I am a big believer in the power of compassion. I believe that the more living things two whom and which we can extend our compassion, the more power we have to transform ourselves and the world around us. My experience confirms this. I recently had someone, who I had considered a friend, betray me. I was angry for quite awhile. Her actions toward me were very unexpected. I came, after some time and a lot of self-exploration to accept my role in bringing the situation to myself. It provided me with a much-needed lesson in standing in my own self-worth. I came to believe that in order to for her to act as she did, she must have been in a terrible place. The result was that the situation resolved. She dropped her anger toward me.
I believe not only did I bring that situation to me, but I also made it go away. If I had remained angry, I believe things would still be unresolved. We are all capable of infinite amounts of compassion. If you don’t think so, read Left To Tell by Imaculée Iligibiza. She survived the Rwandan genocide and came to have compassion and forgiveness for the perpetrators of the genocide. The power that she had in that compassion and forgiveness drove would-be killers to literally turn around and walk away from her, leaving her untouched.
One lesson that has been coming to me often recently, is how to find compassion for the Angry White Man (AWM). Some of them are related to me. Not all white men are AWM, but there is a subset for which I have a difficult time finding compassion. The rhetoric of the AWM is not that different from the genocide propaganda Iligibiza describes in her book. “Kill all the Tutsi cockroaches.” However, it is easy sometimes for me to make the same kind of juvenile statements about the AWM. It is easy for me to think of them as “stupid asses,” (though that’s not very compassionate to the AWM nor to the equine animal.) What is the response that will change the anger?
I have been so angry with some of the AWM to which I am related, based on their Facebook posts, that I knew I had to look at myself. This was not about him, though that would be a convenient place to shift the blame. It forced me to look at what that was bringing up for ME. I am not going to be able to bring about meaningful change for anyone in this state of anger, and at the end of the day I really only have control over myself. I clearly needed something aligned, or these interactions would not have upset me so much. I knew in my head I needed to find some compassion for him, but my heart was not sure how it was going to get there. It was much easier just to think they are wrong.
I had to take a dose of my own medicine, and here are some of the tools and perspectives that I use on a daily basis. I am integrating many different strategies into a model I am calling Transformational Awareness (TA).
- Compassion is not a selective process. We may not get universal compassion all at once, but picking and choosing who you have compassion for is not compassionate. I have a friend who is a social worker. Her job is to humanize defendants in capital murder cases. She interviews their families, neighbors, teachers, and anyone else who knew them. The stories are heart wrenching. Most of them are not monsters. She is often the only person they have ever known who has showed up when she said they would – at her appointments with them, in jail. They love her for that, even in their dismal circumstances. She says it is easy not to have compassion for the sociopaths, because there is nothing there with which to work. They are so disconnected that one of the most empathetic persons I have ever known can’t find a way to connect with them. I still have compassion for them, for missing out on love.
- We can all be addicted to being right. We all know someone like this. For many, it has been a boss or supervisor at work. There is science behind this phenomenon. Judith Glaser, PhD uses a cocktail metaphor to help understand this. When someone thinks they are right, they are having a dopamine cocktail in their head, and they feel fantastic! Often, the person on the other end of that conversation is having a cortisol cocktail, and is feeling very stressed. I am not always addicted to being right about everything, but I can be clearly addicted to being right about the merits, or lack thereof, in certain laws and public policy. I do believe that it is important to express your feelings, and remain curious about what else is true. This is how compassion for others starts – putting yourself in their shoes as best you can. Expressing feelings without considering what else is true, or what someone else’s truth looks like, doesn’t leave room for co-creating solutions.
- Being able to feel is important. There is so much spin on the statistics of how many people are on drugs that alter how we feel, that I am just going to say it’s a lot. There are lots of statistics on how many people are prescribed anti-depressants in the U.S. Children are often medicated into complying behaviors because they cannot express their feelings; It is disruptive in the classroom and easier to give them a pill than find the root of the problem. I don’t dispute that sometimes these are necessary and helpful, but what if we had a culture where it was ok to have your feelings, to express yourself and ask questions? What if we had ceremonies and rituals to release the negative emotions and for others to hold space for you as you come into alignment with yourself? This is part of what I do for people in my stress management practice, and I have a tribe that helps me.
- We inherit the traumas of our ancestors. It is part of a field of study called epigenetics. Our DNA gets tagged with the traumas of our ancestors. It gets tagged with the good qualities, too, I suppose, but no one, to my knowledge, is researching that. Dr. Joy de Gruy Leary has amazing videos on YouTube about her Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. If you are white, you definitely need to watch. Christina Pratt, a shamanic healer, talks in her video about how, as societies got away from shamanic traditions, that our ancestors did not do their healing practices, and as a result we have accumulated trauma to diffuse. One example of my generational trauma, is that my grandfather (also grandfather to my aforementioned cousin) dropped off his father, my father, and their siblings, at an orphanage when they were kids. The story goes that our grandfather didn’t want to take care of them, and my grandmother was missing for a period of time. My grandmother, to whom I was very close, never talked about where she was, but she did come to get them out of the orphanage when she found out about it. My dad doesn’t talk much about that experience, but I do know it involved a lot of angry nuns and corporal punishment, even for things like wetting the bed. It was definitely traumatic. In my own efforts to come into more alignment with who I am, I have purged anger and rage from this stage of my father’s life. This purge solved an acute episode of hip pain I had in less than a day. The chronic part of was solved by standing in my own self-worth. (I will tell that story in another post.) I have seen these tags described as Post-It Notes. I have taken off sticky notes from my DNA. I do not give them power today.
- We project. Wikipedia states “Psychological Projectionis a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.] For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.” In reality, I had to come to appreciate being born into a family of AWM because it has made me who I am today, and I like myself! I wouldn’t be here if it were not for those experiences.
- Our thoughts are creations. Gerry Gavin’s book, Messages from Margaret, goes into this in more detail. Pam Grout wrote two scientifically based books on this, complete with experiments that you can do at home: E-Squared and E-Cubed. Abraham Hicks has some powerful messages on the topic as well. When we think about fear and anger, that’s what we create in our lives. Noah St. John’s Afformations technique is a great strategy to create more positive things in your life, that involves phrasing what you want in the form of a question. For example: “Why is the perfect job offer coming to me so quickly?” Just yesterday, my father made an AWM post on Facebook. I contemplated not responding, or responding with something equally angry. I decided to create something positive from it. Instead of answering the easy question: What do I not like about being part of this line of AWM, I asked what is good about it? I expressed my appreciation for growing up around so much anger. I now know how to attract loving people into my life and stand in my own self-worth. I took responsibility for my place in that environment, and I created not just a boundary (like a border wall) for anger coming into me, but a mechanism to transform it into love. I am not obliged to become an Angry White Woman. I can create love, peace, and healing.
- War is a paradigm in which everyone loses. Most of us are terrorists, whether it be for freedom, choice, love, or whatever cause, big or small, that moves us. An “us against them” attitude keeps us locked into these viscous circles. What we have to do is co-create solutions. Judith Glaser has a model for three levels of conversation. Level 1 is “tell-sell-yell” which is what many are doing right now. Level 1 is also the level of war and the level of addicted to being right, that I mentioned earlier. Level 2 conversations are negotiations, and Level 3 conversations are co-creations. Each level can be appropriate at times, but Level 3 conversations are where the magic happens. This model has helped companies like Burberry and Clairol transform their profits in ways that were almost unimaginable before implementing a growth strategy in which everyone had input.
- Hard is hard. I love how Ash Beckham makes this point in her TED talk. Comparing our hardships does not advance anyone’s cause. Sharing them does. Storytelling is an ancient shamanic practice, and sharing our stories is an integral part of conventional group therapy models as well. When we listen to other people tell their stories, we see ourselves, and our shared humanity. I can say that Imacculée Iligibiza endured something more difficult than I ever have, but things in my life that have been difficult have been really difficult in their own ways.
- We fill in the blanks. Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, talks about how the verbal part of our brain operates at 40,000 bits per second, but the non-verbal part of our brain operates at 11 million bits per second! This is why, when a lion kills a baby giraffe the mother giraffe doesn’t need therapy. She is in the 11,000,000 bits per second part of her brain and it can process and diffuse all that she is FEELING. In Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser describes how we jump up a “Ladder of Conclusions,” creating meaning in a situation from our own points of view, in the midst of our biological reactions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.
- We are all connected. This can be explained scientifically and metaphysically – it’s all the same, really. Martha Beck does a great job of describing oneness in her book, and identifies four common processes that seemingly “magical” people in traditional cultures have in common. We all have access to these “Four Technologies of Magic.” My favorite scientific facts on humans illustrate how much empty space we are – the particles from the atoms in your entire body would all fit on the head of a pin, and the particles from the atoms of all of humanity would fit into a sugar cube. We are all literally made of stardust, the size of a sugar cube. I get to play in this magic every day, and it is so much fun.
- The justice is in how we live. Inspired by Abraham Hicks, I am working on letting go of the word “healing” and “work” in relation to what I do, and replacing it with “coming into alignment with yourself,” “allowing,” and “clearing the fog.” We are not broken. We are not unworthy. These beliefs keep us from seeing how fantastic we are at the soul level. We ARE love. There is just a lot of stuff that we put in the way that keeps us from seeing that, and behaving in a way that is consistent with love. Our definitions of love are often toxic, involving marginalization, sublimation, pain, and abuse. We can choose to create a different reality. We can choose to live in a different way from this day forward. We are made in the image of God. We are creators. Let’s create a better world, and start with getting the oppressors more in line with their true natures, so they stop the oppression and become co-creators for peace.