One of the primary understandings of Self-Realization is that we are One. As individuals, our own Higher Selves are part of the greater Spirit which is the Source of all that is, or our “ground of being,” as Paul Tillich wrote long ago. My favorite
description of this unity is that we are like a drop of water in an ocean, or we are just a wave on the ocean’s surface.
Another primary concept of Self-Realization is that all of us are part of this great ocean of Spirit, and that therefore, all of us human beings are One. We cannot separate ourselves from anyone else in a true soul-sense, because both ego and Spirit express themselves in each of us; we are merely expressions, temples, and waves of the Consciousness That Is.
For instance, kindness is essentially the same in myself or yourself or another person. True love is essentially the same in myself, yourself, or another person. Selfishness, an ego state, is also essentially the same in myself, yourself, or another person. We cannot truly separate ourselves out one from another at this higher level of consciousness. However, Maya/Illusion may keep us from perceiving and therefore arriving at that state of unity in this moment, and perhaps the next.
When we attain this sense of Oneness, we have reached a state of higher consciousness, or Enlightenment, which changes everything – our perspectives on Self, on life, on others. At this level, we attain a certain degree of peace, love, and bliss, which depend on maintaining a certain degree of non-attachment. This non-attachment works well for ourselves, but we may be surrounded by people who still feel very attached to certain outcomes in life.
The question becomes: how do we respond from an enlightened state to the deeply negative, even tragic situations of life, as experienced by others?
Well, first, we refuse to see people, even during tragedy, as separate from the Divine. When we experience negative situations in life on a human level, we tend to see ourselves as separate from the Divine. When tragedy occurs, people often ask, “Where was God in this?”
Because we see ourselves and others and horrible situations as separate from the Divine, we tend to think negatively about whatever occurred, and those who may have contributed to or ’caused’ the difficult situation.
The very words ‘sympathy’ and ‘pity’ connote a degree of negativity in life. This kind of negativity only arises out of our sense of separateness from the Divine Presence. These negative situations, and our own sense of separation, represent what in some religions is referred to as the “fallen state” in which we live. In many Eastern religions, this negativity and sense of separateness is seen as Maya, Illusion. When we live with the scales of Maya covering our eyes, we often pity ourselves, or pity others.
Pity is that deep, black hole which we start to fall down (energetically) when we feel sorry for ourselves or others. Pity begins a negative, downward spiral because it is based on the belief that we are separate from the Divine, and separate from one another.
When we perceive separateness from the Divine, or when we choose separateness from others (and yes, that is a choice), we so often choose pity as our reaction to the seemingly negative things that sometimes happen in life.
We may feel sympathy for someone going through a “hard time.” Sympathy means to “feel for” someone when they are going through a challenging experience,and so when we feel sympathy, we bring negative energy based on the view that the experience was negative, separate from the Divine unfolding of life. We may even see the situation as irredeemable, that is, never leading to a redemptive experience such as personal growth, or new opportunities.
On the other hand, empathy means to “feel with,” and we can certainly feel empathy with someone when we grieve with someone a difficult loss or a difficult challenge in life, even though we may not have experienced a similar loss or difficulty. When we empathize, we feel compassion for the hurt or sad feelings the person is experiencing in the midst of challenging growth opportunities. We empathize because we compassionately understand that we are One, and that in some moments, empathy and companionship may be called for in order to help someone find that redemptive inner experience which can transform their tragedy into new experiences of wholeness.
Grief in itself is not a bad human emotion. Even Christ grieved when his friend Lazarus died, at least according to Biblical tradition. Grief recognizes loss and challenge, but can still leave room for hope and joy, because we know that we will one day understand the meaning and purpose behind the experience even if we do not understand in the moment.*
If we are with someone who is going through a “hard time,” but we know that the Divine is part of that experience, as teacher, as lover, as friend, even as redeemer (the One who redeems the situation, bringing ultimate spiritual wholeness) then we know that they can come through the experience and get to a happier, healthier state of existence. (By healthy, I do not mean necessarily in the physical sense.)
For instance, let’s say that you, a non-smoker, are with a friend who smoked all their life, developed lung cancer, and is currently in the hospital following difficult and painful surgery. You can either feel sorry for this friend, seeing them as someone separate from you because they made an unwise choice to smoke all their life, but then you are separating yourself out and judging them, as though you never made a poor choice in this lifetime (or even a previous lifetime). You may pity them as someone going through a very separate experience of disease, a potentially deadly one at that. So, you take pity on them and hang out with them in the hospital, because your “poor friend” is having such a hard time. But when you offer them this kind of companionship, you bring them negative energy, and the lack of redemptive wisdom because you also bring a sense of separateness from one another, as well as from the Divine Source.
By contrast, if you see everything from an enlightened state, you empathize with your friend, grieving the results of their poor choice, knowing that you, too, have made some poor choices in life, and that we do get our karmic “kick-backs.” You see them as someone who is not separate from you, nor separate from the Divine, so you speak to them with unconditional love, and you see them as a person who will be blessed with a sort of inner wholeness if they choose to open themselves to the loving ocean of Spirit at this time. If your friend does open to the ocean of Spirit, she or he can experience peace, love, and even bliss if they become one with Spirit and non-attached to their short life in a temporary body-temple.
But if you merely felt sorry for your friend, you would not be able to help them see themselves as part of this eternal Spirit which is Love and Light, and Wisdom, and Joy, which can be in us and move through us and transform us at all times.
When we begin to know ourselves and others as sparks of eternal Spirit, filled with love and light, we can begin to experience non-attachment to this world of form, and so we begin to choose love and peace and even to experience bliss no matter what the outer situation is, because we know that the inner reality of Oneness with love, peace, bliss is so powerful it will overcome the temporary shadows of life, of Maya.
Maya always has this dual quality of positive and negative, but the constancy comes from knowing that we are One. When we know that we are One, we may grieve with one another, but we will no longer pity one another. We will know that all experience is a teacher, ultimately redemptive because it brings us wholeness through discovering our true Selves, as well as Oneness as we learn to live from our Higher Selves.
So no more pity. Empathy, in the sense of grieving with someone, can help them feel loved, especially if we bring the compassion of seeing them as one with us, and offer the companionship of unconditional love. We are all One. May we discover the Oneness which makes us whole.
Love and Light,
* I am indebted to Elijah “Nature Boy” a wise Sadhu (ascetic) local here to Washington, DC, for this concept of being at peace and having joy because we know that we will one day understand. Elijah can be heard on blogtalk radio and can often be found at Lafayette Park, Wahington, DC