“You only see what you know.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
For the last two days I have been watching reactions to the events in Paris. Many people have talked about how people are acting sad about the event while ignoring similar horrific events in other parts of the world.
I see the point I really do.
Tho let’s shrink the scale down a little.
Would you tell a grieving widow or child that they were wrong to mourn just their loved one when 50 other people in the area died the same day?
How about someone who was mourning a neighbour?
“It’s really cheap of you to only care about that person. Fred Wilkes who lives three states over got killed and I don’t see you mourning them.”
Seems kind of tacky, no?
The truth is that mourning one person or for those in one country does not make you unfeeling towards others. It just means that for one reason or another, it has affected you more.
Is it because of the media? Perhaps.
Perhaps it is because many people can relate to what happens in Paris quicker than what happens in Lebanon or Russia. Perhaps either they have visited there or hope to or they have friends who have more recently.
Having compassion for one event does not mean you do not have it for others
and covering your profile picture with the flag of France does not mean that you don’t feel for the suffering of people in other places. It is for many just that it is more relatable and that’s ok.
There are horrific acts of terror happening in many places in the world so often that many of us become numbed to the horror of it.
At some point we need to say “No More” to all of it.
Perhaps it is easier to do this when something strikes closer to home.
It is both supercilious and jaded to believe that this is a reaction that is only media driven just as it would be for me to suggest that those who feel so free to tell everyone whom and when to mourn are more interested in pointing out the flaws of others than showing genuine compassion.
“Find the stories that help you comprehend the incomprehensible. Find the stories that make you stronger.”
— Eleanor Davis, How to Be Happy
The stories that give me strength are ones that deal with our understanding of ourselves and others. Ones where someone is forced to walk in another person’s footsteps and see what life is like from the inside of their head. In many of the stories and novels I have read where this has happened, it results in a certain alchemy taking place where each person takes on the characteristics of the other that they needed in order to become more successful in their own lives. Part of me has always wanted to reproduce that alchemy with almost everyone I’ve met.
We are all such mysteries to each other. We believe we have true understanding or perspective or at least enough to judge what another should do or where they are right or wrong yet seldom unaided can we truly know what it feels like for them from the inside. The funny thing is it is not all that difficult. If we start with getting to know the person, really listen to them and get a feel for their lives and experiences and how they experience them, we can begin to imagine what it is they are going through. This does not mean that we agree with their choices or would make the same ones but it means we can understand why they made them. We can experience their triumphs and what made them strong and we can know what makes them weep. The more people we can understand in this way, the stronger we become.
Shared joy is increased,Shared pain lessened and thus we refute the law of entropy.”
There are very few things better than sharing a good time with people whom we care about. We rack up memories of golden moments, of laughs and pure enjoyment of a day. We remember most the sunrises, sunsets and walks under the stars that we have shared with others and few things can be as wonderful as pure laughter of a joke shared. The joy of the moment is more than doubled.
Likewise when we are hurting, little helps more than being able to unburden ourselves on those we love. We can cry and cop to the things that we did wrong in the situation and ways we have hurt others and the pain that we allowed them to give us and find release where in solitude the pressure would just build up until we surrendered to it. It is important to have friends with whom we can do this and not fear the response, knowing that we will find understanding and solace and possibly a kick in the ass when we wallow in it. It helps also to know that we can be there for other people when they are hurting and be that sounding board they need, helping them find solution and absolution.
I have been lucky in my life to have people with whom I can share both joy and pain. They have taught me the true meaning of friendship and caring. I hope that I will have the chance to share this lesson with many others.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is one of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read. It tells the story of Michael Valentine Smith, as a child lost on Mars then found a few decades later. The novel explores many aspects of what it means to be human and also how our world may be seen through the eyes of a stranger. It most importantly introduces the word grok and the concept of groking. I use the word quite a bit because I don’t know that there is a current word in the English language that expresses the idea as well.
To Grok something is to understand it so fully that it becomes part of you. To grok a chair for instance would mean that you understand the very essence of what the chair is, what its purpose is and how well it performs its purpose. To Grok a concept means that you understand it so fully that you can inhabit it and vice versa. Something that is often lacking. To Grok a person means that you get them on every level possible and carry them within you.
At various times in the novel Michael Valentine Smith talks about groking something or someone in their fullness. That is total and complete understanding and empathy. He talks about waiting and sitting with something before he can grok it in its fullness and won’t speak of it except to ask clarifying questions until he does. I only wish that I and many others I knew had the patience to sit with something or someone until groking in fullness came. Do you grok groking?
Click on images to see full-sized:
Thoughts Falling like Rock and Rising Like Butterflies by G A Rosenberg
“The interior of our skulls contains a portal to infinity.”
― Grant Morrison
Opening up the mind and imagining different lives. Not so much as an escape to my own but as an addition. Who knows? In living another existence if only for the space of moments or hours, I may learn compassion. What is it like to be a single mother of three in a rough area of New York City? What challenges do I face? What is it like to be twenty-three years old and wondering and fearing what the future may be? What is the life of a housecat or a fly or a planet or a God? Can I truly picture myself inside the life of another? How real can I make it? I entertain myself by traveling from life to life and I wonder who may find themselves traveling in mine? What is the continuity of existence? Have I imagined myself to be another being or am I imagining myself to be me a good deal of the time and if so can I imagine better? How good can I make this life? In an internal universe where we could be anything why limit our dreaming or our becoming?
“One of the most loving things you can do for a friend is give them space to be broken without trying to fix them.”
— Randall Wolfe
Humans are problem-solving beings. When someone, especially a loved one, comes to us unhappy and bereft it is a reflex to try to solve their problems. In my experience this is not always either the best or the most loving thing to do. Some hurts are too big and so wounds to deep to think that a kiss and a bandaid of words will help. Sometimes the best and most compassionate thing we can do is to bear silent witness to their pain and give them space to grieve. In the long run this aids their healing process. If they are feeling victimized or delusional about their own culpability in the situation, it is much better to give them a chance to realize it themselves rather than either agree and foster their victimhood or point out their own responsibility and cause resentment. If they are wounded, even by themselves, it is better to let the wound heal a bit before discussing anything of that nature. Listening and being present is often the most compassionate thing we can do.
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She Walked Through a Dream and the Dream Returned the Favour by G A Rosenberg
“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
― Alan Wilson Watts
Heading towards destruction or salvation
Circling the drain or raising up the spiral
Is it the end of the world or the caterpillar’s cry
as he weaves his cocoon?
What if we lost our sense of right and wrong
and saw everything as being the path?
What if we stopped judging ourselves, our society, our planet
and worked on ourselves
in kindness and compassion towards others?
If we are all stars
then there are no wrong constellations.
If this is all illusion
a play put on for cosmic edification
then does it matter how the play turns out?
Will we not all take off our costumes
and makeup for the cast party at the end?
Is the difference between us and the stars
that we lend such gravity towards our existence?
Where we see injustice, is it truly part of the dance?
What is it meant to teach us?
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
― Pema Chödrön
Joy gives way to grief which gives way to joy. Even in the hardest life the two seem to balance each other out. That’s not to say that all of our lives are equally hard. I have met very few people living in the roughest situations who didn’t find things to be joyful about. I have also met many living lives of relative ease who find ways of being miserable from time to time. There seems to be a strange balance of relativity there. Tho if we can see them both, our joys and misery as experience and the ability to experience life as joy, what then? Perhaps neither joy nor sorrow (or to use Pema Chödrön’s word wretchedness) need be fixed locations on our map. Perhaps in accepting them as equal spurs on our journey, we can reach new heights of understanding and compassion.
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Wind Currents Over Shadowed Beach by G A Rosenberg
“When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
— Ram Dass
Accepting bugs in nature
we just let them be
Storm clouds we can see
we seldom criticize flowers
for not being the best
we put them with the rest
organic fruit misshapened
we eat it with the rest
it never fails our test
yet why with people
do we notice every flaw
subject them to our law?
Birds and Butterflies
we love them in their flight
not one is not alright
We never look at rainbows
and criticize their glow
we tend to let them go.
yet when dealing with each other
we scrutinize each word
let nothing go unheard
Even with ourselves
we criticize, denounce
on every blemish pounce
Why can’t we accept
whoever’s in our path
with hug or a laugh
Imagine a world
where every voice is heard
not one decried absurd
rearrange our thoughts
compassion in action
will yield satisfaction.
— G A Rosenberg
A little Sunday night doggerel because I find Ram Dass’s quote to be quite profound.