Stillness in adversity


It has been quite a rough ride this week, mostly for other people around me, but me too. A dear friend suffered a paralysing fall. The most important member of our team (who I care very much about) is in hospital seriously ill. And a very costly mistake was made at work. Workwise we have been wobbled, and our normal routine and rhythm disrupted. I have been thrown emotionally by all this, and have felt distracted all week unable to focus much on tasks. I have neglected work, and have piles of unfolded clothes waiting to be put away. Another dear friend called in tears and distressed, and another is facing the abuse he suffered as a child and has been needing to share it with me. People are going through seriously difficult experiences.

It has been a valuable learning experience of course. I have seen clearly how unhelpful my overdeveloped empathy can be, how it has weakened and exhausted me and reduced my effectiveness. How suffering along with people just doubles the suffering!  I see how compassion is strengthening and much more helpful. 

I noticed while experience being buffered around by the feelings and thoughts, is that part of me remains unmoved. I keep checking in with that part, almost to see if it’s still there, and it always is. I find something unnerving about it, so i have a developing relationship. I circle it, put a toe in at times, and surrender myself totally at other times to it. 

Experiencing the pain of adversity fully and yet also seeing stillness is there all the time. It has been a source of strength and a reassuring presence. I have been afraid of this stillness. I have been afraid of the detachment of wisdom. The detachment  of compassion and not empathy. The aloneness of it. The reality of aloneness. More attractive has been getting into the community fray of the drama, which allows reacting and being all emotional….and less personal responsibility is required. But it means putting wisdom aside too. 

I watched Dr.Strange tonight and absolutely loved it. A Buddhist Harry Potter for adults! With wisdom and magic throughout. One line struck me. The ancient one said to the arrogant Dr. One “the simplest and most significant lesson of all, it’s not about you”. I think I have known this all along, and I tried to live it before I was ready to. I tried to be empty and selfless while carrying the baggage of self loathing. I tried to apply compassion in every direction while excluding myself. I thought it was egotistic. I believed I didn’t deserve it.

Now that I include myself in the care and compassion, I don’t feel as afraid of the unknown next steps. Less clinging to the familiar. I increasingly trust I can take care of myself through anything that life brings along. This means I am less and less defended. And as this process continues, I notice more acutely when cowardice arises. When I am tempted to betray the truth to belong to the pack. Where I want to impress others. Where I try and feel powerful by reducing another. This is all okay, and perfectly forgivable in the light of self compassion. It’s called playing small. It is our light not our darkness that we are afraid of as Marrianne Williamson says in her beautiful poem. 

The responsibility of standing in our full power and of entering into complete undefended humility at the same time. That place of truth that we cannot be hurt, well it’s a little terrifying. It’s a solitary place on a personality level. And yet beyond the personality, I know there is no such thing as separation, so how could I ever be lonely?

I see now that emotional empathy has prevented me sitting fully into that saddle, and kept me bound to the longing of the personality to belong to the tribe. Perfectly natural part of our biological inheritance. This week has shown me the difference between emotional empathy and compassion, that I can remain in stillness and demonstrate care without losing my balance. I am grateful for this valuable lesson. I am curious to see how this seeing becomes integrated into how I approach experiences now. It’s quite exciting, as each little bit of clinging is dropped, everything changes. 

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