In addition to helping you relax and discover your own wisdom, meditation is a way of softening and opening your heart.
But is it possible to open it too much? I’m sure you have had this experience, of trying to be good and kind and then finding yourself under the thumb of a very needy person. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to draw the line, but how to do so without abandoning your friend or your commitment to compassion?
On this score, I recently received a question from a member of the Open Heart Project.
Q: “How does one be openhearted and compassionate without being consumed by a friend’s crisis? How does Buddhism explain the self-preservation part of this?”
A: Giving is an act of joy. When the joy disappears for long stretches, or you begin to suspect that your giving is robbing you rather then replenishing you, it’s good to reassess.
Even when your generosity begins from a sense of obligation (and often it does), you can turn it into a gesture of joy by knowing that no matter what, you are going to figure out a way to envelop those you encounter with loving kindness.
Sure, the most common form of giving is time and availability. But giving can take many other forms, the most important of which is to hold this person in your heart with kindness. Here are some suggestions for remaining a generous friend without jumping into the fire with her:
1. Practice loving kindness meditation for her. I give traditional instruction here.
2. Think of her with love when you see or hear something that reminds you of the trouble she is facing. Send her loving kindness by simply thinking, “In this moment, I feel what you feel. I hold you in my heart and wish for you liberation from this difficulty.”
3. Make little gestures of kindness that don’t involve diving into the story of her problems. Send her an email with a review of a movie you think she’d like. Send her a card with a note that says, “thinking of you.” Send her a book you think she might enjoy. Send her things that let he know you care. You don’t have to send her your time, advice, or all the emotional energy you possess.
4. When you do anything that brings you pleasure, no matter how small—enjoying a particularly delicious cup of coffee, encountering only green lights on the drive to work, seeing the delight on your child’s face when he rides his bike—touch in with your moment of delight and simultaneously bring your friend to mind with the wish that she too could experience such feelings. Share your happiness with her in this way.
5. As you end your meditation practice for the day, dedicate the merit of that session to her wellbeing.
In these ways, you can stay away and move close at the same time.
Susan Piver is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do.” She is also the author of The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life: 100 Essential Questions for Designing Your Life from the Inside Out, and The Hard Questions for Adult Children and Their Aging Parents, all published by Putnam. Her latest book, How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, explores incorporating spiritual practice and study into everyday life.
Susan has been studying and practicing Buddhism since 1995. A graduate of Shambhala Vajrayana Seminary, she has been authorized as a meditation instructor. Susan teaches workshops on meditation, inner growth and creativity.