A marvellous quote about suffering; you MUST read this

Wednesday, 6. February 2013

I did not write this. I found it on Quora. The author has a beautiful gentleness that I wish I had….

“One of the reasons I started listening carefully to people was because I wanted to understand if others really were happier than me or if they were just faking it.  What I learned about first was compassion – which is WAY different than happiness.  Eventually I learned about a related something called sympathetic joy – which is a way to be happy most of the time.
First of all, it is hard and painful to be alive.  We don’t get what we want, we get what we don’t want and all the while things keep changing and fading away.

If you have ever had your heart broken or lost someone you love, you know the way emotional pain can move around inside you – shutting your throat, twisting in your stomach,  pressing down on your heart. This traveling pain is my definition of suffering – “emotion” comes from the Latinemovere, which literally means to move.*

Suffering is a scouring substance – it wears our protection away and gets at our raw nerve endings, but at the same time it expands or deepens our interior selves.  This concept is reflected in the description of people as deep or shallow.  This is only true to the degree that a person is able to experience and process their suffering*.

The relativity of suffering means that emotional pain is experienced in relation to a person’s depth.   For example, if someone is shallow, small pains will fill them almost completely;  a prom queen’s broken fingernail can be an epic and overwhelming tragedy.  On the other hand, people who have suffered have a bigger maximum capacity – if our prom queen has experienced losing her mother to breast cancer,  the broken nail will probably seem like a trivial event.

Until compassion develops, we understand other people’s suffering on a numeric scale.  Here’s an example:

Pity happens when observed suffering is greater than the observer’s depth. For example, someone who is quite shallow (say they have a depth of five) will have no way to sympathize with someone experiencing a 200 loss.  Instead they will feel distant and different from the sufferer who in turn feels isolated and pathetic in their presence.

On the other hand, someone deep enough may experience empathy instead of pity. Empathy allows us to remember an equivalent amount of suffering inside ourselves. If an empathetic person sees someone suffering at say 100 (a broken heart)  they remember what 100 feels like to them and use this to resonate with the sufferer.  An empathetic person who sees someone suffering at one often decides that one is not worth suffering over and may say something like “get over it.”

But compassion is a ratio, based on capacity. A compassionate person looks at the sufferer and resonates with how filled with pain they are.So when a great soul (with a depth of 100,000) feels compassion for the distressed prom queen (with a depth of 5), they don’t experience 1 out a possible 100,000 – what they feel is 20%.  They have no problem sitting on the bench in the bathroom with their arm around her as she sobs.  The compassionate person does not remember a 20,000 pain, they experience it anew.  This works to further deepen them in a way that empathy does not.  Which is to say,  the more compassionate a person is, the more they suffer for others but the less they suffer from what happens to themselves.

What I learned listening is that most people have not experienced much compassion in their life. Instead they have been met with either pity or empathy.  All this circles back to your question.  Most people pretend to be ceaselessly happy because they worry that they will either experience pity or be told to “get over it” – in other words they worry that their suffering is either too big or too small.

People I listen to tell me they hide their pain.  But they also hide their joy.  They don’t want to make people jealous, or be seen as bragging or unseemly.  As it turns out, real authentic joy is happening all the time.  This is a tough planet but it is also quite beautiful and surprising.  The way to get in on all this astounding goodness is to develop Sympathetic Joy.

Sympathetic Joy is the sister and companion of compassion.  If compassion lets us share suffering, sympathetic joy lets us share happiness. In it’s purest form sympathetic joy is why we laugh and smile when we watch a baby laugh and smile.  It’s why we can watch someone open “the best present ever!” and feel happy even though we didn’t get it ourselves.

Here are two of thousands of sympathetic joy videos – feel free to add more to the comments on this answer if you wish.  If compassion reminds us that suffering is universal, sympathetic joy reminds us that right now someone has just caught the biggest fish of their life, someone just aced the test, someone is whispering support, someone just got results that says they don’t have cancer, someone has invited someone to the party, someone has caught someone’s eye, someone is dancing, someone is making love, someone is laughing their ass off.


Diane Meriwether…. a published author, counselor and workshop facilitator. She has spent 3 decades studying healing techniques including transformational bodywork, holotrophic breathing, family constellation work, shamanic journeying and voice dialog therapy. Diane left a Midwestern university in the 1980s where she was studying biology to travel to Polynesia for 10 years.

Our missing father

Tuesday, 25. October 2011

Where is home to the soul? Did it start with some cosy world in which mother nurtured us? For most people, happily, the answer is yes. Though for some there is no emotional place called home, not even in the mother archetype.

But something almost all of us share is that we never got enough of the right kind of fathering. He was scary, unemotional, afraid to get involved, perhaps. He came and went. He upset mother and disturbed the peace. He gambled or boozed away the family income. He would rather be off doing something else. He left altogether in many cases…

All clichés and all importantly true in some people’s lives.  Think of your own life and the fathering that would have made you stronger, wiser, better able to cope, your ideal father, the one your soul will always crave.

Then think of the deal you actually got and ask how it damaged or lessened you.

Then think about what you did to overcompensate, in males perhaps something to do with toughness and aggression, ambition and competition, all sour substitutes for natural manhood. In females, well, if I had a tenner for every woman I’ve met who’s looking for daddy I’d own a yacht and a sub tropical nature reserve.

Why? Does it matter why? Sociologists put up reasons why some subcultures make fathers more untenable or give them more license to stray. But I reckon this is a feature of all cultures, everywhere, at all times. And something very profound we share in common.

And then we all try to be the good father that we didn’t get. And it still doesn’t work, not according to our kids, who will one day have the same complaints that we have.

You kind of have to be your own father in this world.

What is it that exists between us and actually connects us?

Monday, 17. October 2011

What is it that exists between us and actually connects us?

A close friend of mine recently posted this opening question for a new theme: “… when our bodies are at rest, when we are asleep, what happens to our consciousness, does it leave the realms of our body and travel out into the ‘thinking space’ that exists between us?”

Personally I have no idea, no idea whether we ever “travel” anywhere, though I know there are cultures to whom dreams are very important. I’m not even concerned only about dreams, but rather the whole question of what is the glue, the attraction, the linkage, the substance between us that connects us. I don’t know what words to use.

Obviously, you are one terminal and I am a separate terminal and we send messages and speech but it’s a lot more than that, isn’t it, because we mean something to one another and we connect in the silent imagination of each and of course in our dreams and fantasies and moments of emotion.

So we are also a great deal more to each other than mere terminals.

Perhaps the reason so many of you were moved by Saint Steve’s demise, for example, is that you actually felt strongly enough about him to feel connected, whereas to me he meant nothing at all. Perhaps it’s the strength of the interest, the love, the hatred, the affinity, the contempt, the emotion that is the medium through which we most connect in terms of out minute to minute experience.

I don’t know. I’m asking you to contribute your own thought
s, with no stupid videos and no quotes from great experts. Just you. All of you who think and know a little about life.
What is it that exists between us and actually connects us?

How do you get what you want?

Tuesday, 28. July 2009

At the moment I am waiting for two huge and critical events in my life, the failure of either of which would kill me. My third major event has been a success but I also need these other two and I do not know how to achieve them. So I revisited an old discussion on a thread I posted elsewhere...with comments and reassembled here.

There are only three states of being. They are: 1) wrestling with problems that never end, 2) accepting the occurrence of miracles now and 3) doing as little as possible while you wait for something great to happen. Nothing else matters. There are no other realities.

(This precipitated some comment about other possible states of mind, to which I replied as follows…)

…..The normative mind always thinks reality is about itself and might typically ask which state it should choose but I’m not even trying to broach that question. My intention is Kantian: to describe which states of mind are actually possible. You cannot choose your mood.

I don’t claim to have it perfect yet. And I suspect that the most effective way to be is to cultivate the loosest grip possible on whatever reality passes your way.

(There followed some further interesting discussion about waiting if what you were waiting for never happened, if we were just waiting, without a purpose… There was a strong implication that we collectively did not differentiate clearly between action and waiting…)

….I think the state of being that I have so far called “waiting” is the most complex and subtle of the three and will take a very long time to penetrate with any real understanding. “Waiting” is merely a shorthand for now.

It is obvious what receiving miracles and trying to get things done mean but it is not obvious what constitutes right action when you cease from action.

One obvious thing that the “waiter” is not doing is that they are not planning. Nor are they worrying away at the outcome. Anxiety belongs in the trying state so if anyone is anxious they cannot be waiting.

Waiting may have a neutrality as to outcome, or perhaps it is tinged with the expectation of certainty by virtue of being about realism. Trying, by contrast is all about the unreality of wanting what you have not got.

(There were further interesting contributions about waiting and trying, then…)

I see receiving as the momentary thing when the miracle happens and waiting as a far longer process that occurs between times of receiving, which are, as it were, fulfillments of themes that were brewing.

For me waiting starts with a soft touch: deliberately leaving something alone, like having the willpower not to scratch an insect bite. Scratching is like doing and it inflames the bite.

(The discussion continued back and forth for some time before it became far more complicated, with people suggesting subdivisions of these three possible states of mind and even coming up with moods that appeared not to fit the model at all. I conceded that sleep, coma and unconsciousness did not fit the model… Then someone suggested giving as a fourth category, which I found convincing at first. I later asked this question…)

….I think we can include giving, then, but I accept that madness and coma may lay outside of the scope so far.

So we have


Do we also have these:

out of consciousness


(Remember, that our game was to find a finite set that covered all possible states of mind. Someone suggested states of absence of mind and I agreed…)

YES, we definitely need a category absence of mind – and it should also include what I call automaticity and what Reich called the oral spillway, where people speak only for emotional reasons or to balance their energies and the content plays no significant part.

(Someone suggested destructive states of mind, and I elaborated)

Automaticity is very common. It’s when the person speaking is literally mouthing words to release emotional and/or physical tension, so, yes, your destructive states definitely fit. I would extend it to include fixations and addictions that dominate behaviour and incongruent performances like people who have to turn everything into a joke, for example. Obsession also.

Clearly these things overlap with the domain of trying.

This is getting more complicated than I’d hoped.

Finally, we appeared to be agreeing on six states of being, summarised by another contributor like this, the six possible states of mind….)

attempting/trying (useful)
destructive behaviour/thought (useless trying)

…and then someone else suggested a model with 13 states!!!! To which I instinctively replied:

Anything that is not simple can never be true. Complexity is always part of the cycle of trying.

(We gave up for a while and then I backtracked to this summary…)

My original 3 were:

the acceptance/receipt of gifts experienced as largely uncaused, or miracles
attempting or trying to mould life (the striving and scheming which most of the population does constantly,
attending/waiting (an antidote to trying, wiser and possibly requiring conscious choice or willpower)

to these people have added:

giving (which we have not yet discussed very much, but does superficially seem to be a 4th category)
absence or unconsciousness (which may be a subset of trying, a kind of negative trying, or may be a separate state as in medical coma)
destructive behaviour, also undiscussed, also possibly a subset of trying (who can tell me what distinguishes destructive behaviour into a separate class from trying, please)

I suppose what I am questioning most is the useful trying, which was entirely missing as even a possibility from my original three. Also, I am not sure that destructive behaviour deserves its own class.

Someone strongly opposed my pejorative remarks about trying, to which I eventually responded…

I meant “trying” to be a pejorative word right from the start. My original three possible states was meant to be extremely radical.

This was deeply opposed but I justified it thus, veering back to the beginning:

As always, I am looking for the Kantian essence. Just as you cannot have epistemology without space and time, so I am seeking an exclusive set of possible states of being, ultimately without making any judgement upon them.

Thus one cannot receive whilst one is trying, but one can wait to receive. The addition of other states by you and others makes me question whether my original three is a large enough group but nothing is so far determined in my mind.

I have not made this distinction between good trying and bad trying and I am not yet convinced of its virtue. Nor am I convinced yet that things like unconsciousness or dreaming are anything other than trying in another form. And coma? It’s not really a state of being, is it?

When the tryer eventually receives whatever it is she thought she wants she will in that moment have ceased trying and allowed the miraculous outcome to happen, after which she will probably generate new goals almost immediately and start trying again. Perhaps she would have been far better off just generating her goals and then waiting for the miracle of them coming to pass.

Being willing (for something specific to happen) was how Werner Erhard used to put it, but the rest of this idea cluster is new territory that he did not cover.

This was not popular, but someone cleverly implied that my real, covert subject was: How do you get miracles to happen? This has a hint of truth in it…

After this the discussion rambled a little and more or less broke up in flurries of mutual misunderstanding. I strongly felt that I had not and could not get my Kantian purpose across. This is a more or less continuous experience of my life because metaphysical reality is just as real to me as practical things like cooking a meal. Others seem to feel differently.

My three major events were and are:

1) a new love and partner in life after the death of my wife; this has happened, convincingly, without me doing anything at all; it was the event I expected least and the one I might have lived without

2) the recovery of my health after serious heart problems following the death of my wife; this is the event I need most and though progress is being made I cannot say that I feel whole again or ever will because I cannot complete even small tasks without breathlessness

3) a change of scene and a new home, to distance myself from years of grief; I did not know that I needed this until it came upon me and I have done everything possible to locate a house and make my own fit for sale; the wait on this is electrifying

Shame on me if I’m no good for you

Friday, 3. July 2009

This 2004 thread relates to time I spent in the waiting room of an oncology outpatients’ clinic. There were many sad faces in there, including a young mum with her baby, surely too vulnerable to withstand whatever cancer she has? Some were clearly hanging on by a thread, unlike a friend of mine who has come through five cancers and is still fighting. We saw very little optimism, despite the busy NHS service being given.

Many of the patients (presumably all on radiotherapy and chemotherapy and therefore going through living hell) – many of them had their partners with them and in every case it was easy to tell which one was sick and which was just plain terrified.

One couple I could lip-read and overhear. She was the patient and she looked very pale. She was trying to talk to her husband about the options facing her, them, their family, her job, more chemo, etc. – and she was also trying to dig deeper into matters of the soul that were coming up for her, matters of destiny and making life count and being precious because it might soon be over… In her vocabulary, she had lost her inhibitions and was digging deep because she was in contact with layers beneath the trivial.

Her husband, in his business shirt and tie, was reading nature and motoring magazines, showing her pictures of rare birds, fending off everything important she tried to say and generally doing anything but show empathy or be with her.

That day I saw such pain on this woman’s face because her deepest need to be heard was being blocked out…

Can we help each other in times of hardship? Does “being there” for someone mean anything. Or am I just deluding myself with the thought that if that man entered into the illness with his wife and shared some of her burden she would have a far better chance of survival?

Changing change changers

Friday, 3. July 2009

Yesterday I noticed this post at Ecademy. It received precious little attention which surprised me, because they like making up metaphysical bullshit about business process over on that platform.

So I asked myself why my first reaction to any would-be sage writing about change is to throw up my arms in horror, even when they are wise enough not to believe they can control change. It’s because “change”, since the psychedelic LP “Forever Changes”, has been gradually given the mystical once over and memed in to something like a force of life or nature or something, which obviously it is not. The word change simply refers to the state of not being the same as it was and since nothing is ever quite as it was it is almost a tautology and really not that useful compared with exciting words like “transform”.

Never mind, though, because the world and his wife is going to blether on about “managing change” for a good few years yet, so this has to be addressed. And using my methodology of feeling for context it is soon clear that why people get so involved in this topic is because it relates to the other great obsession of the Age of Me, which is planning, which also incorporates wanting, hoping, visualising, expecting, needing and increasingly: fantasising about having it all.

Hence those who think they understand change, by Tao or NLP or any coaching methodology or anything they teach you at Harvard Business School, these people are going to feel that they have life by the reins and can steer their own future effectively and, best of all, dominate discussions with their friends, colleagues and coaching victims by blethering optimistically about what I, you or we “really want out of life”.

But as Jagger and Richard so wisely and almost certainly by accident told us long ago: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need”.

Of course you do not get what you need, not always. You get the accumulation of your life situation and your own and the actions of others within it. If you are born in an African kleptocracy where most people have AIDS and there’s no infrastructure you don’t get very much of anything and no one cares what you need, for example.

But we in the west who have everything, well, enough to sit down at the table and play a few hands, we, most of us, most of the time, are losers at the game of life. Relationships don’t turn out, neither do careers and special projects. Moving to rural France gets tiresome after a while because it’s still you living there and you probably don’t have enough inner resources to “be, here, now”.

So the game of change is a Tom and Jerry struggle with your own self and its largely unknown discontents and issues such that no new technology is going to come along and make it all happen. Whatever changes, you are still going to be, essentially, the same, except those who think they are voyaging and learning and exploring and they’re going to be offended when I say that they are almost certainly still acting out their infantile repetition compulsions and probably always will be because that’s how life is. Nothing really changes amid everything routinely changing. So there can’t be an answer, can there?

My favourite take on this is not the Eckhart Tolle mystic dream solution of being real but the EST version from Werner Erhard, which admits that you’re not always going to make it and assures you that you can’t change anything but if you stay in the truth and wait for a while it may change anyway and destiny may follow intention if you get the alchemy right or not and then we can try being more “real” and “accepting” until maybe we grow up enough to be OK with what we already have, at which point life will definitely mess you up by changing everything.

If you can ride that tiger you definitely deserve to experience what all dramatic change always appears to be, which is miraculous.

Out of the mystic

Thursday, 2. July 2009

A friend recently broached the subject of karma and the possibility of being punished for having bad thoughts. My response was that while your own inner peace may benefit from acting and even thinking with integrity and you have no doubt made ethical agreements, some of which you will not be aware of, like secret promises to your children, there is in fact no external, mystical process at work which condemns bad people to pain. Bad people get away with it and good people suffer with conscience. Evil is not a force of the universe, it’s more a lack of empathy with others. End of opinion. But while you deny the mystical/God agreement that was placed in your brain as a child as one of the early modules installed, it will keep coming back to haunt you; the best thing to do is get religion for a while, realise it’s crap experientially and mature into an atheist.
No doubt others will disagree.

Kundalini blues

Wednesday, 1. July 2009

No sniggering. Four years ago I had what was apparently according to the two people I trust the most an experience of “kundalini rising”. Yes, I hate the terminology, but the experience was unbelievable. I was lying in bed, expecting sleep, concentrating on the base of my spine as I do (because that helps you go to sleep almost instantly, don’t ask me why, cranial energies in balance with the pelvic floor or something…)

Anyway, boom, like something out of star wars, I feel this intense, warmish, powerful, almost liquid stream of energy flooding up from the base of my spine and through all the tissues of my body. It paused for a while in the lungs where I have about 30% radiotherapy damage but gradually I could feel it suffuse even through those burned tissues.

It went everywhere, to my fingertips and the intense part lasted between five and ten minutes. Inside I was warm, reassured, sort of colossally at one with the world. My skin was prickling, kind of in awe, like goose bumps gone mad, almost frozen.

I have used an old account to recreate this because the feeling never came again. Anyone else?

I never knew how precious time would become

Saturday, 20. June 2009

First posted and largely ignored on Ecademy in June 2005 when my late wife was a year from death by cancer. Please do not be afraid to respond. we all have tragedies in our lives…

After a shaky start I’ve had a reasonable life with some successes and failures but I never knew how precious time would become. Nobody warns you how much your perspective will change, or if they do you take no notice and if they did I don’t remember. I’m not sure there were any wise old elders in my tribe who could pass on such knowledge.

So I lost myself as I guess most people do, in planning tomorrow and half-heartedly doing now while saving something back for tomorrow, for which I was always working, saving, hoping and dreaming. But I always left the most important thing out of the equation, because I never knew how precious time would become.

I’m not complaining, far from it – glad I got this far and though I never challenged any of my heroes I’ve been quite good at what I have done, good enough to replace satisfaction for the things I really wanted with the conceited arrogance of professional expertise. You see, I never knew how precious time would become.

It started to dawn on me two years ago when my friend Beatrice the dog died of lymphoma within three months and her death after much suffering came as a blessing. Christmas Eve that year took my mum with two hours to go before I was due to phone her. Now my wife is fighting the monster illness the eats your soul away with your body, right in front of your eyes.

I am fifty-six and I still haven’t accomplished the main goal of my life. But now I really do know how precious time can become and I’m saying to everyone younger then me in case they want to listen: live your dreams; savour your life; seize your opportunities; follow your star; appreciate your gifts and for God’s sake know how precious is the time you’ve been given.

Within all of this, what we call “business” isn’t all that important. Only people matter, and the way we spend our time.

I want to know what love is.

Saturday, 20. June 2009

5.30 a.m. and unable to sleep because this one is buzzing in my head. A member at realsteveholmes asked me to start something like this, so I have. Contributions are welcome…

My assumption has always been that our intimate relations are more driven by biological imperatives than, say, friendships based on affinity alone or partnerships in projects where mutual benefit is the payoff.

For me as a man this means, I think so far, a vehicle with too powerful an engine that was absolutely driven by testosterone from the age of about nine when I would sit in class and stare longingly at the fascinating Alison C. By the time I was thirteen it was an uncontrollable drive and by the time I was sixteen only the cold latex of an ugly girdle could deter me from wanting to fuck anything female and human under the age of about forty. Clearly this does not persist so strongly all life long but it does, I’m certain, change the pathways of the brain in very powerful ways and at sixty, if I’m not behaving myself, I still sit there hoping somewhat guiltily that the leading lady will give me the privilege of witnessing her tastefully disrobing at some time in the movie, I can’t help it…

This ridiculous engine happens to be by default installed in a vehicle too fragile for its throbbing, the mashed up stew of my what, my psyche, the incomprehensible package of instincts and partial learnings that is me through nature and nurture, expressing itself in habits and addictions, trials and tribulations, triumphs and disasters, in health and in sickness, whether I have any destiny or I’m just a random creature trying to be more than just survival…

Within that package there are more yearnings that will often take precedence as motivation over my carefully polished ethics and these are often just out of reach by definition: I need them; I want them; I cling to them. Here is a list for starters:

I need other people and their respect, even though I will not shut up and behave myself to get it. I need the archetypal love of mother, father, brother and sister, even though there is no chance of me even experiencing the real thing because my childhood was an emotional disaster. I think I need to express myself, more than assembling collections of interests or developing skills of the craftsman would ever do because I truly need to be understood. And I need love, whatever that might be, which is the question here.

As a child of the age when people think it is amusing to ask what is the meaning of life and answer 42 the danger of pure cynicism is never far way and its empty promises are always tempting, so I could dismiss the whole thing as a mere reflection of that hierarchy of needs that we all believe in these days and refuse to elevate love to a special section. This might be true, for all I know.

Yet intimate love with a particular other gives me immediate access to something that is hard to come by otherwise: the pure joy of giving, focusing attention, appreciating, caring for, working for the happiness of, being inextricably linked with (at least for the time being in our mutual narratives) someone other than myself. Yes, I want to have sex with (in my case) her, but that’s not all it is because her little jokes and gesture ignite my heart in a feeling that calls me back from hell and did so even after the death of my wife by cancer. We don’t live in Hollywood, so it took some time and anguish and it nearly wrecked my heart and health, yet to feel that door open again was for me a sign that life is worth living…

What I don’t want to do, and I will dwell on this separately, is to let this fine confection mould and rot by turning it in to a relationship where we lose the mutual worship in a maze of regulation about who owes what to whom in terms of attitudes and behaviours. Never again. Take me as I am with all my faults or not at all; that’s all I owe her in return. I have acquiesced my whole life long in love by negotiation and I never want to be that desperate again. To love is at least to dare…

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