Human Kindness Overflowing

Nandini Valli Muthiah small


Last night, I stayed up until dawn after taking in too much suffering. I am trying to learn tonglen, a method of breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, but I forgot. I forgot, and found myself dwelling on my own misery.

Earlier in the day, I wrote a letter to someone whose partner killed himself. Later in the day, I answered an email from a man whose depressed wife has taken to her bed, leaving him with two jobs and the care of their children. Then I read about the mother who killed her 14 year old autistic son, incurring the understandable wrath of the disability community and beyond.

So many problems and so many tragic circumstances with no easy solutions. It’s overwhelming. You have to do something, though, right?

I have a bunch of Facebook “friends” who I don’t know in real life. I acquire them for the usual reasons. One of them, Jon, had an accident a few weeks ago that left him paralyzed in a wheelchair and unable to keep his apartment. His story triggered memories of Max’s despair over his injuries.

I was determined to help Jon. I noticed that he had more than 1,000 Facebook friends. He is a political activist and provokes lively discussion on his Facebook page. So I posted my idea on his page: I exhorted Jon’s friends to each make a $5 donation to his Paypal account. What a great idea, I thought proudly! I felt deeply satisfied by my plan to rescue this person in need.

Jon received four donations, including mine.

He was okay with it, but I was horrified. I couldn’t get over it. Five dollars?? Wouldn’t anybody give five dollars to a human being in such difficult circumstances? What the fuck is wrong with people?

I’m upset by indifference, even though I’m guilty of it all the time. I would like to see more compassion. Coincidentally, I just came across this study in how compassion and kindness can be taught and developed, literally changing the brain in the process.

More kindness would be great. The messages I’ve received from strangers who read my blog have often brought me to tears, just because kindness seems like such a meaningful gift. When we breathe in each other’s suffering and breathe out compassion, we are all that much closer to healing the unbearable pain of being human.

in out


*photo (c) Nandini Valli Muthiah

This entry was posted in grief, Horrible Stuff, love, Words and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Human Kindness Overflowing

  1. Stephanie says:

    Every day: Forgive everyone everything.
    Same level of difficulty.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Hardest thing I do every day;
    Forgive everyone everything!

  3. Andra says:

    My lovely Joanne, Once more I would like to remind you of a book I told you about, many long years ago, it seems. It is called “The Last of the Just” Andre Schwartz Bard (not too sure about his spelling any more).
    The story is that there are 4 “just” men, Jewish men, who take on all the pains and suffering of the world to save the rest of humanity. And the world is running out of these extraordinary men who are able to bear all the sorrow and there is only one left to deal with it all. It’s probably been close on 50 years since I read this book but it had a profound effect on me at the time.
    Sister, you simply cannot take on all the pains of the human populace on your own tiny shoulders. I have no solace to offer you. Can a person have too much compassion? I don’t know. I wish I could offer you some relief but I have nothing.
    Just know that you are loved and people feel some of your pain. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.

  4. Bessie the Cow says:

    A long, long time ago I saw a program, maybe on 20/20, about the shooting of street children in Brazil, by cops, soooooooooooo they wouldn’t be an eye sore and a hassle to the tourists. You know, like begging for money for food, making the city look bad for not putting kids in orphanages, etc. The youngest one that was murdered was four years old. The cops were going out at night and just shooting the homeless waifs. So, so, so, I though I must do something, someone must do something, this can’t really be happening. Humans haven’t completely devolved to where tourism is more important that a toddler’s life, right? So I wrote letters, this was before the internet was available, to all my friends asking them to each write a letter to the Brazilian embassy, and forward my letter to their friends. A kind of a chain mail letter to stop the cops from shooting the homeless children in major cities in Brazil or there would be no tourism, that Americans would not vacation where homeless children’s lives meant nothing. I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t rich, I didn’t have connections, I didn’t have power, I didn’t have media, but I had a pen and paper.
    Well, I lost several friends over that episode. They argued about my letter and how bad it made them feel, or that my approach was all wrong, or politically incorrect, or something stupid. I don’t remember the details, but I got a lot of flack for trying to do something that I thought would help someone. The only good was that one friend canceled plans to vacation in Rio that year.
    Sometimes people aren’t ready to do something. Even donate $5.00 for a good cause. We can’t breath that in. We must let that go, but we must never stop from trying. Trying to do something, to help someone, to be there for someone, to just be. “To our own selves be true.”
    I know you are a caring, loving, giving human being. Keep being that, keep doing what you need to do. (Resend the request, resend it until they are sick of seeing it, till they send the $5.00.) Never stop. I still write letters, sign petitions, go to demonstrations, not as much as when I was younger. But we must stand for something. We must be more than consumers.
    We must breath in compassion and breath out fear, hate, anger. Breath in the good stuff, let the bad stuff go.
    I guess 20 years later it’s still going on.

  5. Sister Wolf says:

    Bessie – okay but your in-out is backwards. Just in case you’re going to do the breathing: suffering in, compassion out. xo

  6. Michael West says:

    …one of your very best posts ever..

  7. steven says:

    hi, just came across your blog and this sentence hit it home for me “When we breathe in each other’s suffering and breathe out compassion, we are all that much closer to healing the unbearable pain of being human.”
    Our inability/ability to connect with each other is one of the reasons i think some people get by and others dont. If they thought emotional intelligence as an actual subject in school perhaps we could all learn to suffer as one as opposed to alone!

  8. Cricket9 says:

    Dear SW, we are all guilty of indifference – some of us sometimes, some – all the time; I have so-called friends on BF that can’t be bothered to sign a fucking petition, which takes about 5 seconds. Some days, I just hate the humanity and I’d like to shoot people in the kneecaps. I know, not good for my karma.
    On the other hand, I’ve met an extraordinary woman here in Ecuador, who took in the poorest of the poor, retarded, disabled people with no family, no ID, no last names, and takes care of them in her home, with the help of her family and the community. She is very poor herself, yet she offered us vegetables to take with us as a gift when we were visiting, saying “when we don’t have, we don’t share, but we have now, so we share”. I hope we can do something here to improve the living conditions of this little group. A soup kitchen will be open here soon thanks to the donations and hard work of an evangelical minister, his congregation and donations from the expats (a rare example when a church actually does something for the poor). Don’t get discouraged…post it on your FB page. I’ll send the damn 5 dollars.

  9. Dj says:

    Dear sister, I don’t feel snarky today, especially after reading your post…I think society as a whole isn’t terribly compassionate for a lot of reasons…not that I excuse any of them…people are so insulated, immune and overwhelmed by their own issues, who cares about anyone else? I like to think I am compassionate, that I could make a difference. I have told my husband many times that I want to go Africa to help in these poor clinics that care for injured women,that I want to go live in an elephant orphanage…He understands, but at 60, he has to remind me that, well, how? I am not wealthy, but I do try to send money to causes I believe in. If I had a billion $$ I would have so much fun giving it away! Love you sista!

  10. Ali says:

    I had a bunch of responses for your post… But I kept exiting out of the window at work before I could edit.

    Basically, I love writing. Writing with or to an intimate audience or writing to strangers. I think it is conducive thoughtfulness and compassion given the space between all parties. I also think its conducive to a wild callousness…

    You can let the coin drop on one face or another… But I think we also have the power to “curate” our written (and face to face) responses.

    Since I began contributing to your blog’s community I hope I have devel

  11. Ali says:

    Oped some restraint.

    I don’t know if its the worst thing that some people don’t have a passionate stake in the online world.

    But when used for good, it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

    I adore you and everybody who is a part of your blog’s community.

    Pardon the typos and inconsistencies. Writing from my phone.

  12. Ali says:

    *also, I do think it is notable that you speak of sorrow ad compassion in terms of breathing in and breathing out. All that oxygen is going straight to your brains ….beautiful brains growing beautiful hair and beautiful words


  13. Ali says:

    Words are healing. Hair is comforting.

  14. Kathleen says:

    I just want to tell you this is a wonderful, beautiful post.

  15. Elelta says:

    suffering in, compassion out. its like being a tree for each other. trees take the Co2 and give us o2. I love your blog.
    Bye bye have a good day today

  16. Queen Marie says:

    Dearest Darling Sister

    What a beautiful post

    I am torn between wanting to cry and rage at those people who would not help.
    Life in overwhelming in so many ways that you get caught up in the just trying to deal with the everyday dramas. But you are so right you have to do something.
    I’m so sorry that I have not been in touch recently.
    I have been a bad Queen.

    I shall try harder but please know that you and yours are always in my thoughts and prayers.

    Sending you much love ( and hopefully a shamefully late Christmas package which is still sitting here mocking me!!!!!)

    Queen Marie

  17. Debbie says:

    Dear Sister – An amazing post — especially because I have been feeling the same way lately. Very blue, missing my mother (who died in 2005), missing my beautiful cousin who died 6 months ago of a brain tumor at 55, the news, the Republicans, the Democrats, Trayvon Martin, all the injustice in the world, housing prices, the U.S. government, and on and on. The pain of being human … sigh. But in the words of a very wise man, my dad, “sometimes, you have to cry.” Amazing isn’t it? Sometimes we just have to cry.

    You are a very profound writer and many times I wish I could hug you right through the internet because I feel love for you and your suffering and at the same time you can also make me laugh out loud. Sometimes I, too, take in too much suffering. Maybe it is in my make up, I don’t know, but I relate to you. I would feel the same way had I taken in that much suffering in a day or a week. It is a lot to bear when you are a compassionate person and have a heart. So, with that said, once again I send you love through the ether. People, I really believe, are MORE GOOD than bad. It doesn’t seem like it a lot of the time, but I believe it is true.


  18. Jaimi says:

    This is just so gorgeous. I read this when it was posted and I still can’t form a reasonable response other than that I got a sense of hopefulness from it.

  19. Harmreduction says:


    I have missed you so very much. This has reminded me how essential your blog seems to my soul.

  20. Monica says:

    I love tonglen. I use it primarily with animals, as I have resigned myself to the fact that most humans suck. Animal suffering is something that is deeply, deeply (yes, two deeplys) disturbing to me. So when I use tonglen to send love and healing to animals, it at least takes a small piece of anxiety away.

    BTW, I’m not emotionally mature enough to have a FB page, as I just argue about shit with people and say incendiary, inflammatory things, but if I was, and if I did, I’d have given $5.00. It’s the very least I could do. Which is usually my goal.

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