth dies. Because the moth did not have to fight to break free, its wings were unable to strengthen and mature, so it could not survive. Blindly trying to solve things may only make them worse. As you look beyond your own family and friends and your own immediate situation, you see that there are endless problems, endless issues, endless crises. there will always be something to obsess about, always be someone to worry about, always a reason to give up in the face of the futility over making things right. the thought loop of troubles and possible troubles, future troubles and remembered troubles, can take over your mind without interruption or relief. And the more you are captured by such thinking, the more frozen you feel. such worrying feeds on itself. it is a self-perpetuating trap. we can become so absorbed in frightening future scenarios that we lose touch with what we are experiencing here and now. worry can have the perverse quality of making us feel righteous that we care so deeply—and we do not take responsibility for our worrying, but we conveniently blame it on others. worrying about a person may show them we care, but it also conveys to them our sense of superiority and our lack of trust in their ability to handle their life. with worry, instead of recognizing our frustration at the limits of our power to help, we convert it into an incessant inner mental drone of thinking and anxiety. we are obsessed with all we cannot do, with thoughts of powerlessness. it becomes overwhelming and we do not know how to dig our way out. instead of piling up all the problems we cannot solve one on the other until we have a giant mountain of impossibility, we I’ve lived on food stamps and I’ve lived as a middle-class homeowner. I know I can adjust to times of both poverty and economic well-being. We want their pain to go away—and we are uncomfortable with our own pain as well. That ground of mutual pain and rawness is forbidding territory to explore.