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From the Guide

“Hello, my name is Cheri and I’m a helpoholic.”

Thus we can communicate in our meetings once we organize them.

This notion of “helpoholic” came up in our recent retreat in North Carolina as people grappled with the when and how of “applied compassion.”

“I learn something about someone that moves me to sympathy. I want to help them. Isn’t that a good thing?”

I recounted a comment my teacher made years ago when someone asked him about this issue. This was in the heyday of the Human Potential Movement with its emphasis on understanding, caring, and support as methods of assisting others to realize their full potential. Hugging was very big. Often when an individual in a group encountered an emotion, such as grief or sorrow, the rest of the group would literally “pile on” to provide a comforting hug. When asked about this practice, my teacher exclaimed, “No! Don’t do that! You have no idea how long that person has been trying to get to that moment; don’t interfere with it.”

I got that concept, lo those many years ago, but it didn’t stop me from being an unintentional (unconscious) helpoholic. I could see so clearly what a person needed. I knew I could help. Even, perhaps especially, if a person doesn’t realize they need help, shouldn’t you help them anyway?

Of course we don’t want to see loved ones—or even total strangers—struggle and suffer. It’s painful to see. That’s the moment at which we have an opportunity to offer what is truly helpful—working to end our own suffering. If I project my fear of inadequacy on others, I will want to try to “save” them from their life circumstances. When I realize each moment is a perfect moment for each of us to work out our own salvation, I also realize we are each adequate to our lives. Helping you is never going to end my suffering, and interfering with you is never going to end yours.

One of the hardest processes to see is that by inserting myself into your situation I am “making your life about me.” I love you. I want you to be happy. I have to do what I can to be sure you are happy. Notice that while those three sentences are ostensibly about you, they all begin with I.

So, do we just ignore people? Not at all. We can be available, and we can trust them to let us know if there’s something they want from us. It can sound heartless, but it’s actually respectful.

In gassho