Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ignorance & Apathy vs. Enlightenment & Empathy

A couple of months before John died, we had a beautiful and deep discussion about my life "after." Noble man that he was, John was more afraid of the journey that I was about to face than the vagaries of his own. Knowing how dearly precious I hold in my heart those I choose to love, he knew that his leaving would result in one tremendously heartbroken woman being left behind. Before the night was over, I promised John that, not only would I go on living, but that I would live my life well and fully.

After he died in May, and once the figurative smell of cordite and dust cleared the air, and I could breathe again without concentrating (I think it was the end of July or so), I began the journey toward fulfilling that promise. (With any luck, I'll have many decades to make good on it, but there's no time like the present.)

Self-discovery, self-actualization, exacting change, enacting a new paradigm... those are relatively simple phrases for a process that is mostly daunting and, more often than not, painful, but one that, ultimately, is not without great reward. (I have to believe.) Yesterday was a day of epiphany.

I spent the day at a friend's house (whose name is omitted in hopes of preserving my grade point average) just hanging around, drinking good bean, and watching TV. One of the things we watched was a talk given by Wayne Dyer on the subject of the Tao Te Ching as it applies to us in today's world. So much of what he had to say rang true with what I've been thinking and doing naturally over the past few months. I was enthralled. At one point, I was very nearly moved to tears when Dyer spoke about Lao Tzu's idea that we are all interconnected. It was an 'aha' moment for me.

From as early as I can remember, I've always felt a great deal of empathy for my fellow humans - at times it's seemed, too much so. I will hurt along with someone who's hurting (to the point of distraction), and if possible, will do everything I can to ease that pain, be it mental or physical. (It's occurred to me that this is likely one of the prominent reasons that I make such a good caregiver for the dying. It's not necessarily that I'm so strong, but that I can't bear to
feel their suffering.) If I see a stranger crying, my chest will tighten and I'll be moved to tears myself. If I see someone in physical pain, my body will respond in kind. Throughout my life, I've seen this more as a liability than an asset. I've been accused of being overly sensitive and overly emotional - and I've always agreed with that assessment. So many times over the years I've wondered, "What the hell is wrong with me?!" Even going so far as to seek out (useless) therapy at one point.

In The Green Mile, John Coffey says to Boss Edgecomb, "I know you hurtin' and worryin', I can feel it on you, but you oughta quit on it now. Because I want it over and done. I do. I'm tired, boss. Tired of bein' on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we's coming from or going to, or why. Mostly I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There's too much of it. It's like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?" I thought, someone out there gets it, gets what it feels like for me. But that was fiction.

So, yesterday, when the subject of interconnectedness came up, I nearly hollered, "YES! That's IT!" I felt... I don't know... vindicated, substantiated, hell...
liberated. I'll no longer ignore my empathic side, or shun it, or live with the notion that it's a psychological flaw. Instead, I will embrace it, nurture it and, to the best of my abilities, use
it. William Osler said, "By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy..." Arthur Gordon said, "Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there's all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped; acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by relieving it of impossible burden." Amen, brothers and sisters, amen. It's doubtful that I can save the world; I may not even be able to save a single person, but that won't stop me from doing whatever I can to change the texture of the day for someone who's suffering.

Confusius said, "The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step." John always paraphrased that and said, "It's a journey of 1000 miles, but it's just walkin'..."

Walk with me.


  1. Once again, an excellent expression of your thoughts and feelings. The Green Mile quote was especially touching ... and John's wise summation, "... but it's just walkin'...".

    Regarding ignorance and apathy, with their difference being, simply, "I don't know, and I don't care", those of us with any degree of enlightenment and empathy, surely know that there is far too much of the one, and too little of the other.
    Speaking in purely subjective terms, we can tend to think too much of ourselves, and too little of others ... indeed.
    Enlighten the ignorant, empathize the apathetic. We are all, truly connected, aren't we? On the same, small planet ... breathing the same recycling air, drinking the same recycled water ... more globally one, now, than we've perhaps ever been in history.
    What differences we find should surely be tolerated, if not celebrated ... 'vive la différence'?
    Of those things most significant to our living, our being, and our continued survival, do we not all wish to find love, peace, and the freedom to share our common humanity? No, we evidently don't. There is still too much greed, corruption, selfishness, war, and inhumanity. Intolerance remains ... ignorance and apathy abound and even flourish in the stifling shadows of the unbending rigidity of some who still hold the power to delude and deceive.
    Only the enlightenment of truth, love, and wisdom ... and the awakening of our empathy, understanding, and tolerance can truly free us of these shackles of suffering.
    Many hoped that it would come as we entered the "information age". Alas, here we are ... and the chimes of freedom only whisper in the distance. The light of truth is perhaps too hard to see with so many shining stars. The shadows dance, run, and yet find dark places to hide. In an ocean of glimmering reflections, how do we know which sparkling beam shines the brilliance of true wisdom?
    Perhaps, it its time, the enlightened wisdom of Nature, itself, will show us The Way ... and free us, forever, from the suffering burden and pitiful tragedy of ignorance and apathy.
    All we can do is all we can do ... blog on, sweet gypsy, blog on!!!

  2. Wow, Sensei! You really know how to snap-focus my attention, y'know? Well said... I may have to start giving you the assignments. :-P John would have equally admired your insights - (*grin*) whodja think got me started reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War? And Ueshiba's Art of Peace? (Neither of which I can find at home... must have loaned them to some needy soul.)

    Did I say thank you yet? Thank you. Keep fueling my thought process, Caveman... I'll keep blogging. I'm almost beginning to like the word blog... ;-)


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