How Do I Alleviate the Suffering of Others?

“We have to take great care to assess the conscious receptivity of those who are around us who might be suffering, and only act according to their conscious receptivity.”

Thom Knoles

The desire to help others is baked into human DNA, and the sight of someone suffering often triggers a need to take action.

This is one of the reasons our species has been able to thrive.

Often, however, our attempts to alleviate the suffering of others don’t succeed, not necessarily because of lack of effort or misguided intentions. It’s because there’s another dynamic at play that can thwart our efforts.

In this episode, Thom reminds us that the desire to be helped doesn’t come as naturally as the desire to offer help, and that the greatest help we can sometimes give, is to not give help at all.

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Episode Highlights


The Natural Desire to Alleviate the Suffering of Others



Harmonizing Inner Alignment with External Responses to Change



Unsought Advice



How to Help Someone Who Is Suffering



Perceiving Cues



The Role of Humility in Seeking Help


Jai Guru Deva


How Do I Alleviate the Suffering of Others?

[00:45] The Natural Desire to Alleviate the Suffering of Others

We always want to help others in the greatest possible way when we see them suffering, and it is perhaps in our DNA to be somewhat parental.

When in contact with otherwise helpless children, we don’t wait for them to make a mistake before we intervene and avert the dangers that have not yet come, and keep them away from the suffering.

But then, as children grow into adulthood, the most important thing is for people to learn how to make use of the best of what they know, and then, when they’ve run out of things that they know best, how to make a worthy inquiry from someone who may be nearby, who looks as though they’re wiser about how best to navigate all of the challenges and difficulties of living a life in a world of constant change.

So, living a life in a world of constant change, what’s going to happen is that we build inaccurate expectations about what’s going to happen in this change.

We can rather accept that change is going to occur, but what style is it going to take, and what way are things going to change? Which things are going to stay the same, and which things are going to change, and in what way are those things going to change?

[02:23] Harmonizing Inner Alignment with External Responses to Change

And when we get most of that right, if we are someone who’s very attuned with that deep inner place that we touch upon during Vedic Meditation, we’ll get most of that right with greater and greater frequency, and we’ll find that our expectations are met.

And we’ll find that the world changes in ways that were within the range of our expectation, and the things that are changing with less speed, the things that are staying the same for longer, tend to stay the same for longer, in the way that we expected them to. And so the world seems to be unfolding in tune with our expectations.

But then we cast about and look around us, and we see that others are becoming very upset when the world behaves exactly in the way that you could have predicted. In other words, people who lack the capacity to see the patterns—the patterns of the cascades of laws of Nature.

You do a particular thing, and it cascades into the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, and then produces a result. And if that result is undesired, not desired, you might wonder why a person continues to do the thing that causes the final thing to happen that’s not so desirable.

And yet we look around us, and we see people continuously engaging in behaviors which would have been eminently preventable if only that asked us, but they didn’t ask us.

[04:03] Unsought Advice

And we also find that if they don’t ask us and we go and offer our wise and trusted counsel, we go and offer our advice unsought by them, then, though they might, because of some kind of upbringing, have the good manners to be polite about what they’re about to do, which is utterly reject you and to reject your advice and counsel.

They might be quite polite about it, but in the end, they won’t actually respond to what you’re doing. Why? Because inside themselves, they’re thinking to themselves, “I’m a grown up. You’re not my parent. I didn’t ask for any advice. I haven’t yet finished.” This is the subtext. “I haven’t yet finished trying to make things work using the knowledge I already have.

“And so until I have exhausted my way of doing things and found repeatedly on my own terms that it’s not working, I’m not going to ask anybody for anything. I’m going to continue on trying to use the tools that I have, and with the knowledge that I have, to see if I can effect sufficient levels of change.

“And so please don’t advise me.” Or, “Thank you very much for advising me. Now I’ll go through a process of utterly ignoring everything you just said. And not only that, steering away from you if I see you coming because you’re likely to go ahead and provide me with unsought advice yet again.”

[05:43] How to Help Someone Who Is Suffering

This is why we have this saying that, in the Vedic worldview, if you give someone more of anything that they don’t think they deserve, they’ll punish you for it.

If you give someone more time than they think they deserve, they’ll punish you for that. If you give someone more money than what they think they deserve, they’ll punish you for that.

If you give someone more love, more attention, more energy, more of anything, than what they think they deserve or they didn’t ask for, then it will cause them to sabotage their relationship with you.

And this can be so perplexing, but we have to become grown ups ourselves and realize we’re causing this strange behavior in people, but it’s not actually all that strange. These are the mechanics of having triggered, through over-generosity, having triggered some rejecting behaviors in others.

So, how can we best help someone who is suffering?

We can keep our eyes and ears and all of our five senses on them and make sure if there are any signals where they might subliminally be signaling worthy inquiry. Worthy inquiry doesn’t necessarily come only in the form of words, it might come in gestural forms. It might come in the form of certain looks on the face. It might come in a variety of forms. It doesn’t necessarily need to be words like, “Can you help me?”

[07:27] Perceiving Cues

It could be subtextual in the way that they’re talking. Someone might say, “I just really don’t know what to do now.” And if they express that in your presence, and you are ready to be a wise and trusted counselor of them, then you might skip a beat and then enter into that vacuum.

“Well, if you’d like to receive some counsel from me, I’d be more than happy to give it. You’ll let me know,” and then just be quiet.

This is the hardest part for someone who is a would-be counselor. When to know how to close the zipper on your lips and be absolutely silent. “You’ll let me know.”

And then, do you have enough self-mastery to be absolutely quiet in that moment? Because if you speak, if words are the next thing to come out of your mouth and not out of their mouth, then you’ve destroyed the moment.

So, that moment of that sound vibrating, “I’d be happy to counsel you and let you have my point of view. If you’d care to, you’ll let me know.”

And that needs to vibrate. And the next person who needs to speak is them. And if they say something like, “Oh dear. Well, I didn’t know it came over me. Let’s get on with daily life.”Then you just get on with daily life too and forget about it.

[09:02] The Role of Humility in Seeking Help

Your offer is like a seed, and it’s just been planted silently in the awareness of the suffering person. If it’s going to grow, if it has the potential to grow, it’s going to grow in a fertile soil of readiness for something new rather than them yet again engaging in the ever-repeating known. Yet again, the ever-repeating known.

The ever-repeating known is the most dangerous place on earth. It seems as though it’s safe because it repeats, but the fact is it stagnates and stagnation is the most dangerous state for anybody to be in. Stagnation. We need to come out of stagnation and embrace that which we don’t yet know. And that means engaging in knowledge that we don’t yet have.

But until it occurs to us, consciously as a thing that we’re willing to surrender our pride, and say, “I would love to hear any counsel you can give me,” then we’re not going to have the advantage of new knowledge. We won’t get the advantage of new knowledge.

So, the person who wants to be helped needs to surrender at least that little bit of pride that stops them from asking for help.

And from our side, we can’t push ourselves on them. If we push ourselves on somebody, we’re going to risk gravely destroying our relationship with them. And there may even come moments where they’d be ready to receive counsel from you, but they won’t reach out and ask for it because you destroyed the moment in a previous occasion.

So, we have to take great care, properly, to assess the conscious receptivity of those who are around us who might be suffering, and only act according to their conscious receptivity.

Jai Guru Deva.

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