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    Empathy 2.0

    600 376 Ava Ananda
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    The events and awarenesses that catapult me back into the flow sometimes surprise me.It’s not only the 2-hour deep tissue massage or ecstatic kirtan that do it (although, those are awfully helpful).

    Sometimes bliss lies in the speed bumps the moments when I realize this might not be working for me or that wasn’t quite what I expected or even this fucking sucks… but guess what? I am okay. I always have been. And I always will be.

    I see people, myself included, growing at quantum speeds. But growth isn’t knowledge and growth isn’t linear, and growth definitely isn’t all “love and light.” (We dark-hearted creatures laugh when you attempt to cure us with that useless phrase.)

    Growth is when we simply embody the fact that we are okay, no matter where we are in this process called life.

    It’s so simple. There’s nothing to be fixed, but our fixations. Unlatch the mental Velcro! (It makes a really cool sound, and you’ll feel a lot better afterwards!)

    What?! “Simple,” you say? Yeah I know I might sound like I’m on happiness-crack right now, but bear with me. Simple doesn’t mean without suffering; it just means uncomplicated or minimal steps involved. And I didn’t say that you couldn’t forget this learning, vice your mind back in Velcro and start the whole process again but that is when your community of mirrors becomes crucial.

    The community holds the collective memory. They know you in your bliss and in your not-so-bliss (and if they don’t, you’ve been holding back).  

    A friend recently reflected on how interesting it is that as a community we are quite eager to support each other’s expansiveness, but not always our contraction. Another commented on how it seemed that people have a really hard time holding space for darkness without trying to fix it.

    Both of these struck a chord with me. Not only because I am well aware of it on the receiving end, but also I am definitely guilty of it too.

    Being present for someone who’s violently shifting through shadows can be uncomfortable and confronting the mirror of profound energetic stagnation sends many running as if it were contagious… and I suppose in theory, it could be, but as far as I know, I’ve never caught depression from anyone.

    What I am guilty of, however, is the big NVC (Non-violent Communication) no-no: shortcutting empathy and charging straight toward honesty or problem solving. Giraffe and jackal jokes aside, this lesson has made my recent and slightly tentative forays into NVC worthwhile.

    Don’t you hate it when you realize that you are guilty of doing something that annoys the hell out of you when people do it to you? For me, it goes something like this:

    Friend: I am depressed. Everything sucks. I’m hopeless.

    Me: I’m sorry, that does suck. I understand. I’ve been there. It’s very painful…now, here’s what you can do…

    We’ve been taught that empathy is the thought or feeling or even words of, “I’ve been there, I understand.” But empathy is a process…. sometimes a long, drawn out one involving quite a bit of mining and reflecting. It isn’t easy to crack the empathy blockade of a person experiencing depression.

    This is because the key to the empathy process is identifying the emotions and unmet needs that are manifesting the depression and reflecting those back to your friend. This can be quite tricky, as depression guards that information like state secrets.

    Depression gets its power over people by suppressing all emotion to a state of numb, disempowered helplessness. But let me assure you, the information is there. It may take 20 friends or therapists with high-powered flashlights to illuminate it, but it’s there.

    The way to awareness is empathy and remember that isn’t just a shoulder to cry on or an avalanche of advice, it’s a critical mass of true effort to hold space for the emergence of your friends’ understanding, self-love and self-forgiveness.

    Empathy, in my opinion, is nearly impossible to conjure in isolation (unless you are a very sophisticated giraffe). So the next time you see darkness oozing out of yourself, your friend or a lover, take a few breaths and remember it’s the speed bumps that provide the most astounding awarenesses whether you are the demented driver or friendly passenger.

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