Addictive Helpfulness

We may need to consider a little abstinence from our automatic, reflexive responses of being helpful to others.  For some of us, doing this may feel very threatening; to identify our addictions of helpfulness is to challenge the ways we habitually express love – it comes close to challenging our love itself.

. . . Let us go back for a moment and look at that tiny, perhaps almost non-existent space between feeling a person’s pain and doing something in response to it. It is not easy to just be with the pain of another, to feel it as your own. No wonder we are likely to jump into our habitual responses so quickly. As soon as we start doing something for or to the suffering person, we can minimize the bare agony of feeling that person’s pain. It is like that everywhere; our addicted doings act as minor anaesthesia.

. . . Sometimes, perhaps often, taking the space will feel like an absence of response. We may fear the person will think we don’t care because we are not immediately hopping like popcorn to do something helpful. And sometimes the response that is authentically invited will never appear overtly helpful. Perhaps we are just invited to pray, silently in the background, or just to be present without saying a word or offering even a touch. Sometimes love even invites us to leave a person alone. Such responses are not too good for our egos; the suffering person is unlikely to come and thank us for our lack of involvement. But love does not ask for credit, nor does it permit ego-gratification as the motive for response.

Authentic loving responsiveness calls for a kind of fasting from being helpful. Real helpfulness requires a relinquishment of our caretaking reflexes. It demands not only that we stay present with the un-anaesthetized pain of the person or situation, but that we also risk appearing to be uncaring. It further asks us to be unknowing. Right there in the centre of a situation that screams for action, we must admit that we really don’t know what to do. Finally, it invites us to turn our consciousness toward the exact point where our hearts are already looking: to the source of love. There, and only there, is the wellspring of authentic responsiveness found.

– by Gerald G. May  in The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need