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. I’ll leave whether I’m an idiot or not to others but I would be more than happy to clarify my feelings about commiseration.
I’ll begin by saying that I agree with you that 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 is in that place where what they need is 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 that on me and I’m fine with doing that in loving service. But…
But once I’ve sensed that we’re through that explosive phase, and once I’m to the point of actually feeling a sensation of being irritated by their anger, grief, worry, whatever—then that’s my sign to trust myself and respect my own experience. If I don’t want to talk about those issues anymore then I shouldn’t. Otherwise the time with them is false and posed and little more than a cultural obligation.
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 bliss. 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 compassion 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 boy might have done, but when he returned and 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 less about connection.
If we’re looking for the best possible response for others, let’s consider talking less about what happened, and instead let us instead be together, now, in whatever form or shape that naturally takes. 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.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.