People who care about other people often carry the weight of the world with them. When we hear about other beings suffering, we suffer along with them. As we keep informed of events in the news, new layers of sadness and frustration pile on to those already accumulated. Add to this personal problems and the day-to-day stress of family, work and life in the 21st century and we can have a heavy load to bear.
Some of us live under the illusion that there is merit in carrying the burdens of the world. We may have been taught that by carrying our crosses we emulate Jesus in his suffering. We come to feel that the more we labor under the burden of pain and stress, the more redemptive value our suffering has. Or we may carry our compassionate suffering as a sign that we do care. “How can I be happy,” we might ask, “when so many others are in pain?”
We need to decide, however, if the emotional burdens we cling to are useful, or are they just excess baggage that makes us less effective human beings? If we carry too much of the pain and negativity of the world, our emotional health may be damaged. In time, our physical health may deteriorate. Our relationships, rather than being enhanced, are likely to be strained when we live in chronic stress.
An alternative to becoming overburdened is to remain compassionate, but willing to let go of suffering. We can practice being empathic, understanding and kind without letting our own or other people’s suffering wear us down. Suffering is inevitable, but it is not the purpose of life. If we get to choose our purpose in life, the relief of suffering might be worth considering.
As we strive to reduce suffering, we cannot run away from it. We need to be able to understand the nature of suffering. We need to foster our own empathy. We also need to be able to balance the bad with the good. While bad things happen and there is much cruelty in the hearts of humans, good happens too and love is all around us. We must not forget the good. We must not forget the love. Though there is bad, there is good. Though there is hate, there is love. Light and dark both exist. The yin and the yang both exist and are interdependent. Together they make a whole.
Our lives include pain and hardship. They also contain good fortune and opportunities for joy. How can we deal with the pain and yet be open to the joy? We must be able to accept what is, do what we can to change things for the better, and be willing to release our grip on emotional baggage that draws us back into suffering.
As we consciously release the emotional burdens we carry, it can be helpful to use visualizations to assist in the release. By creating mental pictures of the release, we may reach parts of our brains that are far removed from our verbal faculties. We want to affect the limbic system of our brains where emotions are primarily processed.
While in a meditative state, or just when you become aware of holding on to negative thoughts or emotions, create any of these pictures in your mind.
Imagine you can stuff your negative thoughts and emotions into a black velvet bag. Get a clear image of the issue you want to release. Imagine placing it in the bag and tie the bag up tight. Now get rid of the bag. You don’t need it. You can:
- Shoot it into space.
- Toss it into an imaginary garbage can.
- Extending your chi, send the unwanted bag of junk to the far reaches of the universe.
- Vaporize it.
- Dissolve it in the infinite sea of loving-kindness.
Alternatively, put your negative thoughts and emotions in a box you create in your imagination. Seal it shut. Place the box behind you. Imagine it shrinking. Let it shrink so much that ultimately it disappears.
In your mind, write your troubles on a blackboard. Next, imagine you are erasing the blackboard. As the words or images are erased, you release their hold on you.
In a similar vein, see your problem thoughts and emotions on a video screen. Turn down the brightness until the image is gone. Then shrink down the screen until it is nothing.
Remember, joy is a side effect of living compassionately and with equanimity.