My friend told me that you say commiseration is bad. How is respecting someone’s experience bad? I think you might be an idiot.
Thank you for your question and for your review. What I said does sound pretty bad when you look at it that way, so I would be more than happy to clarify my feelings about commiseration.
I’ll begin by saying that I agree with you; respecting someone’s experience is a very important thing to do. But we can do that by honouring their pure presence, as opposed to getting too caught up in the details that have snagged their personal thinking.
When someone needs to simply exhale the impact of the experience, I’m all for taking however long is required to listen to whatever anger or frustration or sadness they need to move through as a part of that life experience. They can even unfairly focus or blame that anger or frustration on me and I’m fine with doing that in loving service. But…
Once we’ve sensed that someone’s gone through that gigantic phase where everything else seems meaningless, and then the inevitable periods of feeling lost and broken, then a tired, plodding sadness.
Then suddenly we are ready to rise again, and those around us will largely sense that.
For some people in some situations, our history, personality, and the circumstances and timing, can mix together like bad chemistry, creating a bad dose of unhealthy self-pity. We all do it in life, just some more than others.
The point here is that —if we truly care about someone— if we truly reach a point where we actually feel the sensation of being irritated by their anger, grief, worry or whatever—then that’s our sign to trust ourselves and to respect our own experience.
If we genuinely don’t want to talk about those issues anymore then we shouldn’t. Otherwise the time with them is false and posed. Rather than compassion, it becomes little more than a cultural obligation when what we want to be motivated by is love.
Commiseration is essentially a churning of time. Something happened and now two or more people are recreating the event for each other and they pass it back and forth in their present Now-time. Again, if the person’s feelings are an exhale of the impact that’s fine, but if it’s just a pointless re-living of things then that’s not doing anyone any good.
As Syd Banks used to say, if someone needs to scream because they burned themselves then that makes sense. But you don’t heal their hand by putting it back in the fire after the fact.
I think where we agree dear letter-writer is that we see value in the connection people share when they express compassion. This is the love that binds the universe together and to be aware of it is to live in a state of clarity. We want to encourage those connections; that sharing; that unity —so I am on your side.
But that state of mind is pre-ego, it’s pre-word, it’s pre-definition. Those connections aren’t achieved with flowery language, our value there is our presence. So we can’t really talk about it, because as soon as we’re talking we’re usually in a state of symbolism and ego.
I’ve written about him at least once before, but there’s a kid –in Chicago I think– that won a columnist’s contest for the most compassionate citizen. His elderly neighbour had died, and the kid’s mom saw her son sitting on the lap of the widower on a lawn chair in his yard, and they were both bawling.
The mother worried about what the young boy might have said or done but, when he returned, she asked him what he had said to the old man to make him cry. The boy explained, “I didn’t say anything. I just helped him cry.”
That kind of connection I’m all for. But I would better describe that as a contextual form of love. Commiseration is more about stories and emotions, love is more about connection and feeling.
If we’re looking for the best possible response for others, we can consider talking less about what happened, and instead let us instead be together, now, in whatever form or shape that naturally takes. I suggest it’ll be more rewarding for all parties involved and it’ll also generate more productive, positive results.
I hope this helps clear up what I suspect was only a semantic difference. Enjoy your day.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.