During a conversation with a friend a while back, I became struck forcibly by something that tends to happen a lot to all of us. The theme of the discussion moved toward politics, and thus served as a well-worn platform for complaint, derision & judgement. Certain key politicians’ behaviour tends to warrant this reaction, admittedly! But what interested me more was the reaction of my friend & I during the discussion.
I don’t tend to find myself in these situations at present, since there is less opportunity for a rich social life outside the bounds of a close-knit family existence with young, home-educated children. It’s a rare moment that I find myself chatting to an adult for long enough, to be honest! Which is what helped me to recognise how this situation & conversation stuck out. Later, back at home, I re-ran some of the discussion in my mind’s eye. This is a trick I sometimes enjoy, rather like viewing the movie of excerpts of my day: a sort of trailer, post-event! It can be an illuminating experience, since one can view the scene simply as a witness rather than as one engaged in a task; and as a result, glean often unexpected insights & awareness into other levels of behaviour or feeling present.
And what turned up in my mind’s eye was clear as daylight. During all of the complaint, derision & judgement, directed at the behaviour & policies of certain politicians, I could see my friend’s heart closed. Don’t tell me how I knew: I just could feel it, as I looked through my mind’s movie lens.. My witness-self thought, this is interesting..I must look into this further. So I panned the camera lens back towards myself, and had the same reaction. My heart seemed to be closed too. What’s that all about? I thought. You could say it’s kind of obvious: complaint & judgement don’t tend to be the response of people with open, kind-heartedness & compassion. And you’d be right! But we live & learn: and certainly, I had never made that simple connection in my mind before now. It was the direct experience which showed it to me, at first-hand – or in this case, first-hand once-removed!
The whole experience took only a few seconds, as I was lazily washing up. Yet, for me at least, it was a startling revelation. Does this happen every time I complain, deride, judge or find fault? I thought to myself. Or alternatively.. is it the product/natural consequence of having closed my heart in the first place?
In order to answer this question, I decided to go back to the camera lens of my mind’s eye, for verification. I switched the movie track backwards.. It showed the scene of my arrival at my friend’s house. I could see that, at that moment, my heart was open – and joyful. There was the joy of anticipation, there was the joy at the prospect of some adult conversation & company, there was a simple joy at the welcome signs of an on-coming Spring in nature. In that case, I thought, my heart must have closed inside the house, at some point while with my friend. So I checked the camera roll, and sure enough: there it was. My heart started closing the instant we began our conversation. Why? I thought to myself. So I looked more closely. When I observed my friend through the camera lens, it became obvious to me he was in some kind of discomfort. He’s not well, I thought. He wishes he was in bed. But he’s a reliable guy & wants to make an effort since I turned up to see him.
When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
-The Dalai Lama
Following the Dalai Lama’s advice, I decided to look further into what this experience was teaching me. It was fast becoming a lesson in finding clarity. As I looked again at the whole encounter, panning the camera here & there, I saw evidence of something more.. my friend was feeling unwell because he was feeling bad about himself, and his life at that moment. And, me being me, I rode with it unconsciously, without the awareness that either this was an important realisation, or that maybe I could have helped him – and myself – by staying open, positive, kind & expanded. I was simply & unconsciously mirroring his thoughts, feelings & viewpoint. I was amplifying them, in fact. And that made him feel worse, to the extent that the illness established itself further as our conversation wore on. That’s not the actions of a true friend, I thought to myself. Plus I hadn’t been a friend to myself either..
Still lazily washing the dishes, I reasoned further. I made a quiet vow to myself: to stay present & in my body & feelings, whenever I am around others. This is a big deal for me. Like a huge life lesson, in fact.. I’m a born empath, I care about others, but in my late 40s I still haven’t learned how to help myself & others around me in the most loving way: by doggedly, compassionately, being just me – utterly & completely, unalloyed – in any one encounter. Instead, I tend to merge with others’ moods & feelings, thoughts & opinions: allowing them to be expressed & discussed. This would all be fine & dandy, were it not for the ‘merging aspect’. By merging my field of energy, in order to feel closer to that person, I am the unwitting experience of exactly what is being discussed or felt. I literally experience exactly what they are feeling, or going through. And this can be an exhausting & debilitating experience, which in turn puts me off meeting with others on a regular basis (except through either necessity or desperation, so it seems!) I’m not saying this isn’t a useful skill, or one which cannot help others. I just don’t want to lose the lesson: that I can only ever help others by first helping myself. And hopefully, in turn, this will make me a far better friend.