It may be that we find there are times in our lives when we feel a call to serve, a selfless desire to give or help in some way. Often we respond to another person just because we think they will respond to us; we’ll give and then maybe they’ll give – or it’s socially expected to do so. But there’s a dryness in that and one can go through life without ever really feeling where one’s heart is. But there may be times when human need touches us and we feel ourselves present in a qualitative way. The possibility of somehow being of help opens the heart and we can be there with the person in their pain.
I experienced this opening of the heart at the time of my mother’s death – it got me in contact with my own personal pettiness. I realised that this was the very reason why I had never really been able to help my mother. No matter how much I had wanted to at that time, I couldn’t, because of the blockage of my own personal poverty, this selfishness which remained. It was this despair, of seeing one’s smallness, that opened the heart to the possibility of somehow being of help.
This is what another’s pain can do for us, it can get us in touch with our own pain. It can help us to remember our own separateness. We can’t help when we separate ourselves, so we can’t be in the place of the other; and remembering this is painful.
I’ve found there’s a grace, an openness that comes when you fully submit to the Truth that you don’t know, you really don’t know what you can do. It’s the willingness to be in touch with that separateness, with that feeling of being trapped, from which can arise the real possibility of sharing not just another’s pain, but their way out of that pain. And when we’re there with them sharing that together, if we’re clear and genuine enough, then when the opening begins to come we naturally move towards it without even thinking about it. We’re just there, fully alert to the opportunities for that act of giving oneself, or giving up oneself.
Giving can often be very ordinary; we can give gifts, we can give our attention, our sympathy, our kind words and our friendship as we go through life. But when the compassionate heart is touched, the demand to give seems to be greater. Being in touch with our own poverty, we have to be willing to give up even what little we do have. And this response doesn’t come from our ideas about how things work, some explanation of the subconscious, or some philosophical understanding of life. It never comes from that because that’s in the head, that’s not from the heart. When someone really needs the response of another human being, it has to be a real giving of the moment.
This reflection by Ajahn Santacitto is from the essay, Awakening the Compassionate Heart.