Posts Tagged ‘feelings’

In the presence of others

October 23, 2010

We can never know the true experience of life for another. We cannot climb inside their skin, see through their eyes, think their thoughts, or feel their emotions. We can only imagine what their experience would be like for us had we lived it.

At my class the other night, we had an exercise where one person behaved as a client in therapy while the rest of the class worked on being present with that person using our feelings and responding to that person from our hearts.

It was a real eye opener to me to see how I (and others) defaulted to our analytic thinking and responded from our heads, not our hearts.

Responding to someone from a feeling place requires work and practice. It also requires a willingness to develop a way to be in touch with one’s own feelings while listening to another person’s story and, at the same time, get in touch with how the other person is feeling, and know which is which. It requires empathy for what the other person is experiencing. We must have enough life experience and a few mishaps along the way to truly empathize and identify with the pain of another’s experience. The important caveat was to be fully in another’s presence without falling into their pain and dwelling in the misery.

I focus on pain because I don’t know too many people who sign up for psychotherapy when everything in their lives is grand and wonderful . . . much less pay to share that information with me. Truth is the number that I actually know is . . . um . . . zero.

Among all of us, there was a tendency to diagnose and define the pain. We could identify it. We could exchange a sentence or two about how that must be for the client in the chair. Then, we wanted to fix it.

It was a clear lesson in how to get out of our heads and out of our own ways. In the presence of others, there is no fixing to be done. We must acknowledge and accept. We must reflect that we understand. We must respect that their eternal presence was and is fully capable of dealing with life and knows what they need. We must honor the wisdom that brought that person to our presence. We are a presence for others to come and rest their stories. If we let our presences connect and speak with each other, they will find a healing path together.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

A presence of choice

October 20, 2010

I wonder what the children will remember . . . the children in the homeless shelter where I go to cook on Tuesday nights. It is a family shelter and there are ten children of all ages who live there.

I wonder what they will remember about this time. The older ones realize that they are homeless. The younger ones don’t quite know the implications. They all play and interact just like any other children I have known.

There is this underlying need to be normal. They play, they fight, they have fun just as they would in any other home. I don’t know their histories. It could be that being homeless is normal for them.

Children adjust so quickly to misfortune. It is like there is this inner guidance system that makes them gravitate toward joy and happiness despite their circumstances. As we become adults, though, we tend to lose that gravitational pull and instead let circumstances determine how we feel and how we shall be in the world.

I was never homeless as a child, yet I remember a constant drain on my energy that pulled me away from my normal gravitation toward joy and happiness. I grew up in an environment where to have any kind of thought, feeling, or action that was incongruent with my parents’ thoughts, feelings, or actions was considered improper, disrespectful, and punishable by having anything I enjoyed taken away from me. They were two of the most unhappy people I have ever encountered in my life, and my memories are full of a childhood spent learning how to be unhappy (about everything).

When the world became my parent, I had a real hard time keeping up with all the different responses I needed to accommodate. Everyone who I came into contact with who I imagined had any kind of control over my well-being (i.e., friends, teachers, employers) had control over my responses. As I gained physical and emotional distance from requiring any kind of parenting, I was able to see how I was allowing others to determine my way of being in the world.

Most of my adulthood has been spent learning how to be happy despite everything. For me, it is really a matter of choice. I can use my memories to recount my miseries and wallow in my woe-is-me fantasy. Or, I can watch these children play at the shelter and connect with the child within me who remembers how to be herself no matter what tune the world is dancing to.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

for Rosa

June 8, 2010

I spent some time with a woman today who is far from her native home, has little or no chance to return there, and who found out that her daughter died today.

We are the same age. She cleans houses for a living and sends most of her money home to take care of her family. I am in charge of papers in an office with lots of words that don’t mean much but are good at telling other people what to do. I don’t ever send money home to my family.

I wonder which one of us provides the most valuable service.

She speaks Spanish and enough broken English to be understood. I speak English and just enough Spanish to get myself in trouble. But I clearly understood that her daughter was muerto and then there was nothing else she could say to me because she simply broke down and cried.

I sat with her. We were sitting on the cold cement door step to the garage. She slumped over her knees and wept as if she could weep herself into nonexistence. All I could do was rest my hand on her shoulder and press my leg gently against hers to let her know I was there. I had nothing to say that was going to comfort her. I have two daughters and a granddaughter. It did not take a huge leap of logic for me to know how I would feel if one of them died.

Nothing was going to make her feel better because the only thing that could would be that her daughter come alive. I called on my eternal presence, asking for something – anything – that I could do, be, say, or give that would bring this woman some comfort, some relief from her grief.

There was dead silence, and for a moment, I thought my presence had deserted me, until I realized I was my eternal presence in those moments for her. Of course, once my ego discovered this, part of me started getting all puffed up, until I acknowledged it and said, “I know. I am ego, too. But for now, I just want to be whatever will support this woman.”

It is humbling being helpless, naked, and raw. We both were, in very different ways.

A friend came to get her and, after she left, I went for a walk to study myself. I realized that she needed her grief, to own her helplessness over her daughter’s death, to expose herself and her pain to me. She has the right to all of her feelings. I have no right to try and take any of them away.

My part? Divine intervention put us in the same place.

That is all I can say.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass