When was the last time you created suffering for another?
Yes, when was the last time you created suffering for another?
Not the most joyful thing to think about for sure, but a concept and idea that certainly deserves a place in our conscious awareness.
Come up with your answer, yet?
No worries, it's a challenging question.
And I wouldn't expect you to actually have the answer, for in all reality, you are probably completely unaware of the last time your words, actions or energy actually made another suffer.
Kind of hard to recall something when you weren't consciously aware of it in the first place, although even this statement is beginning to lose truth as researchers further explore the realms of latent infantile memories.
Tangent aside, while you may be entirely unaware of the last time you inadvertently hurt someone, you are likely equally as unware of that last time you filled someone with joy, hope or love.
And you thought that statement was supposed to make me feel better?
Yes, just give me a couple seconds to explain.
Smile at a passing stranger lately?
Donate T-shirts to a church clothing drive?
Say thank you to the individual bagging your groceries?
You may never and will likely never know how such words or actions impacted these individuals, but you don't have to, you just to need to know that you planted seeds of possible joy with the most meaningful of positive intentions.
You don't have to know the outcome!
For in truth, we cannot control or dictate someone's response to our presence, our words or our actions.
We just can't.
We can however, take ownership and responsibility for our own actions and words.
Take responsibility for our energy, our intention, and our response to conflict.
As I have come to see it, we really only have occasional and variable control over one thing: creating and maintaining conditions most likely to promote our flourishing and relieve our suffering.
Occasional and variable control over the conditions
MOST LIKELY to promote flourishing and relieve suffering
Ever buy someone a book only to discover they read it 2 years prior?
Ever invite a friend to a party only for your friend to meet another individual at the event with whom there was a recent significant conflict?
Ever offer to help cook Thanksgiving dinner for your overstretched mother only to be met by the words:
“Of course not, that is my job you shouldn't worry about anything, just stay out of the kitchen.”
We cannot control the outcomes of our actions or someone's reaction to our words, so stop trying.
It's just not worth it.
Instead, we can pour ourselves into a mindful process of awareness, intention, clarification and reflection, all with the genuine desire to create joy, relieve suffering AND remain unattached to the eventual outcome.
1. Cultivate awareness of another's needs, emotions and current perceived stresses.
Do the same for yourself
Identify any incongruences or unmet needs that could cloud your judgement or distort your intention
2. Set your intention and make it clear, but not challenging to the other party(ies) involved.
If directly communicating use non/violent and open language to further appreciate and understand another's intention.
Use phrases like:
Help me to understand...
Is there anything important you would like me to know?
Is there anything else you would like to say or for me to know?
3. Ask for clarification
Invite the other individual to share their thoughts, worries and current needs
Use phrases like:
I want to make sure I understand what you are feeling and needing right now.
I want to make sure I fully understand what you just told me.
Offer and allow them to explain even when you feel you do not need any more clarification.
4. Reflect back on your actions, your interactions, and your word choices over the past day.
Was there a moment that felt off?
Where you were feeling hurt, lonely, angry or tired and subsequently acted/spoke solely from this place?
Were there any conversations that just didn't go quite right?
We can ask all of these questions without fear of self-loathing or negative rumination, knowing that it is through these questions that we can grow a greater awareness of the present moment and the needs of others.
The Distilled Process
We can strive to use non violent language, to appreciate and better understand others, to openly give within our capacity and to acknowledge when we are carrying negative energy or acutely creating tension.
If you can do all of these things each and every day, no matter how minute, you can be satisfied knowing you are doing everything within your control to create and nurture a space intended to bring joy and not suffering.
Creating space with the best chance of instilling joy and relieving suffering.
So I guess that question: “When was the last time you created suffering for another?” can be replaced by a much more practical, relevant and answerable question:
Am I holding a space with the greatest likelihood for instilling joy and relieving suffering?
And that my friends, is actually a question we can ask and hope to answer.