How can you bring love and light to situations involving injustice, abuse or disrespect without being a doormat? Does being spiritual mean that you allow people to do exactly what they want, even if that results in you or others getting hurt?
It’s a subject that has come up often recently in my client sessions, and I’ve noticed it in many Facebook posts too. It’s a misunderstanding that often gets applied to spirituality; that it somehow means we have to be weak and “fluffy bunnies” who drift through life vaguely, seeing the best in everyone and conveniently ignoring anything that doesn’t sit comfortably within a rosy-glassed view.
This couldn’t be further from the truth as I know it. There is no rule that says compassion and understanding can’t sit side by side with strength. Where it’s easy to get confused is that whenever someone hurts you it feels personal. There’s an intimate emotional charge associated with that pain that can be projected on to the person who’s seen to be inflicting it. What happens then is that you see the person as the cause of your pain, as being the reason why you’re suffering, as the intentional destroyer of your peace and happiness. It’s very difficult to understand or have sympathy for someone who you believe is willingly and deliberately causing harm.
For a spiritual viewpoint, we have to take a step back and remind ourselves that at source we are all exactly the same – a spark of pure divinity. More than that, we’re all an aspect of that same divinity. It’s much harder to judge yourself as better or someone else as worse when you know that if you were to strip everything away you would be indistinguishable from one another. Given that you are both also part of the same greater whole, you would effectively be condemning your finger for moving in a different way to your toe! At this level, yes, we’re all pure, and we all deserve only love and compassion as fellow spirits on a unique journey of discovering what it’s like to exist in a material world.
The apparent differences and challenges only come in at the level of personality, which is shaped by our previous lifetimes, the level of consciousness our soul has reached, our family and culture, and our current life experiences. All these factors mould how we see and feel about ourselves as a person, and how we’re able to relate to others. It has been proved over and over again by many researchers into criminal psychology and behaviour that we only hurt others when we’re acting from our own pain. People who are abused often become abusers themselves, those who are bullied will often go on to bully others – it’s the “kick the dog” syndrome of passing on the pain. You only have to remember the last time you lashed out at someone with cruel words, and straight away you can recognise the surge of defensiveness, the compelling drive to get them before they can get you. There is always a story behind every harmful act, and it begins with the instigator being harmed in some way themselves, whether that’s subjection to emotional or physical pain, neglect, or lack of guidance around how to relate to others healthily and with respect.
So it’s vital to remember that it’s a personality that’s causing you difficulty or pain, but this personality is only a tiny aspect of the pure spirit you’re really dealing with. When you can separate these two, you can then understand that while it’s absolutely appropriate to abhor the action or behaviour and refuse to accept it, it doesn’t make sense to abhor or condemn the perpetrator along with it. There is a subtle difference between judgement which implies assigning a level of rightness of wrongness, good or bad to something or someone, and discernment which is rather about gaining a clear and full understanding. It’s fascinating that one of the dictionary definitions of “discern” is to distinguish or separate. Anyone who hurts you is doing so because they themselves have been hurt and in that pain they don’t know any other way to deal with it because they’ve forgotten the full extent of who they really are. We must separate the action from the individual.
So being spiritual doesn’t mean that you should allow yourself or others to be abused or maltreated under the banner of “only love and light and seeing everyone as a divine being.” Remember that the light reaches into the darkest corners, and love in action is not always giving someone what they want.
The spiritual approach is to first make it very clear that you will not accept that kind of behaviour in any way, and then to take whatever action is most appropriate for you. This could be removing yourself from the person’s presence, refusing to have any further contact, reporting to an appropriate authority, putting protection or prevention measures in place, and so on. At the same time, it’s important not to project hate at the person in question, condemning or branding them as entirely evil. You can even help to perpetuate the problem in this way, holding someone in that energy pattern so strongly that you deny them (and yourself) the space and grace to heal and change.
Here I have to say that we’re all unique and one person’s appropriate action will not be another’s. For example, let’s say a person causing pain and difficulty is a family member. Now you may feel you need for a time, or even permanently, to remove yourself completely from that person’s life and have nothing more to do with them. Someone else may feel they can improve their experience by limiting their contact, or shifting the focus purely to how they respond to what is being said or done. There is no right or wrong in any of these choices, although many may think and tell you so. What’s important is that you address the situation in the way that will best ensure your safety and well-being; spirituality does not advocate passivity! However you address the situation, and whether you continue to have a relationship or not, the important factors are:
Acknowledge their own and already existing pain. This is what is really causing someone to behave a certain way (and in that sense it’s really not personal to you which removes a lot of the emotional charge).
Look for the learning and lesson for you in the experience. This is not about condoning them, but rather about enabling and empowering you. For example, a painful experience may teach you that you need to establish clearer boundaries, or honour your own needs more.
Forgive them as much as you’re able, thereby releasing yourself and them to move forward. This may be a lengthy and challenging process and that’s just fine. Being willing to forgive is enough at first.
Remember their true nature which is one of pure and divine essence, just as you are. It’s much easier to love at this level of spirit, even if you may not like or approve of the personality costume that the spirit is currently wearing.
I would also recommend that, having read these points, you ask whether you also understand, forgive, and recognise yourself and who you really are? If you can’t or don’t, then it’s likely you’ll find it almost impossible to extend these qualtities to others.
Compassionate strength in action is illustrated perfectly by the traditional Strength image from the Rider-Waite style Tarot. The woman is able to remain unharmed in the presence of the lion (a dangerous, potentially harmful animal), because she’s standing strong in the energy and wisdom of eternal spirit (the infinity symbol above her head). She knows that the lion only attacks when threatened or in pain, and so she offers the disarming balm of love and understanding. There is no hint of weakness or “doormat” potential in her stance. There is only a calm surety, and incredible compassion in the touch of her hands on those fierce jaws.