With very few exceptions, pretty much everybody on earth—butcher, baker, candlestick maker, rich, poor, beggar, and thief—each and every human being on the planet is at least as confused, fearful, miserable and afflicted as you are now or have been at some point.
Everybody on earth is at least as blameless as you are and as justified in their actions and beliefs as you are. Nobody on earth is in complete control of what they think, and want, and resist. Not even you.
This is the most liberating insight of all. You are not now, and you have never been, alone in your pain. The experience of solitary misery is false, and it disappears the moment you see for yourself the truth of the commonality of human suffering.
For most of my life, I hid myself from the world. I was acutely aware that there was something deeply wrong with me that I must at all cost hide from others lest I perish. My experience of life was dark, claustrophobic, and filled with shame. I managed to get by through mimicking clearheaded characters I had read about in books, seen in movies, or conjured up in my own imagination.
It seemed to me that everybody was real but me. Although I could see that many of the people around me were obviously dissatisfied and disappointed with their lives, to my eyes they seemed nonetheless real and conscious in their relationship with life, however troublesome it might be. They might be miserable but they were real, and I was a fake. I was on my own, and would perish if my fraudulence was exposed.
I found it nauseating to be in close relationship to any other human, and did all I could to avoid such misery. Whenever it came to pass that I found myself facing the possibility of a deep enough intimacy with someone to reveal my true nature, I found a way to destroy the relationship before it was too late.
Now, no longer ignorant of the forces that were the true cause of my misery, it is as plain to me as the nose on my face that those same forces must be the cause of the misery for all human beings.
The strongest motivation for seeking to alleviate the suffering of others is exactly the same motivation that can lead us to turn and run from the misery of others, and its name is compassion.
The word “compassion” comes from Latin and it means to suffer with. And god knows we do suffer together. We are not disconnected from one another. For better or worse, we are truly compassionate beings and misery, as they say, loves company.
I believe it is that compassion inherent in human beings that gives rise to the desire to withdraw from the world that is so common in those who have managed to find freedom for themselves. A mind that is free might well find it to be just a matter of common sense to avoid the sickly pain that radiates from the great mass of humanity.
But if you have found freedom as a result of this act of looking at yourself, you know just how natural and simple it is to be free of fear. So please, whenever you can, take a moment to contemplate the fact that misery afflicts the entire human family and see for yourself that, in the same way that you are not now and never have been alone in your suffering, you need not be alone in your freedom.