Thursday, March 1, 2012

Empathy

I recently wrote an article for Llewellyn titled Building Empathy in these Tough Times, discussing the fact that when we don't acknowledge the pain in our own lives, we tend to not acknowledge pain in the lives of others as well. Without acknowledging this pain, we in turn end up lacking empathy for those in the world around us. We do everything we can to hide when we are in pain, because mundane society says we should be happy all the time.  Do these teachings come from spiritual traditions or do they come from the manufacturers of anti-depressant drugs?

Again last night, I was doing some more reading in Living in Gratitude by Angeles Arrien.  I am now in the chapter for April: Mercy and Atonement.

Once again, I came upon another quote, that really hit home:


          "All the world's faiths put suffering at the top of their agenda," as Karen Armstrong
          writes in her book The Spiral Staircase. "because it is an inescapable fact of human
          life, and unless you see things as they really are, you cannot live correctly.  But even
          more important, if we deny our own pain, it is all too easy to dismiss the suffering of
          others. Every single one of the major traditions - Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism,
          as well as the monotheisms - teaches a spirituality of empathy, by means of which
          you relate you own suffering to that of others."

I would go a step farther and state that many minor traditions, along with Pagan traditions teach empathy also.

Yet there seems to be a severe lack of it in today's world. I believe right now, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people tell you to, "cheer up", "lighten up", "look for the silver lining", and often in completely inappropriate situations.  When you are burying a family member, do you really want to hear, "cheer up"? 

When we refuse to acknowledge pain, to see the down side of life, we truly are living in a fantasy world.  Pain exists.  Denying it doesn't allow us the opportunity to work through it.  Denying pain, denying suffering, is in fact, denying life.

Open yourself to all experiences. Open yourself to live your whole life, completely and fully. It may not all be fun and games, but it is all you.  Allow yourself to learn from your pain, so in the future, you will be able to empathize with others and help them in theirs.



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