The transcendence of pain/ Empathy

I happened to experience the concepts of struggle, pain and compassion at close quarters recently. This happened while dealing with a health situation in family and it started this introspection.

A very unfortunate situation developed and I went to visit my family on East coast. The first experience of knowing a loved one in hospital in a tough condition literally knocked the wind out of me. Maybe it is that most of my close ones have fared well so far in their lives, or that I have not been a kind soul that goes out of the way to meet people who are in such a condition, my experience with dealing with such situations is poor.

I spent a lot of time in a small sitting area between a cardiac care unit and an intensive care unit. If a place can test human strength, it has to be that little sitting area. Seeing your life change, irreversibly at times, is extremely challenging. This state of emotions is what Paul Simon refers to as “Human Trampoline”. The pain that people go through.

I started questioning myself constantly. Do I have the empathy in this situation? Can I feel their emotions? How do I make it any better for anyone around me? Should I even try to help if what they are going through is so shattering? Will it make any difference?

In the beginning, every moment spent with my family felt almost dishonest. I was simply failing to relate with their grief. I was definitely shaken and extremely sad, but the constant question was how to help and whether I was “experiencing” what they were.

The answer got clearer with time and it is not rocket science: I can never walk in someone’s shoes. Looking for that “experience” in itself lowers the love I can bring in the situation, I felt. Trying to find a common ground created a dissonance. It moved me away from the present moment. To be there 100% doesn’t require a rationalization on how are they affected, the person who is sick or his age, occupation etc. There is something happening and there is my relationship to what is happening. The former is more important and I decided to spend a lot more time on that.

The second thing I learned is about giving hope. Over the days there, I was amazed by the magnitude of difference that our words can make. I was also turned off by people who were there with good intentions, but created gossip, distraction and negativity. If you really care to be supportive, there is absolutely no other position other than optimism and faith. Our full spirituality lives in the present without the anxiety or fear that the mind creates by dwelling on thoughts, drama and worries. It lives in being there as your true self that just wishes wellness, and health to the person who is suffering. So next time you get in a situation like this, avoid gossip. If you can’t only say good things, and listen to the family, don’t say anything. This is not a cocktail party. Don’t create frivolity and conversation. It is not about you, it is about them.

Strangely, I have felt that unknown bond of compassion with the people I didn’t know. Not just those who have family in a health situation, but anyone who has their battle to fight. The grief cannot be quantified. It cannot be compared. It cannot be questioned. That is not compassion; that is impatience. Many years ago, when I was in a lot of emotional pain, someone asked me to man up. It hurt a lot, mostly because it was insulting to my emotional state. I guess I felt that human connection and it is moving.

Finally, I tried to be myself and just hoped it helped the people around me to some extent.

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