Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Pema Chödrön, religious author, teacher
Last night our weekly compassion circle gathered on Zoom. This quote set the stage for expressing some of my own “darkness” (as well as allow me to tend it).
My darkness is those things I want to hide from others, from myself. Why? Well, perhaps it would be embarrassing, scary, or painful for starters.
Today an acquaintance, Judy, told me that there was a dark period in her life when she suffered a lot from anxiety. Both her daughter and her husband were alcoholics which led to many other problems. Lost jobs, lost driving licenses, tense relationships.
Judy could not sleep at night. Her stomach was always in a knot. The descriptions sounded far different from the woman I saw standing in front of me at the moment.
What changed? Perhaps Judy had finally gotten a divorce. I knew her daughter had tragically died. Maybe her reasons for distress went away.
According to Judy, no. That was not it at all. Her life had indeed changed. Her anxiety had largely lifted. All true.
But the change had happened, according to Judy, because of an encounter on a snowmobiling trip. With a friend.
Judy’s snowmobiling friend seemed like a perfect person with a perfect life. They usually just laughed and enjoyed being outside together.
But on this particular snowmobiling adventure, the friend opened up about some serious problems she was experiencing in her own life – with her daughter and her husband.
Judy was stunned. She thought she was the only one with problems. The friend’s vulnerability and humility made it safe for Judy to talk more about what she was experiencing and feeling.
The fact that others had problems was the kicker for Judy. It opened her eyes and her heart.
Then, the openness of the relationship, the safety to feel her feelings, to talk about them without shame or embarrassment dissolved that knot in her stomach.
Facing fear, anger, sadness, and compassion together – knowing no ignorant, judgmental advice would be offered, felt like a bath in warm chocolate. That immersion in shared humanity went a long way toward long-term healing for Judy.
To be human is to experience problems, hurts, difficulties. Emotions of all sorts.
Pretending that we’re perfect or thinking everyone else is perfect causes isolation. Humans don’t function well (not for long) in real or perceived states of isolation.
And…the more we courageously explore our own pain and are able to compassionately hold it, the more we can quietly and courageously be present with others in their painful, scary places.
When John and I first encountered the formal practice of compassion directed toward ourselves as well as others from our mentor, Dr. Frank Rogers, it felt scary…that turning toward our failures, painful emotions, sensations, and thoughts. Seeing them.
Frank’s stories helped tremendously. He openly shared his struggles. He “pulled back the curtain” and vulnerably shared his embarrassing emotions and thoughts – his experiences of shame. It freed me to spend more authentic time with myself as a human being.
It also presented the possibility for me to understand myself and consequently others. To acknowledge my fears, my longings, my aching wounds. To consider my needs – and theirs…with that...a nurturing sort of kindness popped right up...out of the muck.
These days, like last night on our compassion circle, after acknowledging my dark places, loving, kind wishes in all directions became a little easier, for a time anyway...
May we be happy, may we be healthy, may we be peaceful; may our struggles make us stronger, more resilient, more warm-hearted, and more able to sit lovingly with the suffering and dark places in ourselves and all humanity
How might we journey together to The Good Life by, at least some of the time, vulnerably going to our dark places, experiencing our common humanity, with each other?
And I never tire of watching (maybe you’ve seen it a thousand times too) The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown.
Also good - The Price of Invulnerability
(Please feel free to share your own dark-place-being-human stories, with me, love, June)