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A middle-aged man had recently moved into a new city and, soon after, decided that he wanted to explore his immediate area, maybe meet some of his neighbors, as well as visit some of the interesting shops that lined the streets all around his apartment.
Less than half-an-hour later, not knowing the lay of the land, he accidentally walked into an adjacent neighborhood whose streets had been long since “claimed” by an infamous gang. As he realized his situation, and tried to find the fastest way back to relative safety, he made another mistake: looking for the quickest way home, he cut through an alley where a heartless band of thugs beat and robbed him. Summoning all his strength, he dragged himself out from behind a dumpster where they had left him, and crawled just to the entrance of the alleyway where his faint cries for help were all but drowned out by the roar of passing traffic.
Dozens of people walked by him as he lay there. Their eyes were open, but blind to anything other than where they were going and what had to be done when they got there. The first person to walk by the alleyway and take notice of this poor man lying there was the wife of a local city councilman.
She was dressed in her trendy spandex workout outfit, on her way to the nearby park to do her daily power walk. So involved was she in her own thoughts about a pending dinner party for some VIPs that she had almost walked past the alley before she realized someone was lying there – on the ground – and in obvious pain.
But, no sooner did the impression of his misfortune pass through her mind then came this parallel thought: not only was his particular situation none of her business, but it might prove dangerous if she got involved. After all, who knew what might still be lurking there in the shadows. Besides, she was already behind schedule for that day. And so she kept walking ahead, troubled by her own decision until she stopped to chat with a friend she saw sitting in the window of her favorite coffee shop.
Several minutes more passed when came walking down the same street, only headed in the opposite direction, a man wearing new blue jeans that cost him extra money for their used, torn and soiled look. His open leather sandals showed off a pedicure he’d just received from a nearby salon.
He was the owner-operator of the area’s largest franchised health food store, on his way to meet and greet a well-known spiritual author scheduled to appear there in less than thirty minutes. He knew he was late, and hoped that his store manager had seen to the comfort of both the author and the select group of individuals he’d invited to attend the special presentation.
Almost as soon as he saw the beaten man lying there he took a few steps toward him, but was soon stopped cold by one of his own thoughts: it wasn't as if he didn't want to help, but there was much to be considered. One mustn’t act too hastily when recent stories abounded of injured people who turned around and sued those who tried to help them. And so, looking around to ensure no one saw him leaving the scene, he decided better to be safe than sorry. As he headed toward his store he made a mental note to notify the authorities as he soon as he got there.
Less than five minutes later, another woman came walking by this man who was still lying there, slipping in and out of consciousness. Surmising his state in an instant, she immediately took off her jacket, folded it into a pillow, and slipped it under the man's bruised head to lift it off the dirty asphalt. Several thoughts were running through her mind all at the same time. She could call 911, but knew, given the deteriorating conditions in resources and response time, it might be 30 minutes before someone got there to render aid; and, he was wounded and looked like he needed immediate help.
What if trying to move him made things worse, not to mention possible litigation should things go wrong?
A moment later she ran to where she had parked her car, pulled it alongside the beaten man, and managed to pull him into the back seat. Less than five minutes later, paramedics at the local hospital had the man on a gurney, and she was standing before the receiving desk being asked a host of questions by the nurse on duty:
“Who’s responsible for this man? He has no wallet, no identification, let alone any kind of insurance card; who’s going to pay for the emergency services he needs?”
“Please, just look after him; attend to his needs. I will cover the expenses that have to be considered until he comes to, and then we can sort out the rest of these details, as needed.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, you must be one very compassionate person to get him here, admitted, and receiving care...all the while not knowing if he’s covered, or if state programs will provide for his services.
“Oh no, nothing like that, believe me. Truth be told, when I saw this man the thought came to me – more than once – to look the other way.”
“Then why, if you don’t mind telling me, go through all the trouble...knowing how much could go wrong for you trying to do what was right?”
“Seeing him lying there, knowing he wasn’t able to help himself, stirred a part of me I didn’t even know I had; it’s hard to explain, really, but in that moment, not only did I see the pain he was in but, for some reason, I felt it as if it were my own. And that was it; I could no more ignore his suffering in that moment than I would be able to ignore my own.
She paused for a moment to see if the nurse understood what she was trying to convey. And when the nurse nodded her head, she finished her thought:
“So, are we all good to go here? Is everything in place, as needs to be to make sure he’s cared for?”
“Yes, ma’am, everything is fine. And may I say what a pleasure it is to meet someone like you.”
“The same to you...and I’ll check back with you in a little while, to see how he’s doing.”
We will now reveal, psychologically speaking, the somewhat shocking “true Identity” of this unfortunate man who had been beaten, robbed, and left in pain: this person is me; he is you; and much to the point of the story, “he” is everyone we know...including our partner.
I know this idea comes as a surprise to most of us, but the wise ones who have gone before us in search of unconditional love have long understood this truth. Here’s how the great American Poet Laureate, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, conveys this same precious lesson:
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
In other words, and intimately related to the subject at hand: if we could be aware of the pain that our partner – our temporary “foe” in a heated moment – carries in their heart, then all attempts to prove them wrong – let alone want to punish them for it – would end on the spot.
For now, please “prove” the following three insights true by looking at them through the eyes of your own past experience. Each and all help make it clear why, at some point in time, you, me, and everyone we know – including our partner – has been the “unfortunate man” in our story.
One way or another, all of us have felt ourselves take a “beating” upon finding out that we’d been betrayed, lied to, or cheated by someone we had given our trust.
We know what it's like to feel “robbed” any time our partner fails to fulfill one or more of our expectations, or “steals” our joy with an uncaring word or deed.
Ninety-nine percent of us have had our heart broken, more than once. This kind of pain, the fear of it – with all of its “baggage” – seeps in and colors every relationship that follows, whether we’re aware of its presence, or not.
We also know that even though we may have found ways to mask the major portion of this pain, that doesn’t mean we don’t carry it with us. It may be “out of sight,” but we know it’s never left our mind any time our partner pushes whatever may be our “button” in that particular moment.
This leads us to a story far greater than the sum of its parts. Taken all together, they point to a singular revelation with the power to start a healing process not just with our partner, but also with everyone we know. Let’s review these important findings.
Whenever we’re filled with blame, unable to see anything but one side, “our side,” of the story...
...Any time all we can hear is some part of ourselves “telling” us why our partner must pay for our pain...
...In these, and in any moment where we find ourselves set against the one we love, we have been rendered effectively blind to a bigger story that we can’t see, even though it’s right before our eyes: the pain in these moments isn’t just mine, and neither is it just yours; it exists as it does because – one way or another – we’re (in it) together; which means...it is ours.
If we could become conscious of this invisible similarity, be aware of how our partner suffers just as we do – even though their suffering may name itself differently than does ours in that moment – then we could no longer be played against one another.
We’d be unable to say hurtful, heartless things, or take some unkind, thoughtless stand. In this awareness of our secret similarity not only is it given to us to know some measure of our partner’s pain but, because of this higher relationship, we could no more wish them more of that suffering than we would wish it upon ourselves.
I know that these last ideas are a lot to take in, especially given what is likely, for many of us, a history with partners past or present replete with unresolved bitterness. So, it’s more than possible at this point that you may be thinking something like:
“You’ve got to be kidding! I can barely deal with the pain I'm already in, especially in the throes of some familiar argument with my partner. So, why on earth would I want to realize, let alone share a measure of their suffering?”
The answer is as beautifully simple as it is remarkable for its compassion: anytime we know someone else is suffering, and have some awareness of that pain as being the same as our own – we cannot add to it.
This power of being unconditionally kind towards those who unconsciously hurt us is just one of the gifts of higher love. In a way, it gives our heart “eyes” that can see what they were blind to before.
For example, by its light we’re able to see that the needs of our partner are really the same as our own, an insight that makes it impossible to mistake their pain as being somehow less important than our own. So that now when our partner dumps on us a pain they don’t know what to do with – demanding we pay for a suffering they only know to blame on us – we’re able to do what before would have been impossible:
Without any outward announcement to mark this moment, instead of being dragged into some too-familiar fight, we say, silently, to our partner the healing words we learned earlier, “This one is on me.”
We agree to make this sacrifice because we’ve seen that our partner can’t yet understand, let alone know how to use this pain that only exists between us. So, for the sake of a love that’s greater than the both of us we consciously refuse to say or to do a single thing to make their pain worse. It’s not because we’re somehow better, superior to our partner. We know better than that now. It’s because there is a higher power at work here – an order of love that is incapable of being unkind, even to someone who may have hurt us. And it makes possible a kind of sacrifice of one’s self that ego can’t conceive, let alone find the will to enact.
This is an act of unconditional love. It is true relationship magic.
Excerpted from Relationship Magic: Waking Up Together by Guy Finley.
©2018 Guy Finley
Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.