You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘compassion’ tag.

This week I am giving you an extended quote from one of my favorite mystery writers, Louise Penny, who describes what it means to be a near enemy. It is a very intriguing idea and I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. The setting is a cafe where Gamache, the chief homicide detective is having a discussion with Myrna, a local psychologist, about how two opposite emotions masquerade as the same thing. She is speaking here of a grocer whose wife died.  Enjoy, Janet

 Near Enemies

“When his wife died, he opened his store the next day. Is he brave, or are we seeing the near enemy?”

“The what?”

“The near enemy. It’s a psychological concept. Two emotions that look the same but are actually opposites. The one parades as the other, is mistaken for the other, but one is healthy and the other’s sick, twisted.”

Gamache put his glass down. The condensation made his fingers slightly wet. Or was it the sweat that had suddenly appeared on his palms? The noises of the storm, the rain and hail pounding frantically on the window, the conversation and laughter inside the bistro receded.

He leaned forward and spoke, his voice low. “Can you give me an example?”

“There are three couplings,” said Myrna, herself leaning forward now, and whispering though she didn’t know why. “Attachment masquerades as Love, Pity as Compassion and Indifference as Equanimity.”

Armand Gamache was quiet for a moment, looking into Myrna’s eyes, trying to divine from them the deeper meaning of what she’d just said. There was a deeper meaning, he knew it. Something important had just been said.

But he hadn’t understood it fully. His eyes drifted to the fireplace while Myrna leaned back in her overstuffed chair and swirled her red wine in its bulbous glass.

“I don’t understand,” Gamache said finally, bringing his eyes back to Myrna. “Can you explain?”

Myrna nodded. “Pity and compassion are the easiest to understand. Compassion involves empathy. You see the stricken person as an equal. Pity doesn’t. If you pity someone you feel superior.”

“But it’s hard to tell one from the other,” Gamache nodded.

“Exactly. Even for the person feeling it. Almost everyone would claim to be full of compassion. It’s one of the noble emotions. But really, it’s pity they feel.”

“So pity is the near enemy of compassion,” Said Gamache slowly, mulling it over.

“That’s right. It looks like compassion, acts like compassion, but is actually the opposite of it. And as long as pity’s in place there’s not room for compassion. It destroys, squeezes out, the nobler emotion.”

“Because we fool ourselves into believing we’re feeling one, when we’re actually feeling the other.”

“Fool ourselves, and fool others,” said Myrna.

 

“And love and attachment?” asked Gamache.

“Mothers and children are classic examples. Some mothers see their job as preparing their kids to live in the big old world. To be independent, to marry and have children of their own. To live wherever they choose and do what makes them happy. That’s love. Others, and we all see them, cling to their children. Move to the same city, the same neighborhood. Live through them. Stifle them. Manipulate, use guilt-trips, cripple them.”

“Cripple them? How?”

“By not teaching them to be independent.”

“But it’s not just mothers and children,” said Gamache.

“No, it’s friendships, marriages. Any intimate relationship. Love wants the best for others. Attachment takes hostages.”

Gamache nodded. He’s seen his share of those. Hostages weren’t allowed to escape, and when they tried tragedy followed.

 

“And the last?” He leaned forward again. “What was it?”

“Equanimity and indifference. I think that’s the worst of the near enemies, the most corrosive. Equanimity is balance. When something overwhelming happens in our lives we feel it strongly but we also have an ability to overcome it. You must have seen it. People who somehow survive the loss of a child or a spouse. As a psychologist I saw it all the time. Unbelievable grief and sorrow. But deep down inside people find a core. That’s called equanimity. An ability to accept things and move on.”

Gamache nodded. He’d been deeply affected by families who’d risen above the murder of a loved one. Some had even been able to forgive.

“How’s that like indifference?” he asked, not seeing the connection.

“Think about it. All those stoic people. Stiff upper lip. Calm in the face of tragedy. And some really are that brave. But some,” she lowered her voice even more, “are psychotic. They just don’t feel pain. And you know why?”

Gamache was silent. Beside him the storm threw itself against the leaded glass as though desperate to interrupt their conversation. Hail hammered the glass and snow plastered itself there, blotting out the village beyond until it felt as though he and Myrna were in a world all of their own.

“They don’t care about others. They don’t feel like the rest of us. They’re like the Invisible man, wrapped in the trappings of humanity, but beneath there’s emptiness.”

Gamache felt his own skin grow cold and he knew goose bumps had sprung up on his arms under his jacket.

“The problem is telling one from another,” Myrna whispered, straining to keep an eye on the grocer. “People with equanimity are unbelievably brave. They absorb the pain, feel it fully, and let it go. And you know what?”

“What?” Gamache whispered.

“They look exactly like people who don’t care at all, who are indifferent. Cool, calm and collected. We revere it. But who’s brave, and who’s the near enemy?”

Gamache leaned back in his seat, warmed by the fire. The enemy, he knew then, was near.

 

Excerpted from The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

 

Advertisements

Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed are the Peacemakers

 

Verse 9:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (NRSV)

 

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (The Message)

 

Blessed are those who plant peace each season; they shall be named the children of God. (Aramaic, Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos)

 

Your place of grief teaches you compassion and invites you to treat others with compassion. The peacemakers are those who seek to bring peace to their own hearts so that their interactions with others come from a place of peace. They are those who extend the practice of shalom into the world. Where in your heart do you experience the longing to make peace? (Christine Paintner, The Artist’s Rule)

 

Who does Jesus commend? Not the ones who have necessarily found peace in its fullness but the ones who, just for that reason, try to bring it about wherever and however they can—peace with their neighbors and God, peace with themselves. (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark)

 

 

Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the options resonates with you the most? Why?

How are you doing with finding peace within your own heart?

Where in your world does peace most need to grow?

How do you experience God’s peace?

Beatitude Poem

French Pantoum form. This poem uses words that suggest the beatitudes of Matthew 5 and Luke 6 but is written in a lyrical poetic style of deliberate repeats called a French Pantoum. Read it out loud to get a more intimate experience of the blessings.

Blessed are you who receive God’s unconditional love

Blessed are you who learn to love yourself

Blessed are you who embrace your shadows

Blessed are you who show compassion to others

Blessed are you who learn to love yourself

Blessed are you who bring your gifts to the world

Blessed are you who show compassion to others

For your life will be transformed

Blessed are you who bring your gifts to the world

Blessed are you who embrace your shadows

For your life will be transformed

Blessed are you who receive God’s unconditional love

Janet O. Hagberg, 2012. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this poem

After each line ponder how you have been blessed in this way and pause to remember how each of these blessings has touched your life. If you have not felt blessed by some of them and desire that, just ask for that blessing. The core blessing is to receive God’s unconditional love.

Forgiveness Is a Process

Forgiving may be the most difficult task in our lives. To forgive, we have to let go of our resentments, our need to be right or to be vindicated or to see justice done. Forgiveness moves us from justice to mercy. But once we have been wronged, our hurt urges us to seek revenge, or at least vindication. It is the human response. Only when we approach forgiveness as a calling, as a holy process that heals our souls, do we find an approach that really heals us.

Writing about forgiveness reminds me of South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid, when Bishop Desmond Tutu launched a process that helped heal an entire nation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission’s first step was to listen to the stories of those who had been hurt, even tortured, and to the stories of those who had done the torturing. In any process of healing and forgiveness, this step is essential so we don’t inadvertently skip over the pain in an effort to forgive.

Forgiving too soon or too easily doesn’t work. It just reinforces passiveness. And for some people, passiveness may have some connection to being hurt in the first place.

Telling Our Stories, but Not Getting Stuck in Them

Grief psychologists suggest that we need to tell our grief story many times before we are ready to move on. Grief and hurt are similar, and it is equally important to tell the story of what has hurt us and then to affirm with certainty that we did not deserve it. These are central truths in the healing process.

Sometimes our hurt is from a specific event or a careless word, a slight or a deliberate act of unkindness. Other times our hurt is deeper, as are the debilitating hurts from childhood, divorce, sexual assault, abuse or criminal acts perpetrated against us. Coming to see the truth of what has hurt us can take years, since enormous fear and denial are involved, and we tend to surround our hurts with silence. This process of uncovering our pain most often begins at a time of change in our lives or at midlife, when some seemingly unconnected event surprises us and we start to unravel our secrecy.

I remember watching my own family silence unravel and seeing for the first time the dark side of my family. My first inkling that something was amiss came when I separated from a business partner because of his addictive behaviors, only to see in therapythat his behavior was familiar to me. I traced my history back to other addicted bosses and ultimately back to my father. In my family, I learned to live with addicted men, to apologize for them, to cover for them, to keep the silence and to suffer alone.

A lunch conversation with my cousin left a lasting impression on me and changed the way I viewed my family. He told me that my father was an alcoholic and that he had a religious conversion the year I was born. This explained why there was no liquor in our home throughout my childhood, and it explained his anger and unpredictability—the behavior of the unhealed addict. It was a truth that had been missing from my family story, and without that truth I had no way to heal. The truth will set us free, but finding the truth can be painful.

As important as telling our story is, it is equally important to know when we have told our story enough and are ready to move forward. It is easy to get stuck in the storytelling stage because of the relief we feel when someone will listen. We can become so identified with our stories that we cannot move beyond them and become victims or martyrs, getting our energy from the sympathy our story elicits. We can even get comfortable in that victim place. Our culture seems to feed victimization, even sensationalize it. And being a victim saves us from having to take responsibility for our lives.

Taking Responsibility for Our Part of the Story

Personal responsibility is vital to the forgiveness process, yet it is a delicate endeavor, and it is particularly difficult to write about because asking a person to take responsibility can easily be confused with blaming the victim. Yet we will never gain back our power if we do not see how we could have acted differently on our own behalf.

Claiming our power is central to the healing and the forgiveness process. Let me give an example to illustrate the fine line between blaming oneself and taking responsibility. As a child living with a dry drunk, I could not confront him or ask my mother for help. I did not know enough, nor was I assertive enough to do either, and the culture in those days offered very few resources I could have drawn on. So I don’t blame the little girl I was for not stopping the behavior.

But now that I am grown and have been involved, on one level or another, with numerous addicted men and with a variety of abusive behavior, I do not need to repeat that pattern and then blame the people who continue to hurt me, any more than I need to blame myself for being vulnerable to them. They are repeating their own family patterns, which connect with my family pattern. They are in my life because I attract them subconsciously to play out my father’s part. The gift that having them in my life gives me is that I can now see the pattern and do the inner work of healing from the abuse (which is a lifelong venture), and then recognize and set appropriate boundaries in the future. My responsibility is to see that I am not only vulnerable to these people, but that I am drawn to them because they are so familiar.

The concepts that resonate most strongly with me in this healing process are remorse and compassion. First I need to feel remorse and then let that remorse create sincere compassion. For example, at the meeting with my addicted business partner when he invited me to work with him, he showed all the behavior I know now to be addicted behavior; he was charismatic, manipulative, controlling, suave and a little too smooth.

Today, I can imagine that meeting and stop myself at the point where I am charmed and ready to move into the partnership. So now I can let myself feel deep remorse for the decision I actually made as a younger woman. “Don’t do it,” I can say to my younger self. “Don’t do it. You’ll be so sorry.” But of course my younger self did go forward. So I sit with the remorse of that decision and feel it deeply. It is my responsibility that I said yes. No one made me do it. My intention was to get security and recognition. As it turned out, I paid a high price for those intentions.

Then I move to compassion for the young woman I was. She didn’t know enough. She was vulnerable financially. She wanted to have what he offered her. She had not healed from her family system. She is still a part of me. What I have to do is forgive myself as well as the other person, and forgiving myself first helps me make better decisions about the other person. Then, if I want to complete the healing process, I can reconstruct the scene, either in my imagination or with another person, and say what I wish I had had the courage to say the first time. In this case, I applaud his idea, thank him for his interest in me and sincerely refuse the offer.

Moving Forward through the Challenges of Forgiveness

One truth about forgiveness, which I’ve learned the hard way, is that, no matter what you do, there is no guarantee that the person you forgive will change. This means that the most important part of the process is what you do with yourself. It is the only part of the process you have any control over, and what you do for yourself makes more of an impact on your psyche and your soul than on anyone else’s. So if you are writing a letter or meeting with someone who has hurt you and you are assuming that telling your story will earn you an apology, you are likely to be disappointed. But if you do it to heal your soul and take new responsibility for your life, it will make a lasting impression on you.

I have been in the habit for the last several years of writing letters to people with whom I have unfinished business, people I need to forgive, people I want to forgive me. It is a spiritual process for me, involving prayer and soul searching. I try to write what I call clean letters, not blaming or expecting a response, not jabbing at the person, however subtly.

My letters are made up of four parts: The first part is a statement of my purpose in writing; the second part is a positive and true statement about our relationship; the third is a summary of my part in the problem or what I brought that was part of the misunderstanding; and the last part is an expression of my gratitude to the person receiving my letter and a reminder that I don’t expect a response. These letters take me quite a while to write and I usually have a friend read them to spot subtle jabs that I did not see. (see sample at the end of this essay)

I send most of these letters, but some I don’t. In those cases, it is just enough to write them. It is the process of writing alone that frees me and helps me to forgive. I’ve found that acknowledging my own part in our difficulty, even if I don’t name it directly, is a public statement of forgiveness for myself.

When I can acknowledge the good in our relationship and my own part in the difficulty, the other person’s heart is often touched and opened, and when people do respond we stand a good chance of healing, and the other person often talks about his or her part in the problem.

In the case of my business partner, I had moved through the process of forgiveness, even acknowledging my gratitude for the issues between us that had started me on a journey toward healing my family issues. Several years later, we happened to meet at a wedding. We chatted for a few minutes and he said, with a smile, “There’s been a lot of water over the dam since then.” I smiled and agreed, and in my heart I knew we had forgiven one another. We were not friends, but we didn’t need to be. I felt the issue was closed.

Forgiving Too Soon

Some people wait eons to consider forgiveness and others forgive too soon, perhaps wanting to be back in relationship, or to overcome shame or guilt. They risk their own safety or self-esteem by reaching out too soon. We can be more interested in reconciliation than in our own safety and so give up our very essence to our relationships. This seems especially true when we deal with family members.

Parents are vulnerable to the estrangement of children, and the road back from estrangement can be as difficult as the original estrangement. To heal these disconnections with our children, we have to relinquish our identity as parents only to see it resurrected in a different way as part of our new, healed identity. It takes time, support, compassion and wisdom. And it is a journey worth taking.

Relinquishing is necessary if we are to get to a healthier place. I call it offering up the relationship on the altar of God’s unconditional love. It is a deeply spiritual process in which we trust God more than we trust ourselves and we let go of what we think will make us happy or what we think will make us look good. We look carefully at our underlying intentions—and we either laugh or groan. We just ask to heal, no matter what we have to give up in the process. It is excruciating but freeing, since we have to face up to our own inner, unhealed places in the process. But it brings the healing we are seeking, and that healing sets us free.

The End Results of the Forgiveness Process

Forgiveness will not always result in full reconciliation. Sometimes when we forgive, true compassion means not being involved in each other’s lives, either for the time being or ever. It can be the healthiest thing to do, the most loving to do. At other times, we can see one another and be civil, even friendly, but not be as close as we were before. This is the level of involvement former marriage partners usually reach.

In some cases, we can be family or friends again but agree not to talk about issues that we know are painful and unlikely to mend. The best-case outcome is that we both work on our issues internally and no longer project our pain onto the other person. In that deep healing stance, we may be able to transform the old relationship into something new and mature. This takes work on the part of both people and is a long-term process. It is a miracle and a graced experience, a distinct inner change that both people feel. But forgiveness short of this is also a graced experience, and one to be cherished.

Any level of forgiveness is deeply satisfying and eases physical symptoms as well as mental, emotional and spiritual distress. Forgiveness is a gift that, once received, is contagious. Forgiving even once makes us want more. But forgiveness lasts longer if it includes self-forgiveness, just as compassion for ourselves allows us to feel compassion for others.

Forgiveness is a spiritual process, and praying, seeking the assistance of a friend or a spiritual mentor and listening to our own hearts will all help us know when and how to forgive.

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2005. All rights reserved.

Reflecting on this essay:

1. Do you have any ruptured relationships that you are drawn to heal? Who? Why now?

2. What step in the process seems the most difficult for you? Why?

3. Have you been able to tell your story, forgive yourself and feel compassion? Explain.

4. Have you ever written an amends letter? If you have, what happened for you? For the relationship?

5. What is your wish for yourself in this healing process?

6. Where is God in your healing process?

 

Sample amends letter:

Dear

I am writing to you because I think enough time has passed and enough healing has occurred since our difficult supervision experience so that we both have a broader perspective. I’m imagining that the situation was as difficult and stressful for you as it was for me.

 I am most sorry that we could not find a way to work out our issues within the supervision relationship. For my part, I know that I was quite vulnerable at the time so I did not bring my best self to the situation and for that I am sorry. I realize we may both have experienced more stress as a result. Please forgive me for that.

Within the larger context of my life, this experience and the subsequent events were an incredible learning experience and a key ingredient in my journey towards interior deepening. That is not to say that I would want to repeat the experience but that I am grateful that it precipitated a turning point on my sacred journey. And because I believe that nothing is coincidence I have come to see this experience as a God moment, or as my spiritual director would say, “it reeked of God.”

 All this to say that I am sorry for whatever pain this whole experience caused you and I pray that you felt the presence of God in the midst of the situation and God’s grace subsequently in your life.

 I am not expecting a response to this letter. It just seemed time to share these sentiments with you.

 All my regards,

Janet

Subscribe for Email Updates

Advertisements