There are two things I want to describe today. First is the tendency to let everyone’s needs count for more than our own. To overextend ourselves, to be perturbed by opinions that don’t really matter. To let the world and the vagaries of its opinions define us.

This is a rampant tendency.

I feel so guilty when I don’t respond to emails quickly. And my family is going through something right now - a fair number of things. And I’m tired and growing inside and conserving and building strength. And yet somehow not replying to emails in the usual timely fashion makes me feel inadequate and I feel compelled to keep all the people in my life happy. Even though I really need to stop for a while.

I think most of us can relate to this one.

The second is the tendency to lack empathy. We take, want, eat without thinking. We don’t allow ourselves to feel into our behaviour. How someone else might feel when we say this or how our grieving friend is doing on this summer Thursday when we are so happily otherwise engaged.

Sometimes this tendency comes out when we’re particularly triggered - we choose ourselves first out of terror or rage. It’s reflexive. It hurts to be on the other end of it but do to it can be relatively easy.

Sometimes the circumstances are more banal.

I was at a big chain store and I asked a store employe where something was. When he told me they didn’t have it and I would have to have it made custom I didn’t believe him. I thanked him and I walked a few aisles down and asked the next employee the same question. Of course the two employees conferred and I was exposed. I feel so much shame for what I did. That part of me that didn’t think about these employees as humans - that has learned to game the system when dealing with big corporations. I did it without thought. Without empathy.

So the challenge is to bring both of these things together. To feel the need that is out there - the realness of the other beings with whom we share this planet - and to also not lose ourselves.

We can’t avoid doing what I did in the store - we’ll do this sometimes. But we can let ourselves feel the shame of it - not being there for a friend, treating someone with less than dignity - let ourselves feel how we feel about this. And open ourselves to the feelings of another. To make amends. And to grow from the experience.

It is true that I need more space offline than usual right now. And it is true that there are people in my life who are suffering and also need contact.

Both these things together. Can I bear the truth of this without minimizing one or there other? Without giving up what I need or retreating from what they need?

Living in the tension of all these feelings and needs is very difficult. And it’s very rich. And I don’t think there is any other honourable way to do it.

The need out there is endless. We can’t let it destroy us but we must reckon with it.

Change, EmotionsAlison