Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Soul Healing Part II: Empathy

"Love's heart breaks. Love's heart bleeds. Love's heart even dies, yet lives."
In "Soul Healing" I looked at the process of soul healing (finding psychological wholeness) for the individual; allowing your personality to "unfold" through a determination to face yourself. In this article I explore the edges of some "technical" aspects (practical techniques) for bringing soul healing to others.

Being able to help one another psychologically is one of the promises of faith. Bringing soul healing is a great confirmation of the reality of our faith, "Crossing the Soul Gap" as I term it, but also potentially a beautiful way of being able to make a positive difference to people's lives, always treading carefully of course.

I'd like to discuss two aspects of soul healing, and they're both based on empathy. These techniques have at their heart "just being a decent human being". The motivation must always be genuine love, it can only work within a relationship of trust, and you never go anywhere uninvited. All of this is easier said than done.

To explain the first aspect of healing that I'd like to explore it's worth taking a minute to understand what empathy in action is. This is something that I think that women are largely better at than men, mostly but probably-not-entirely because of the very different social pressures women are under. In general women are socialised to care more, and to think less of themselves for it. Empathy isn't something that only women do though, and it isn't magic; empathy is an innate part of what it means to be human.

Empathy is an ability to feel what other people are feeling, to really understand what they mean, to hear the heart. In practise you demonstrate empathy when someone is speaking by "reflecting back" their emotions to them. When they say they feel sad you reflect back at them the sadness that you feel in them and they can see that you understand. This is different from merely telling people you understand, it is emotionally proving that you understand. Empathy is clear sight, and when you observe someone's real feelings, however gently, you touch them.

Reflection, or mirroring, is a key technique in psychotherapy by the way. Reflecting back what people say, perhaps in different words, so people can see themselves and then giving them the space to deal with this.

Mirroring, as well as being the basic element of genuine human relationship, can be extremely powerful If we can find the beauty in another person, and there is beauty in everyone, and reflect it back to them then they can see that they are beautiful. This helps to unmake peoples' negative self-image. Life in general, particularly negative experiences, lie to us about what we're really like. We build up a negative self-image, a belief that we're ugly or worthless for example or that our past mistakes determine what we'll be like in the future, and this shapes our experience of life. If we can see that it's not true, if we can see the beauty that's genuinely inside each of us, then the lie starts to fall away. So actively seek out the beauty in people and seek to reflect it back to them. Aim to prove to people that they are beautiful and have value.

I have a maxim about love along these lines:
Find the love in people and love it. When you do you'll find this is their true nature and you're loving them.
Unfortunately we often reflect people's negative self-image back to them, which reinforces it. This idea that much of our personality is (or can be) based on what we see of ourselves reflected from other people reminds me of a beautiful metaphor from Hindu mythology; Indra's net.
Our shared reality is an infinite connected net. At every join is a gem that reflects every other gem. We are the gems.
If you're careful you can observe this facet of human nature behaviourally. You can see how we use each other as "mirrors" to see ourselves - judging ourselves, particularly our appearance and how we come across, by how people respond to us.

This also hints at some of the mystery of how our psyches may be connected. That's a topic worthy of more exploration if it can be demonstrated and not merely hypothethised about.
The only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise.
Our self-image, inextricably intertwined with our world view, is our "ego". Transcendent experiences, ecstatic spiritual experiences, involve going beyond the ego. So in a sense all of our self-image needs to be unmade ("I am a new creation"), but a good self-image and a bright (positive) world view are useful tools, they are the essence of what psychological health means.

The second aspect of soul healing I'm interested in is sharing in people's pain. This is also based on empathy, and it is something we all do instinctively as we listen to the problems and difficulties of someone we care about. Sharing people's pain is the natural response of love. I think we can do it more intentionally and more powerfully. We can learn to love more effectively.

If someone trusts you, and you have genuine love for them, then you will be able to feel their sadness and their inner pain. We all have inner pain, everyone hurts. We're all slightly broken. This isn't as bad a thing as it sounds; an inner pain is the engine of empathy. Because you hurt, because you've felt alone, you can understand and love those who hurt and feel alone. The key thing is to not be afraid of the pain. The more you're able to face your own inner pain without turning, the more you can face it in other people too.

If, within a relationship of love, you can reflect someone's pain back at them then it will resonate with them. They then have a choice whether to retreat or open up. This is why you proceed carefully, and only with permission. If someone is uncomfortable with this, you STOP. Inner pain is extremely intimate, you start gently being mindful of people's response. Only if they trust you will they open up and let you share their pain. If you get there, if you can share in another person's pain and show them that you're not afraid of it then you help them to bear that pain. They also may even be able to let go, to stop holding on, pushing it down, and that is an element of freedom. Underneath the pain is a part of them, a part of their personality usually bound up in unpleasant and difficult memories. If they can face the pain of it and let go, then a part of them is freed, they no longer have to reject themselves because they're no longer afraid of that aspect of themselves. This is obviously a process, it can take a long time to get there and maybe many times to get to the root of an issue. But this I'm sure is the basic idea.
The only way any of us can bear it is if we hurt for each other.
In Christian terms, when we share in the pain of another person we actively participate in the wounds of Christ. This is the suffering of love.

Of course the important thing with these ideas is not the ideas themselves, but to prove that they work. That, I suspect, will be my journey for the next several years.

Tremendous gentleness requires tremendous stillness, which requires tremendous strength. Gentleness is the real face of strength, hardness is the lie.

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