Empathetic Distress

From Kosmos Journal, 5/18/21

Unfortunately, the difficulties of late capitalism, as more of us are pressured to compete with each other in distorted markets, while we increasingly perceive the turbulence both around and ahead of us, means that anxiety is increasing in many parts of the world and for many age-groups. Within our modern cultures, we have also been schooled to feel fearful of not knowing. A growing sense of vulnerability, due to increasingly precarious personal circumstances and perception of a more turbulent world, means we can grasp for ‘correct’ answers rather than allow for more ‘not knowing’ and more maplessness.

The great risk of such habitual responses is that they will lead more people to latch onto the simple stories offered to them by incumbent power, on the one hand, and opportunist contrarians on the other. 

by Katie Carr, of Deep Adaptation

From Oneing, a pamphlet, this one on Trauma, produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation:

We might ask, what could be the consequences of merging with the sufferer through overidentification? I am not talking about a fleeting moment of sensing or understanding but about an experience of deeply fusing with the suffering of others physically, emotionally, and/or cognitively and not releasing the experience. 

When we identify too strongly with someone who is suffering, our emotions can push us over the edge into distress that might mirror the anguish of those whom we are trying to serve. 

by Roshi Joan Halifax, in a section called “Empathetic Distress”

It comes from her latest book: Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet (New York: Flatiron, 2018) 

Trying to deal with what I now suspect is Empathetic Distress, I came up with three prayers, from May 16        “Whatever of this is not mine, may it be drawn into the ball of white light and sent to the healing realms.”  “I choose to trust that there are beings in the universe who are bigger, stronger, and wiser than me, and who are available to help us all go in a positive direction.”  “I offer myself to this process.”

I go back again and again to this passage.  It’s part of a long journal entry from 1996, when I was suffering from the terror produced by the paxil episode, before I got on anti-depressant medication that worked, and before I realized that I had been traumatized in infancy.

But the truth is, going over the whole thing in detail again again, writing down exactly what the fear feels like and then seeing how it matches my childhood, results in me feeling much less fearful, much more stable, seeing beyond the shoulders of my parents’ shadows to the possibility of a real Universe, big enough, wild enough, creative enough, compassionate enough, to meet my Soul’s need.

Recently I read the whole statement as part of sharing my “Spiritual Journey”  with the Quaker Community in Hanover.  What I saw was that if my soul needed a universe that was big, wild, creative and compassionate, then my soul was big, wild, creative, and compassionate, and since my soul is a hologram of the Universe, then the Universe must also be at least as Big, Wild, Creative, and Compassionate as my soul.

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