I exist in the energy that is in and around my body. In a healthy state, the shape of that energy is like a sphere, extending somewhat equally in all directions. It can expand or contract, depending on the quality of a situation and my own resources. When I am sitting in the forest gazing at flowers, my energy relaxes and expands, joining the beauty and space that is Nature. When I am threatened in some way, my energy contracts and tightens, like a coil ready to spring. When I am tired, my energy condenses to maintain my core. It expands when I am rested.
I have an old, well-worn habit of attaching myself to things that are outside of my control. I lose sleep thinking about people who have treated me poorly and imagining how it could have been different. I say Yes to helping someone even though I don’t have the time or energy to follow through. I hold onto anxiety about things that are distant from me—children in Syrian refugee camps, earthquake survivors in Nepal, animals on the endangered species list, trash in our oceans.
When I am giving my energy away to another person or situation, my energy field changes. Instead of a circle around me, my energy stretches out to create an oval. It includes both my center and the other persons’ center. This describes an ellipse, and moving my energy in this way is called ‘ellipting’. It takes energy from my center and moves it into another center. Because I cannot really be someone else’s center, this will weaken my own energy and create instability. Repeated as a pattern, it is often called ‘co-dependency’. Eventually, my own energy will be depleted and I will have difficulty maintaining my own existence in a healthy way.
Does that mean we should never help others? No. Part of our purpose in life is to connect with others and take compassionate action. But compassionate action has to come from a place of strength and stability in order to be helpful. It means that we stand with someone and offer them resources. We don’t sacrifice ourselves to make that happen.
“Those who follow Tao believe in using sixteen attributes on behalf of others: mercy, gentleness, patience, non-attachment, control, skill, joy, spiritual love, humility, reflection, restfulness, seriousness, effort, controlled emotion, magnanimity, and concentration. Whenever you need to help another, draw on these qualities. Notice that self-sacrifice is not included in this list. You do not need to destroy yourself to help another. Your overall obligation is to complete your own journey along your personal Tao. As long as you can offer solace to others on your same path, you have done the best that you can.”
~Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).