Reflections

Fight, Flight or Surrender…? (Or a Whole New “Level” of Empathy?)

I’m sitting here this morning, experiencing…  something.  Knowing words (even my vast and deep aquaintance-ship with them) will fail to adequately capture, yet compelled to express what I can…  Restless.  Unable to sit still long enough to seek comfort in meditation or other focused activities.  Too grounded in “what is” to escape, too flighty to “act” in any coherent or productive manner, too lost to feel secure, too beaten down to want to try, and yet…

And yet “I” still exist – empowered, connected, secure in my Self, certain of my ability to navigate and survive.  Questioning, but not truly seeking answers, for the rhetorical seems to suffice.  For behind the experience of everyday living is the echoing timbre, the consistent, measured heartbeat of single, simple words…  What?  Why?  Where?  Who?  When?  But not one of them sticks around long enough for a reply to form.  It’s as if the answers themselves are pointless, and the questions a habit carried over from some other time…

I used to play a game at times like these (I started very young, my earliest memories of it around three years of age).  I would sit quietly on the sidelines of life and watch others, then “make up” stories about their lives, based on what I “felt” when I looked at them.  The stories took on more nuance and advanced plots as I aged, but the process was always the same.  I would mostly never know if my “stories” reflected any truth about the people I observed, but the process itself helped me fine tune both my ability to identify and name feelings, and my understanding of people, relationships, and life in general.  It also taught me a great deal about compassion, about putting myself in someone else’s shoes, about real “needs” versus stated “wants,” and about my self, as every such experience was tainted by my own expectations and desires…

Over the past few weeks, I have delved deeper into my emotional cauldron than I have in recent years; there has not been the option of skating across the surface of things, simply naming, ruminating, and letting go.  I find myself immersed, drowning, yet easily able to breathe when the panic subsides.  I have known a rage so real (my own, no less), that the “beast” within me quivers with the need to lash out and devour all within range – friend, foe and stranger indistinguishable in the red haze.  I find myself commiserating with those who act out in seemingly senseless acts of violence, wishing that I, too, could find some relief that way.  But I cannot separate myself enough from the victims of such acts to make such an outcry possible for me…

I have felt so completely defeated that I wished for nothing more than to curl up in a ball and cease to exist in this present time and place.  But I cannot “give up” on my Self, or abandon those others with whom I have so deeply bonded (people, animals, and trees alike)…

So I walk through each day, head spinning, feet stumbling forward, simply trying to acknowledge each new wave or experience as it happens, reeling from the onslaught of sensory and emotional data.  Shielding does not appeal to me, as dulling the experience does not nullify it or erase it; it merely minimizes its intellectual impact, driving my thoughts ever further from my feelings about life.  Such distancing is not true detachment, after all, just a dilution of the poison that will allow me to “suffer” longer…

A few days ago my 17 month old granddaughter visited me in my dreams, just as we were both awakening.  She stood there as her baby self (not the spirit self with whom I have so far interacted), and babbled baby talk at me.  When I acknowledged her by name, and asked if she had come to visit Grandma Lisa, she smiled.  I told her I loved her, and she giggled.  And when I mentioned I needed to wake up, and waved good-bye to her, she waved back…

I found this encounter significant for a couple reasons.  One, it was the first time she projected into my dreams, and she did so as her current, chosen form; that seemed huge to me, that she now has such a strongly developed sense of self.  Two, it seems to take our bond to a whole new level.  If she is expressing such an ability in dreamwalking, at this age, I can only feel excitement about where it might lead…

Yesterday I attended a kids Halloween party with my daughter and grandchildren.  It was noisy, chaotic… frantic almost, as if the need to “celebrate” something, anything had long since overwhelmed the significance of form; it didn’t matter why we were all there, just that we were.  My granddaughter appeared shell-shocked through most of it, her usual curiosity and fearlessness swamped by the immensity of the experience.  I could relate, and yet I found myself eager to engage.

We wandered around, aimlessly, while my grandson played, and I found the “stories” seeking me, rather than the other way around.  I saw smiles and laughter, intense enjoyment, plastered on faces beneath vacant eyes, as though the masks on everyday faces had long since lost touch with the reality of individual lives.  I saw surprise, and glimpses of presence, when I reached out to acknowledge individual beings, complimenting costumes, praising performances, or thanking them for being there.  That first moment of shock in those vacant eyes when they realized I was speaking to them was… I don’t know…  heartwarming and heartbreaking, all at the same time…

There was a young boy who no doubt practiced for weeks to get on that stage and sing for a crowd that never even looked his way.  He and his father walked away dejectedly from the stage.  When I caught up to them to shake the boy’s hand, and tell him I thought his performance was amazing and to thank him for performing, neither he nor his father knew how to respond…

Then there was the man I was suspicious of.  No reason, no overt acts that appeared irregular, inappropriate, or threatening, and still…  I actually warned my daughter to be aware of him.  I found myself stalking his presence through the crowd.  I even had my daughter pose for a picture so I could capture his image in the background, just in case…  In case of what?  I have no idea.  But my feelings were real.  And whenever my eyes crossed paths with him, I felt this tension, this certainty that a breaking point was near, and that certainty triggered fear…  More than once he locked eyes with me, and though I “felt” calm, nonjudgmental peace toward him, I could not deny the desperation that shone back at me.  His eyes were not vacant, and he was clearly in pain…

A friend recently suggested that perhaps this is just the way things are now.  The past is no longer an adequate map for navigating the present, because its rules no longer apply.  The future can no longer guide us because our goals cannot align with the way things are developing; it is too unpredictable, unstable and unstoppable to shift.  There is only now – fight or flight in each moment, and radical “surrender” to what is, forfeiting all hope of wants being met, and most cases of need…

But I cannot help but wonder if this is all just a reflection of a whole new level of empathy…  Which would actually represent “progress” would it not?

Hmm…

 

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Poetry, Reflections

“The Glass Prison…”

Trapped in a prison of glass…

Free to see…

Free to feel…

But unable to touch those outside.

Watching as they self-destruct,

dragging along as many Others

as each can touch…

Only windows here,

but no doors I can find.

Bearing witness to the fury that consumes…

Nothing more.

Or less.

There are airholes high above me,

allowing me to breathe.

The stench of death and rotten things

nearly suffocating me…

“It’s only glass!,” you point out,

your tone a measured mix of disdain and disgust.

“If you feel trapped by it, you can only blame yourself!”

“True,” I think, knowing you are right.

“But if the only weapons I have are my hands, and feet and head…

“If I can only turn within this space, but not take a single step…

“Then how do I escape without also destroying my Self?”

And do I really want to?

***

Standing in a sanctuary made of glass…

Free to see…

Free to feel…

But unable to be touched by those outside.

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Essay, Reflections

The Ethics of Empathy…

So…  I’m feeling an urge to lecture today.  Not because I believe you need to learn something, or because I believe I’m uniquely qualified to teach it, but because, apparently, there is something going on in my subconscious that is looking for a way out.  And The Otherhood of One has certainly been successful (this time anyway) in that one regard – it has given me a forum for exploring and expressing the diverse and evolving “me.”

I learned through various venues in my life that sometimes the best way to “learn” something is by “teaching” it.  From tutoring, to peer counseling, to actively teaching courses in college and private settings, to writing textbooks on topics that interested me or not, the end result is the same:  teaching forces one to organize material into a learning format, allowing both student and teacher to better grasp it.  So… I feel a need to lecture today, because clearly there is something I’m trying to learn…

And today, I want to explore ethics…

Such a broad topic to consider, and yet I know there is something specific calling me, if I could only narrow it down.  Bear with me while I wander through this vast and imposing landscape.  Two recent touchstones keep claiming my attention, so let me begin there.

First is an article I published today on bayart.org about empathy.  Maybe you can find it here ;):

http://bayart.org/on-empathy-today/

The other results from a recent meditation experience I had, and the dichotomy of interpretation that resulted when I shared it.  The vision was simple enough: I was at the docks seeking something of value for myself when I discovered a small child hidden in a 50 gallon drum.  I rescued the child without hesitation, while acknowledging there would be a “cost” for doing so.  It literally didn’t occur to me to NOT rescue the child, regardless of personal cost, and I was perfectly at peace with that decision…

Until I mentioned that experience to a friend, who responded by saying, “See?  There’s your problem, Lisa!  Maybe you should have simply let things be, and chosen what was best for you instead.  It’s not your place, or your responsibility, to ‘save’ everyone!  You need to learn to be more selfish…”

You know, that thought never even occurred to me…  And while I can’t bring myself to actually agree with my friend, it did get me questioning things.  What if my automatic responses to situations are part of my problem?  What if I’m stuck in this rut of my own creation because I can’t even imagine another response?  What if…?  Well, you get the drift…

And what do these two events share?  They both touch on ethics, particularly the ethics of empathy.  Hence, this current attempt to further explore the topic by lecturing on it…

While I was writing my article today, it struck me what an incredibly invasive process true empathy is.  I mean, think about it!  People love privacy, and nothing is more private or personal than their emotional states.  But as an empath, I am constantly in that space, intentionally or not.  When you consider that empathic connections tend to flow in both directions it gets even more so.

All my life I’ve heard complaints (jokingly, usually, but there is always some underlying truth to jokes that make them “work”) about my invasion of such personal space.  People complain that they can never surprise me, for example, because I always sense it coming; whether I pick up on their excitement, or the anxiety that comes with “breaking my heart,” I always know in advance when something big is imminent.  Then there’s the frequent admonishment to “get out of my head!” when I respond appropriately to someone’s unspoken (as yet) request.  And while I welcome offhand compliments about how my presence can “light up” a room, I cannot conscientiously dismiss those complaints of the “dark clouds” that sometimes follow me around, dragging everyone near me down…

As for the little boy I rescued in my vision, I doubt I would ever choose not to; it’s simply not who I am. Self-sacrifice to aid another, friend or stranger, is simply part of my nature.  I don’t consider myself a martyr, nor do I do such things to feel better about myself.  My self-worth does not depend upon the numbers of others I help, nor what I must give up to do so, but rather about how “true” I am to my own nature.  So yes, I would have felt “bad” walking away from that boy, I would have felt guilty, so much so that it would have prevented me from enjoying whatever I gained by doing so.  But it would have been because I betrayed my own values and integrity, not because I betrayed the boy and whatever he represents.

So what is significant about these two scenarios is not what actually happens in them, so much as the “unquestioning” nature of them; I won’t turn off my empathic scanning, even if it’s invasive, any more than I would walk away from that child.  But now that I’ve stumbled onto the unquestioning nature of my behavior, the rebel within me naturally begins to question…

Hmm…  Interesting…

Apparently, I have nothing more to say on this topic, at least for now.  I’ve been staring at this screen for some time without any useful thoughts occurring.  I am aware that I’m hungry; my tummy is growling.  Actually, I think I forgot to eat today.  That often happens when I’m writing a lot… lol!

I am aware of time passing, and am looking ahead to what happens next.  It’s 11:07pm EST, and I have work tomorrow.  What do I need to accomplish before then?  How much sleep do I actually need?  Yeah, that kind of mental chatter…

But nothing on the topic at hand…

I feel a “calling,” a pulling away of my attention, but I cannot yet identify its source.  Message or need(?); I can’t even distinguish that much at this point.  But I feel it.  Pressing, though not yet urgent.  Even my cat is acting restless…

Sorry, all…  I hoped that a little free association, some automatic writing, might shake loose some thoughts of value.  Instead, this post is rapidly deteriorating into something more appropriately put in journal form.  While I am always fascinated to discover how people think and feel, I forget that not everyone shares that with me.  And while the workings of my own thoughts certainly intrigue me, it occurs to me that may be peculiar to me, which seems fair and appropriate, after all… lol!

And so I think I’ll say goodnight, fully aware that this post is incomplete…

Or is it?

It is at least possible that I’ve already written what I needed to read, in which case it IS finished.  I merely await your responses to help me zero in on the point…

Oh yay! for the Otherhood…  😉

 

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