We need space to learn to know our own minds; then we can help others

Oct 19, 2023

We want to help others, especially those in our close relationships. We know very well that if we ask how can I help my child learn music, the only way to do it is to first learn music ourself.

We get that. But when it comes to helping our child with their anger, their jealousy, it never occurs to us to first learn about those parts of ourselves and know how to understand them and work with them.

But it’s obvious that we must.

Compassion is not enough, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama says; we need wisdom. Meaning well is not enough, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says; we need wisdom.

A bird needs two wings: wisdom and compassion. And wisdom, at the most basic level, is the common sense that comes from working on our own minds, knowing our own neuroses and fears and anger and the rest. Then when you see them in others, you recognize them. 

But if we haven’t dealt with our own mind, our child’s anger and dramas simply trigger our own and we can’t do a thing to help. But when you know yourself, then you can then identify the anger, “Wow, I understand that. I recognize exactly what’s going on.”

Also, crucially, if you are familiar with the pain of your own anger, you will respond with more empathy to your child: look how they’re hurting themselves.

Not only that. When we are familiar with our own mind, in particular our deep attachment to be seen and heard and approved of, we won’t take the other person’s dramas so personally. 

With this emotional hunger to be approved of, there we are, watching our hubby like a hawk, hoping for the smile, the approval: “Phew, I must be okay!”

But there he is, looking miserable, and if we haven’t developed some objectivity, which comes from our own self-awareness, we’ll immediately freak out and take it personally – “What have I done wrong!” 

So, we need to work on our own mind first. That’s what brings stability. Then we can handle what people throw at us – not to mention help them.

And to accomplish this we need space in our lives, which we have to carve out for ourselves. Especially as kids as we’re growing up. But it’s a luxury! In our family there were seven kids, all very close in age. The chaos of the emotions: all on top of each other! 

I was pretty naughty so my mother sent me to boarding school, the Catholic convent I was being educated at, when I was about twelve I think. It was the best thing that ever happened! Suddenly I had my own bed, my own space, a disciplined schedule, morning Mass. I was in heaven! I was able to discover and grow whole new parts of myself that I simply couldn’t before. 

As adults, we need to make this happen. When we’re driven by our need to be seen and heard, we don’t realize this. We want to glue ourselves to the other person – that’s a disaster!

So, our development of self-awareness is what helps us and it’s what prepares us to help others.

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