Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Step 4: Empathy

      Step 4 didn't seem like as much of a step to me as the first three.  I think a lot of the work for this step had already been subsumed by the previous step.  I've already valued empathy as an important trait.

       There were some valuable points for consideration with this step.  It didn't focus so much on empathy for all as it did on empathy for those it is hardest to empathise with - people who have done things we would not do, or those in situations we do not understand.  This is, of course, one of the hardest situations in which to have empathy, and one I've always had to work on.

      It is sometimes hard for me to step back from an abuser and recognize that their abuse comes from a place of pain.  It is hard to see the adulterer as a lonely, insecure person.

      There were two main courses of action with this step, and I can't say I did all that hot with either of them in the beginning.  The first action was to indulge in tradgedy, basically.  To watch a movie (or play or something) that would pull the viewer into the pain of the characters and to submit completely to that pain.

      I hate doing this.  I have always had excellent control of my emotions (though apparently not in the most healthy way - in more of a beat them into submission way), and movies don't typically make me cry because I focus on the not-real aspects.  And I avoid unhappy movies anyway.

      I started with the book To Kill a Mockingbird (my take on this for the book page is about 1/2 written right now).  That book certainly has some truly sad parts in it, but it wasn't as heartbreaking as one might think.  I found it much more though provoking than I did emotional.

      So I moved on to my old stand-by, Steel Magnolias.  I LOVE that movie (and the play).  LOVE.  But I fell asleep this time before I got to the sad part.  Erg.

      Eventually, I did accomplish this part of step 4, though it wasn't until May, and it was during a rather unexpected movie:  The Hunger Games.  There will be another post forthcoming about my issues with that series and why I haven't yet read the books, but MacGyver took me to see the movie last week and not only did the death of one of the characters really get to me; I was also completely emotionally sucked in to the sacrifice of one sister for the other - not to mention the pain of the parents in the movie.  So, that part of Step 4 was accomplished.

      Of course, I'm sort of skimming over the point of the tradgedy indulgence, which was to truely feel for another from their own point of view, and to accept the pain of others rather than denying it or demanding that everyone remain positive even when things are bad.  This was certainly an interesting point, as I have been a relentlessly - sometimes even heartlessly - positive person in the past.  I have learned throught this step to separate strength, compassion, and a positive attitude from one another.  One can show strength and compassion while at the same time recognizing pain and negetive situations.  Remaining demandingly positive in the face of others' pain often an unkind thing to do.  Sometimes, the better thing to do is to join them in their pain and help them to not feel alone.

      Interestingly, a story was told in church during April that fit well with this theme:  A little boy was very late coming home from school one day, and his mother was worried sick.  When he finally came through the door, she demanded to know where he had been.  "Timmy's bike broke on the way home and he was really upset, so I stayed with him to help  him," her son told her.

      "But you don't know how to fix a bike."
      "I stayed to help him cry," the little boy said.

       That is the kind of empathy to be gained from tradgedy.  That kind, and a refraining from judgement as characterized in the books by some of the Greek tradgedies.

      The second course of action was to add some more steps onto the daily meditation.  I sucked at this.  I'm still getting the hang of the meditation thing.  I usually meditate when I run, but I often don't complete an entire meditation cycle during a run.  MacGyver and I have also been rotating weeks for Sunday morning Buddhist meditation before church. 

      I will continue working on this meditation throughout the following steps and perhaps have more of an update later.  For now, I will simply say that it has been interesting.  You are supposed to meditate on three people: one you like, one you dislike, and one to whom you feel neutral.  My biggest problem was finding someone I feel truely neutral toward.  As soon as I start to really think about the person, I think of their positive qualities.  As for the person I dislike, there are few to choose from and the one I've gone with is someone very close to me who I've had a very complicated relationship with for many years.  It makes for a very interesting meditation.

      I've also found that for meditating on the person I like, I almost always end up feeling guilty for not being a good enough friend to that person - no matter who it is - at which point I have to go back and re-do the compassion for self stuff.  Ha.  It's a process, haha.

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