Monday, August 8, 2016

Siddhartha: Balancing Empathy and Compassion

Here is the question

From the chapter, OM:

Differently than before, he now looked upon people, less smart, less proud, but instead warmer, more curious, more involved. When he ferried travellers of the ordinary kind, childlike people, businessmen, warriors, women, these people did not seem alien to him as they used to: he understood them, he understood and shared their life, which was not guided by thoughts and insight, but solely by urges and wishes, he felt like them. Though he was near perfection and was bearing his final wound, it still seemed to him as if those childlike people were his brothers, their vanities, desires for possession, and ridiculous aspects were no longer ridiculous to him, became understandable, became lovable, even became worthy of veneration to him. The blind love of a mother for her child, the stupid, blind pride of a conceited father for his only son, the blind, wild desire of a young, vain woman for jewelry and admiring glances from men, all of these urges, all of this childish stuff, all of these simple, foolish, but immensely strong, strongly living, strongly prevailing urges and desires were now no childish notions for Siddhartha any more, he saw people living for their sake, saw them achieving infinitely much for their sake, travelling, conducting wars, suffering infinitely much, bearing infinitely much, and he could love them for it, he saw life, that what is alive, the indestructible, the Brahman in each of their passions, each of their acts. Worthy of love and admiration were these people in their blind loyalty, their blind strength and tenacity. They lacked nothing, there was nothing the knowledgeable one, the thinker, had to put him above them except for one little thing, a single, tiny, small thing: the consciousness, the conscious thought of the oneness of all life. And Siddhartha even doubted in many an hour, whether this knowledge, this thought was to be valued thus highly, whether it might not also perhaps be a childish idea of the thinking people, of the thinking and childlike people. In all other respects, the worldly people were of equal rank to the wise men, were often far superior to them, just as animals too can, after all, in some moments, seem to be superior to humans in their tough, unrelenting performance of what is necessary.

Question: An important part of Siddhartha’s transformation is that his experience with his son awakened within him the heart of compassion and he could understand others as being like himself and could honor the life those around him were living. How do we find a balance in yoga therapy between compassion and empathy for our students and clients while maintaining a space of neutrality and objectivity?

“Becoming a father, I think it inevitably changes your perspective of life. I don't get nearly enough sleep. And the simplest things in life are completely satisfying. “ - Hugh Jackman

I don’t have any children so I haven’t experienced this part of what it means to be human, the change, that occurs and is expertly described in Siddhartha when he moves out of narcissism to oneness and universality through the role of being a parent. I feel like I missed something great by not experiencing motherhood.  That I didn't achieve my full self.  It is one of my main regrets, a source a grief, loss and longing. And yet it is my story, who I am. A woman who did not become a mother.

I did have the opportunity to help raise my cousin Lucretia’s son Bryce and I feel like my life is much richer for the experience. And this experience of helping with Bryce has given me some small insight into being a parent.

Even without the direct experience of motherhood, I do sometimes feel a glimmer of universal
oneness as described by the character Siddhartha.

“Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realization, the knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this blossomed in him, was shining back at him from Vasudeva's old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness. (11.3)”

Although the question only asks about empathy and compassion I believe it also important to address sympathy. Sympathy, empathy and compassion are essential concepts when relating to others needs and suffering in yoga therapy. I define sympathy is feeling sorry for another person’s hurt or pain.Sympathy implies and emotional distance.  When feeling sympathy you are not experiencing that pain as if it is your own. And I am not sure if sympathy is really helpful or useful for the therapist or the student/client.

For me, empathy is “walking in another’s shoes.”  With empathy we are able to experience for ourselves some of what the other person is experiencing.  In empathy there is a human connection and the knowledge that we all too feel pain, grief, loss . . .  Empathy is very important. I think my empathetic nature is what draws students to me.  They perhaps feel that I can understand what they are going through and that seems to be really important.

Compassion, I define, as the ability to translate the experience of empathy into action. With compassion we put our own needs aside and take on the needs of the suffering person.  The ultimate compassion person for me is Mother Teresa.

. “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
- Mother Teresa

What is my ideology about the balance between compassion and empathy. I think without empathy there is no yoga therapy. But as for compassion, as a householder, I cannot put all of my clients needs above my own.  Then I would not be true to my personal commitments as wife, yogini and artist.  What I want to do is help my clients develop their own self-compassion so that they experience and be responsible for their personal transformation.  I believe that the changes you make for yourself are the most important.  I would offer to them the words of Rumi:

“Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

I strive to be a compassionate yoga therapist and human.  I do hold at my core principles of activism as fundamental to who I am. If compassion means to “to suffer together” and feel motivated to relieve the suffering of thers then compassion is what has brought me to want to be a yoga therapist in the first place. But if compassion means being a renunciate and putting everything above my family then that is not who I am.

For me. staying neutral and objective is very important to yoga therapy.  I think the main way for me to stay neutral and objective is to keep consistent with my own yoga practice and self development. My yoga practice needs to always be a balanced 8 limb practice and my self-development comes through yoga, art and writing.

“One of the most important things that the therapist need to do is deal with and resolve his or her own issues before beginning to practice on therapy on others. When therapists attempt to help clients resolve issues they are dealing with, it makes it extremely difficult to remain neutral or the therapist might confuse themselves over the role they serve.”

When I find myself in a balanced state is when I can best serve others from a place of neutrality and objectivity.  When I am overworked, overtired, emotional, sad then I lose objectivity and neutrality. Audre Lorde best expresses in this quote.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

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