“Be there. Be open. Be honest. Be kind. Be willing to listen, understand, accept, support, and forgive. This is what it means to love.” ~Lori Deschene
A few months ago, I was totally freaked out.
I was having a cup of tea with a soul-sister friend, and we were in deep conversation. I was crying.
I was explaining, between hiccupping sobs, about how there was someone in my life who was suffering deeply.
Sitting at the café that day, I said to her, “There is this person in my life that I love so deeply, but he is suffering.”
I told her about all the ways I was connected to this very special person, and told her about how I was committed to helping him.
My friend was empathetically listening, and my story went on and on.
“He’s so depressed. When I’m around him, I just suddenly feel so sad. I feel his pain. It’s so deep. I have tried to share my wisdom with him, to help him evolve out of his depressed rut, but he won’t listen. I know he can make a change, but he just won’t listen to me. It’s like his ears are closed to me. What do I do? How can I help him?”
It was then that my dear friend replied in a way that I will never forget.
She placed her hand on my shoulder, and looked deeply into my eyes.
We sat in silence together for a moment.
Finally, she spoke, with such a gentle tone in her voice. “Anya, your lesson is to learn in this situation is simple, yet difficult. Your lesson is that you cannot help this person. Sometimes, there are people that you just can’t help.”
I gasped. Chills ran down my spine. Her words resonated through every cell of my body.
It was all so simple.
There are people in my life that I just can’t help.
So simple, yet so profound. Why hadn’t I realized this before?
And how had I somehow fallen into the trap of taking on someone else’s burden as my own? Why had I gotten trapped in suffering by trying to “fix” someone who was suffering?
These traps are, unfortunately, all too common for those of us with big open hearts. They are quite common for those of us who are caregivers, lovers, amazing friends, healers, spiritual way showers, and all those who wish to use our lives in service to a higher good.
Since that day at the café, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sweet friend’s advice. And I’ve come to a few insights of my own.
First, in order to be helped, a person must first ask for help. A person must make themselves available, vulnerable, open, and humble.
And this is not easy! It’s not easy to be open. It’s not easy to say, “I don’t know; please help me.”
Second, in order for you to help someone with your words, that person must first resonate with the kind of wisdom you have to share.
As a matter of fact, my depressed friend has a totally different worldview than I do, so it’s no wonder he wasn’t open to my words of advice.
There are a thousand paths and a thousand ways to interpret the world.
My way may not be your way, and your way may not your neighbor’s way. We are often so different in our concepts and language for interpreting this mysterious thing called life.
In short, for a person to want your help, that person must be somewhat already aligned to your philosophical or spiritual worldview.
Further, in order for a person to receive your help, they also must present themselves to you in the most perfect, synchronistic moment.
Indeed, they must be standing before you in the most precise, delicate moment: the moment just before the blossoming, just before the great change occurs. It can be as small as a split second of opening.
Timing is everything.
In that moment of perfect timing, they will be not only ready but hungry for evolution, hungry for growth, hungry for truth, hungry for new ways of seeing the world beyond their limited old perspective!
My dear friend who is suffering does not want to grow in the way I wish he would (consciously evolve out of suffering through spiritual practice)—at least, not at this time.
He is suffering and he does not even want to admit that he is suffering. He believes he can achieve no higher or better state in this lifetime.
Once I realized that there are some people I just can’t help, I felt a tremendous relief. A giant stone lifted from my heart, and I could suddenly breathe again.
I realized that I had unwittingly taken on his suffering as my own, in a misguided attempt to figure out how to “fix” him. I had allowed my natural empathy to become a wound in my own energetic body.
If a person you love is stuck in a place of denial to their own suffering or their own addictions or stuckness, then there is a strong possibility that what you say won’t make a bit of difference.
Denial is an incredibly strong force. And if your worldview differs too much from theirs, then it may not be your place to plant any seeds of wisdom. It may be your place to step back from trying to speak at all.
That’s a tough lesson of love, I know, but if you can remember it, it will save you a lot of heartache.
Indeed, if someone is in denial to their own suffering, then that very denial may very well block them from truly hearing you speak.
So, what do we do in these kinds of situations?
Can we take any action at all?
The answer is yes.
When we deeply love someone and we are invested in them (such as a lover, a friend, a child, or a business partner), what we can do is simply radiate love.
When we are in their presence, we can be as light, happy, and conscious as possible.
This light, this presence, this subtle vibration, will subtly shift their energetic field. And though no words are spoken, they will feel a little bit more peace while they are near us (whether they consciously know it or not).
And we can of course listen to them. When they need to talk, we can listen, and we can offer a hug or a gentle, reassuring smile.
Indeed, sometimes, when we love someone, the best thing we can do is shut the heck up.
The best thing we can do is simply be.
Friends painting by Jerry Weiss
About Anya Light
Anya Light, PhD, is a life coach and author of Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness. She writes about meditation, Reiki, and other spiritual topics on her blog Awakening With.