“Sure, honey,” my mother used to say. “I appreciate how you feel…” My mother was very empathetic – in her way.
Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms.” — Sterling K. Brown
“Sure honey, I appreciate how you feel but” she would say, “-but, remember, there’s always somebody in the world who’s worse off than you.”
Well, it’s true. It’s true for every one of the 7 billion of us (except one person, pray for him). As a kid it was frustrating. It didn’t deal with the problem or my feelings. So, when I (still) hear those words in my mind, I relegate them to the “Cold Comfort” file. When my mother’s mother came to visit and I was crying, she would crouch down to be eye to eye with me and say, “Ohh, you’re crying – we have to get the Crying Towel…where is it? Can you find it? Let’s get the Crying Towel…” Cold Comfort. Another would be, “So far you’ve survived 100% of your worst days – the odds are in your favour.” True, but similar to yelling “Calm down!” at someone suffering from a panic attack.
To be empathetic to my mother, you have to understand she came from a different world. She was born in 1910, more than 100 years ago. Life was different – and harder – then. She was brought up in stoic New England. She carried the child-rearing her parents had modeled. It was majorly different in the perspective on children. Today there are many parents who are child-centered, getting up at a ridiculous hour to take their kid to their hockey practice. In my mother’s world, children were to be seen but not heard. They were expected to fit in to their parents’ life – my parents never attended any of my “events”, sporting or theatrical, after I finished first grade, with the exceptions being my University graduation and when I got married.
More understanding comes from recognizing the educational atmosphere since my parents’ day. I have come of age in a time of miracles in our comprehension of the mind, things we know now that weren’t even hinted at in my parents’ day.
For example, in my Spiritual pursuits over the years I have learned empathy. In my life it’s a practice.
When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” — Stephen Covey
I have also learned a lot about Adversity. The more empathy I feel, the more and more closely I listen; perhaps a corollary to that is that I can share the wisdom of my experience in a meaningful way. I’m sure you’ve heard of the lab rat who learns a maze and then many others can do it. I like to think my abilities to deal with adversity, the resolution I’m capable of now, affects world consciousness. You’ve no doubt heard as well of the “Maharishi Effect” where a critical number of meditators in a city or town correlate to a lowering of the crime rate.
Some – many – years ago I noticed that I seemed to learn more from negative experiences than positive ones. The positive ones I just tended to accept, as if they were my due. The negative ones brought things forward, attacked me into response. The ancient Roman emperors used to have an attendant whose sole job was to whisper in their ear the words, “This too shall pass.”
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
I suggest there are 2 aspects of learning from adversity: you must look for the lesson – for if you do you will find it; you must keep from taking the adversity personally (“Dear God, Why Me?”). The latter has been hardest for me, but as I get better at the first, the second flows more clearly. That is abandoning “Victim Mentality”. As an attitude, casting yourself in the victim role inevitably leads you down. Drop that as you consider your adversity and you’ll find your self-clarity.
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ― Maya Angelou
You have the opportunity to take these negatives and turn them around, turn Tragedies into Triumphs. At first I had to fight hard to make this a habit; now I’m stubborn about it, and consistent.
I find it helpful to turn to the perspective of the Observer: Who is the “I” that is suffering? Then these experiences are like puzzles; from that point of view they don’t really hurt me, the heartache is eclipsed.
In fact, I find negative experiences in this world are where my Spirit – Self – hits the road. If I am living from a platform of Peace – my Spiritual goal – my perspective on mundane negatives is one of peace.
Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.” — Menachem Begin
A Course In Miracles says all of our acts – and thoughts – can be divided into two, and only two, forces in us. They are choices between moving toward Love – or Fear. Sometimes I have to look for the base fear underpinning my apprehensions. Sometimes I must look deeply, dig hungrily, work like a beaver to translate that fear into love. That is true for me for both my earthly, human self and my greater Self as well.
Doesn’t it feel wonderful to accomplish a difficult task? The same rewards are there whether that task is earthly or heavenly.
What I hear my mother saying now is, “I know, honey – (sigh) – take heart. I love you.” And “Have the courage to love.”
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela