Empathy

I have been volunteering with a hospice organization. At first, I was not sure what I should say when sitting by the bedside of someone who is leaving this earthly realm very soon. After weeks of trying to convince myself that I had something of value that I could give to the hospice residents, I came across this poem by Susan Frybort. It helped me realize that my presence, silently sitting and listening could be what I might offer. This could be a soothing salve.

I hope when I take my last breath, someone is sitting beside me. Not with words of wisdom that might make my departure easier. That would be too heavy a burden to ask of anyone. But rather, their attentiveness. Just their being.

Empathy – spoken poetry

EMPATHY

by Susan Frybort

Today I woke feeling my ordinariness next to me.

I never wrote a masterpiece, painted a perfect landscape
or played an etude.
I cannot beat the African healing drum like a shaman
to intercede between the realms.
I don’t know how to touch people to resolve them of all their inner conflict or traumas.
I never looked into a crystal and saw the divine…
I’m not a psychologist,
a therapist, a counselor or a saint.
And Das is not part of my name,
my name is ordinary.
As I thought about how the opportunity to tend to a painful wound
as if it were an injured plant
or delicately administer soothing salve to another earthly soul
would not be mine because I do not possess the official requirements,
I felt a particular sadness,
as though I were, somehow, not enough.

Then suddenly I remembered everything is well within me.

For I know that all my certainties
and all that has ever been established before me
are in sacred correspondence.
I know about the stars and how they gather as constellations
to guide the wanderer through all the eras.
I know of the bamboo that will not flower until many years pass by
and how the blossom gives its life as nourishment and protection
so that the tiny seedling within may push forward and grow.
I know there are mysteries not fully understood.
I know each life holds a unique path,
eventually drawing to an end for all.

And when I sat at the bedside of an elderly woman dying,
or on my knees next to a fading animal struggling for her last breaths
after a long earthly journey,
there was no difference in my attentiveness.
I felt equal compassion for both,
then wept the same mournful tears.

And I know for certain that when I look into another human being,
whether they have eyes to see or not,
I can behold them.

I can view the hurt in them and feel the wounds in me.
It is a pain that agonizes quietly inside
as we share it…
So I reach out to comfort them.
These are the opportunities to extend
and touch another soul with all that is in me now.

And that is good enough for me.

Mary Oliver and Me

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

  1. As I care for my aging father, and witness his diminishing abilities, both physical and mental. I see my own future. I see my frustration and grief in not being able to do things that used to come so easily. I see my melancholy face as I stare out the window of the kitchen, thinking of – who knows? My past? Things I have done and not done? Joys and regrets?
  2. At times it sends me into a panic wondering what I have done, or what I may still do in the time I have left of this life. What will I do with my one wild and precious life? At other times, I release these fears and escape my ego’s hold, a great reprieve if even just for a little while.
  3. I believe the answer to Mary Oliver’s questions above may be within the poem in which she asks that devastating question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
  4. Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
  5. Be in awe of the grasshoppers, and trees, and blue skies. Be in awe of the beauty in this weary world. A world that we have been gifted.
  6. The rest of life will unfold as it will and should.
  7. Mary Oliver’s poetry has saved me in ways it is hard for me to explain. Through the darkness of my mind, her words pulled me back to the world. I wiped my eyes and remembered to be in awe of the beauty around me, especially in the smallest of things. A flower, an insect, a cloud, fleeting as they all may be. Her poem “The Summer Day” was the first one of hers that I read, and it pulled me back from the abyss.

THE SUMMER DAY

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

The Witchery of Living

A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.

Click the picture for the video or read below.

To Begin With, The Sweet Grass

Mary Oliver

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
   still another.

Prescription for the Disillusioned

Too often, we only have indifference, neglect, or even contempt for ourselves. Yet it is self-compassion that opens our hard shells to new beginnings and out of the illusion of futility. It is imperative in these times that we show ourselves the compassion we wish others would show to the suffering. Who among us is not suffering at times and who among us is not worthy of compassion?

Click the picture for the video or read below.

Prescription for the Disillusioned

by Rebecca del Rio

Come new to this day.
Remove the rigid overcoat of experience,
the notion of knowing,
the beliefs that cloud your vision.

Leave behind the stories of your life.
Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation.
Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp
of your useless fears.

Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty,
the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined.
Live the life that chooses you,
new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.

– Rebecca del Rio

How The Stars Get in Your Bones

A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below

How the Stars Get in Your Bones

by Jan Richardson

Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz:
think of every hard thing
that carries its own brilliance,
shining with the luster that comes
only from uncountable ages
in the earth, in the dark,
buried beneath unimaginable weight,
bearing what seemed impossible,
bearing it still.

And you, shouldering the grief
you had thought so solid, so impermeable,
the terrible anguish
you carried as a burden
now become—
who can say what day it happened?—
a beginning.

See how the sorrow in you
slowly makes its own light,
how it conjures its own fire.

See how radiant
even your despair has become
in the grace of that sun.

Did you think this would happen
by holding the weight of the world,
by giving in to the press of sadness
and time?

I tell you, this blazing in you—
it does not come by choosing
the most difficult way, the most daunting;
it does not come by the sheer force
of your will.
It comes from the helpless place in you
that, despite all, cannot help but hope,
the part of you that does not know
how not to keep turning
toward this world,
to keep turning your face
toward this sky,
to keep turning your heart
toward this unendurable earth,
knowing your heart will break
but turning it still.

I tell you,
this is how the stars
get in your bones.

This is how the brightness
makes a home in you,
as you open to the hope that burnishes
every fractured thing it finds
and sets it shimmering,
a generous light that will not cease,
no matter how deep the darkness grows,
no matter how long the night becomes.

Still, still, still
the secret of secrets
keeps turning in you,
becoming beautiful,
becoming blessed,
kindling the luminous way
by which you will emerge,
carrying your shattered heart
like a constellation within you,
singing to the day
that will not fail to come.

Pushing Through

Over the past two years, I have experienced more loss than my entire life before this time.  I know I am not the only one.  It has been a dark night for our world, a darkness we must walk through in order to exit, hopefully, wiser and more compassionate.  There is a quote I like that helps me remember that the darkness must be embraced and listened to for the alchemy to transform ourselves and our world.  “The only way out is through.  The only way through is in.” 

However, this is only half of the alchemy.  We have been taught in our culture that, after a short time, the only acceptable way to grieve is behind closed doors, alone.  And it does not address the daily grief that those in caregiving roles shoulder almost daily.  We have been taught to “get over it,” “move on,” “do not burden others.”

What we have forgotten in our culture is the other half of the grieving process, the way in which the transformation can happen for us as individuals and as a society.  We in the “modern world” have lost the communal experience, the vessel in which we come together as a community and hear and hold each other through our grief.   

This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke may speak to that reaching out.  Whom is he asking for help?  A divine presence?  A loved one?  His ancestors?  His community? 

I hope this poem gives you some solace and perhaps an answer for your own situation. 

https://www.wevideo.com/view/2459050750

Pushing Through
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

 I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.[1]