The big squeeze

Pema Chodron | Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

If we want to communicate and we have a strong aspiration to help others — on the level of social action, on the level of our family, at work in our community, or we just want to be there for people when they need us — then sooner or later we’re going to experience the big squeeze. Our ideals and the reality of what’s really happening don’t match. We feel as if we’re between the fingers of a big giant who is squeezing us. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. . . .

There’s a discrepancy between your inspiration and the situation as it presents itself, the immediacy of the situation. It’s the rub between those two things — the squeeze between reality and vision — that causes you to grow up, to wake up to be 100 percent decent, alive, and compassionate.

The big squeeze is one of the most productive places on the spiritual path and in particular in this journey of awakening the heart. It’s worth talking about because when we find ourselves in that place again and again, usually we want to run away; sometimes we want to give up the whole thing. It’s like ‘burn out’; it feels extremely uncomfortable and you can’t wiggle out of it. It’s like a dog that gets its teeth in your arm and you just can’t shake it off. Times of the big squeeze feel like crisis periods. We have the aspiration to wake up and to help at the same time it doesn’t seem to work out on our terms. It feels impossible for us to buy our situation and also impossible to throw it out. Being caught in the big squeeze humbles you, and at the same time, it has great vision. This is the interesting part-it softens you and yet it has a big perspective.

The big squeeze is one of the most productive places on the spiritual path and in particular in this journey of awakening the heart. It’s worth talking about because when we find ourselves in that place again and again, usually we want to run away; sometimes we want to give up the whole thing. It’s like ‘burn out’; it feels extremely uncomfortable and you can’t wiggle out of it. It’s like a dog that gets its teeth in your arm and you just can’t shake it off. Times of the big squeeze feel like crisis periods. We have the aspiration to wake up and to help at the same time it doesn’t seem to work out on our terms. It feels impossible for us to buy our situation and also impossible to throw it out. Being caught in the big squeeze humbles you, and at the same time, it has great vision. This is the interesting part-it softens you and yet it has a big perspective.

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