Whether asking myself, or asking those you are wanting to support - "what can I do that will help best right now" is one of my mantras. Admittedly, I often ask it of myself, and I'm practicing asking others more often, but sometimes, the situation doesn't allow for 2-way conversation.
Compassion, according to the Dalai Lama, is not just "feeling for" the other person (or one's self), but being so moved to motivate a change in their situation. In the times where one can do nothing, the Dalai Lama says we can instead pray (or send positive vibes/thoughts/love - depending on your spiritual perspective). Compassion doesn't "wallow with", it's not empathy - which can risk tipping the emotion into being about how it makes you feel - it actively seeks to change things for the better. "Wallowing" is not to be confused with the peace that you can bring simply sitting with someone - especially if that is what they have asked for - it is the motivation behind the action that you take.
As we reflect on a year of the Global Pandemic today - 365 days on from the first National Lockdown, it is easy to feel down. There has been huge amounts of grief, loss, change - much of it bringing pain, without the arms of loved ones to give comfort, and with little "relief" in the way of the happy events such as Christenings, Weddings or birthday parties that so often pop into one's calendar.
Even if you fear losing love, you can still GIVE love
However, within the stories I have heard and read, there are also many - if not of joy, of hope. All these experiences have a similar message - the way to get through is to take it one day at a time asking "what can I best do to help?"
I have mentioned in previous articles my dad's stay in hospital over the Christmas period (admitted unrelated to covid, caught covid there, and thankfully beat it - being discharged a month later), and more recently the unexpected and rapid changes my dog Brandy underwent after being diagnosed with diabetes resulting in her losing her sight practically overnight. In both cases I felt fear, sadness, frustration... For an active, hands on trouble-shooter, I also felt helpless. So instead I asked myself "What can I do that will help best right now?" - in some cases it was "Do nothing - be patient"; in others it was - for my dad - "Encourage his friends to call"; for my dog it was "Put down some textured flooring"...and now, with my dad it might be - just give him a call; with my dog - just sit and cuddle her. Those things help me as much as (I hope) they help them.
Your actions are your personal choice
One thing I also often tell people, is that our choices may not resonate with those of others. It is a natural unconscious drive of humans used to living in a collective society to seek validation from others that we are "accepted" within our community. This serves us less well in the present day.
It is important not to expect others’ chosen behaviours, in a similar context, to be the same as yours – that doesn’t make yours any less valid! It may be worth being aware that you and your partner/friends/community may have different reactions. For example, just because they are not showing their emotions in the way that you are, it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling them – take the time to observe and understand each other’s responses – and this may even deepen those relationships which are important to you. (And if your choice offends them - that's not really your problem!)
What can YOU do that will best help?
So this week, in a situation where:
- you don't know what to do
- you feel a negative emotion
- you feel lost
Often, if you think hard enough, you know what you would like an outcome to be...if you think harder, you may also recognise what is realistic to hope for, but with that in mind, try asking "What can I do that will best help right now?".
Sometimes it will be "...nothing at all and allow yourself to cry", or it might be to "stay silent, because being right is not as important as being kind", or it might be a flash of insight to tackle the issue.
Sometimes I even do this as part of an active meditation:
- I find a quite time (even just for 5 minutes) and focus on my breathing and on the outcome I hope to achieve (Sometimes, I might energise this further with thinking about blissful and joyful memories of those involved).
- I use the phrase "What can I do now that will bring about the most effective outcome for everyone involved?" In repeating this for a few moments, the clarity and headspace sometimes enables solutions, or at least a creative perspective to appear.
It is of course ok to be sad, sadness is often a reflection of love which has been lost. Similarly it is ok to fear or worry - as again that often has loss of love at the root. All I would humbly suggest is that you do not let those feelings paralyse you. You can still give love after all.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.