My friend Amani offered me a ticket to the see the Dalai Lama speak this past Saturday, and there was no way I was going to miss that. Even though I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying because of the echo/accent combo, what I did catch went straight to my heart. And I checked out the rest of it later on the webcast. (If you want to see just his address, you can scroll down to April 12 – Compassion in Action, hit the big play button, and then jump ahead to about 54 minutes.)
At one point in his speech when he was talking about how to teach compassion to our children, he said that part of the path is to give them “maximum affection.” And he smiled in the most beautiful way as he said it. It was simple but it hit a nerve. It made me feel better about something that’s often difficult for me. In short, being a big softie. I often feel embarrassed by my effusions of emotion, and I “play it cool” in a lot of situations.
Part of it is being an introvert and needing to maintain some emotional boundaries and personal space, but I think there’s some kind of shame in there too. I’ve got enough perspective to fear being a starry-eyed Polyanna, sincere but laughable or overreaching. I waffle back and forth between cynicism and a desire to keep my heart open. I fear that what’s most true in my heart is airy fairy goofiness that would cause some people to dismiss me. The more tenderhearted and open I feel about something, the more hesitant I often am to share it with others.
Here’s a small example. The other day a friend leaned against the chair I was sitting in, and I felt compelled to braid her beautiful hair. I felt so loving towards her. But we don’t know each other all that well, and after a while I felt uncomfortable. What if it was too much? What if she thought I was weird or judged my motives?
It happens all the time, with strangers, friends and family. I fear that others may not accept everything I have to give — that if I let it all hang out I’ll make it all too clear that I’m weird, intense, obsessively inward looking, easily distracted, and whatever else I think is going to turn people off in some way.
It’s difficult also because we have to respect one another’s boundaries. Maybe you don’t want my maximum affection? Maybe it will frighten you? I hold the weight of my empathy at bay. I fear that my good intentions could be misguided, that I could be like a smothering mother laying on the love so thick that it holds someone down. It seems almost inevitable once the floodgates of unlimited love slide open.
The balancing factor is that I am usually willing to let go. In most cases, except when my intuition screams that someone needs me to push them or when anger or pride get the better of me, I can step back easily. The hard part is stepping forward with the love. It’s hard to trust that others will send me a signal if they don’t like my actions. Unless we have a strong relationship, they probably won’t tell me. That’s the tacit agreement we make for politeness. We usually don’t inform each other directly when we feel invaded or controlled or afraid or otherwise unhappy with someone else’s overtures.
It’s not worth playing a guessing game or worrying about rejection. If there’s one thing I want to take from my encounter with the Dalai Lama, it’s this idea that I’m riffing on of maximum affection — giving my love without fear and reservation. Add that to my old favorite “let it go, let it out,” throw in patience to live one moment after the other trusting that it will be enough, and I think my philosophy for living is ready for action.