Radical Empathy and Humor

21 10 2010

This is from my unpublished MS Recovering the Heart: Twelve Steps from Self-compassion to Living Compassion. In Recovering I adapt the craft of compassion to an adaption of the twelve steps of moving from a self-centered life to a Love centered life.
My new book — called for the moment Conspiracies of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill, is NOW available at Amazon.com.
When I began this blog I imagined, NEATLY, doing a new posting of the four steps of the craft of compassion each week — and then recycling month after month. But alas I havent been.
Radical Empathy is step three and this morning radical empathy called me.
So enjoy.
Radical empathy moves from HUMOR.

Section Three: Humor

At this moment between lives, a new birth is chosen.
The author Sam Keen used to teach workshops where the participants would tell their life stories as tragedy and then as comedy. The weighty and self-important tragedian lightens up when the buffoon comes on the stage.
There are other elements to radical empathy, but humor is an essential vernacular.
A Yoruba bembe ceremony is when the aspects of God, the orisha, descend to drumming and dancing. The first dance belongs to Eshu Elegba.
Eshu is the sacred fool and so his dance is, well, foolish.
How can a small community make itself available to the Divine if its not loosened up a bit by the trickster?

Chapter Eight

Radical Empathy

Step Ten

Continued to fearlessly examine our moment to moment failures of love and, when we missed the mark, promptly admitted it.

Dakshen nyamje is translated as “equalizing and exchanging self and other.” It’s unfortunate that when one names such an experience in Tibetan it’s instantly rendered impenetrable. Dakshen nyamje rhymes with the Cherokee proverb: “You can only understand somebody else if you’ve walked two moons in their moccasins.”
My translation is “radical empathy” and follows through on the question, “what if it were I or someone close to me who is suffering so?”
Amber is twenty-five and has leukemia. She loves the theater and at her bedside there is a photo of her in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For the moment she’s undone by a stem cell transplant, her gums bleeding, asleep on Ativan. My daughter is Amber’s age and I whisper this to her father when I bring him a cup of coffee. A swift, silent understanding. Nothing more need be said.
This is radical empathy.
Mrs. Brown just had a mastectomy, as did my wife, and she is painfully self-conscious of her flat left side. Such was the rapport between us that I borrowed from my love of my wife’s beauty. I laughed, “The running joke with my wife is that women with two breasts have come to look a little unnatural to me.” Mrs. Brown confessed that she seemed to have more trouble with her mastectomy than her husband.
“Borrowing from my wife’s beauty” was radical empathy.
The house of radical empathy is where the soul is instructed as it wanders between paradigms. In all the previous steps, one could imagine compassion as a personal quality that one has too much of or not enough. Radical empathy begins to dislodge us from the rampant personalization of what is, after all, a divine attribute.
It is here that we (one) begin(s) to get out of our own (the) way so the gift of compassion can come through unimpeded.

During the first year I was clean and sober, my wife and I would sometimes – often – engage in rage fests that bordered on the homicidal.

“Am I not now acceptable in your sight? ” I’d cry out, biblical, petulant and furious.

That I was not, in fact, acceptable in my own sight was made completely clear. One night (when) we were at it. I don’t remember the particulars of the flight, just its (sheer) ferocity:
“You should look at your face in the mirror,” said she as I looked at her in her

Medusa aspect.

“I’m not afraid to look at my face!” I replied.

I grabbed a hand-held mirror and was astonished to see the monster she saw.

Certainly not human.

Not me.

What I saw reminded me of one of those wrathful deities in Tibetan iconography.

Did he have fangs?


While it was useful to see myself as a monster, I didn’t want this apparition to interrupt a good fight. Now I regret I have no Caliban self portrait on which to meditate. Still as an Aries – born under the sign of the WAR GOD — I felt I had a reputation to defend.

“Your turn,” as I forcibly gave her the mirror.

Before looking in the mirror she composed her face. As she did , my inner brat puffed himself up. I was no longer a fierce deity but, rather, a middle-aged ninny.

“You’re cheating!”

At least I restrained the brats chant:
Nanny goat, nanny goat! Can’t catch a Billy goat!

At some point during this bitter season I was at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, wondering if my marriage would survive being clean and sober. Stories of betrayal and self-betrayal had to be digested. We were lost in the dark woods of OLD KARMA. As I was listening to someone talk about struggles with his wife, I heard the resonance of the scripture that I repeat whenever I am entering or leaving deep solitude: “act as if you have faith and faith will be given unto you.”

In living by such “acts as if,” we eventually found our way through this baptism by fire.

Heterosexual Love 101 requires that a man see the image of his rage through a
woman’s eyes.
Such is I repeat, radical empathy and it is a spiritual practice.

I have never struck a woman nor would I, but I’ve never loved a woman that didn’t anticipate violence proceeding from a man’s uninhibited anger.

Of step ten Keating says, “this is a rather advanced stage of the spiritual life in any tradition. It means that one is ever mindful of one’s immediate experience. One is sensitive to the needs of the present moment and also the presence of Love in every passing nanosecond of time.”

This is Love not as “Our Father who Art in Heaven Higher Power,” but as Pervasive Presence, here and now.

Section Four: Humility

Steps Eleven and Twelve usher in the notion of ‘becoming.’ Here, a new birth is chosen. Here one enters the mysterium of living compassion: humus, human, humor and homage (another ghom word) to humility.

In the 1980s, EST (Erhard Seminar Training) was the thing. Having passed through these twelve steps, I’ve entertained myself with the thought of a Michael Ortiz Hill variation: EST 2 or Eat Shit and Thrive.

With humility we come back to the common soil that we are: humus.

“Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.”

Everything in your life has prepared you for this moment. Everything in your passage between lives has prepared you for this moment.

Walk humbly.

Choose this new life with generosity so you can be generous.

We are approaching the mysterium: Living compassion.

remarkable animated essay on EMPATHY

20 10 2010

Empathy — not competition and individualism — is primary human nature.


This is solid science.  It is Buddhadharma — that our natural uncontrived self is compassion. And it is foundational to the Judeo-Christian -Muslim tradition that we are all made in the image of the God that is love

Check out step three of the craft of compassion — radical empathy.  To see through anothers eyes.  http://www.gatheringin.com.


video essay on the craft of compassion

9 10 2010

This is from my website, http://www.gatheringin.com. It lays out the four steps — self-compassion, compassion for others, radical empathy (seeing through anothers eyes) and living compassion.
The web also has sample chapters and a link to pre-ordering Conspiracies from Amazon.

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