I read a Washington Post article this week titled “How to Overcome Compassion Fatigue.” Author David DeSteno writes about how taxing it becomes over time to remain awake and aware, the exhaustion of trying to stay informed and to care about the hardship and incomprehensible need people are experiencing around the planet.
Indeed, it’s all pretty overwhelming. I think a lot of us are plenty frazzled and fried simply trying to hold ourselves together dealing with our own stuff. Maybe we have a smidgen of emotional energy left over to share with our nearest and dearest. But then when the suffering of strangers in abstract situations on the other side of the globe gets piled on top every time we check the news, it can all just feel like way too much to freakin’ deal with.
The gist of the article was that EMPATHY is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it’s the key to everything. Relatedness — seeing ourselves in others, in different circumstances, recognizing our shared humanity — is the essence of compassion, and is the pathway to our collective healing of the world. On the other hand, empathy can be utterly draining.
How do we replenish and nourish ourselves? How can we keep ourselves filled with enough juice to continue giving a damn?
DeSteno cites a number of studies and offers that the most effective antidote to compassion fatigue is a belief that we make a difference. We are less likely to face burn-out if we can remember that every act of kindness and generosity, no matter how small, is a meaningful and important contribution. It all matters. We matter.
I totally groove with that; it resonates and feels true.
AND I’ll add something to it: For sure, let’s remind ourselves that we make a difference and that our individual contributions are essential to the life of the planet. We are so powerful and creative, and there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together if we set our hearts and minds to it. AND we must also give ourselves permission to be fully ourselves, to feel what we feel and have the freedom to be honest about it. We get to be tired. We get to be over-it. We get to be uncertain and frightened. Because those aspects of self, too, are part of the relatedness and empathy for which humanity is starving.
Ernest Holmes powerfully declared, “The perception of wholeness is the consciousness of healing.” This is a juicy idea that can open up a rich inquiry and practice if we are brave and open, if we don’t stop with it as a simple answer to our great complexities.
Wholeness is not the opposite of pieces — it is the inclusion of all the pieces. Wholeness contains real-world struggles, shattered ideals, and gut-wrenching failure.
Peace is not the opposite of pieces, but rather the acceptance and loving embrace of our own overwhelmed and broken-open hearts.
It’s about letting ourselves be, and having faith that we are enough exactly as we are. Doing so not only frees us, it gives others permission to shine forth as their genuine selves. As we practice being Peaceful and Whole exactly as we already are, in all our messiness and confusion, then we are more free and empowered to choose what to create next. We don’t have to fix ourselves first, to recover whatever oomph and drive we think we’re supposed to have. We don’t have to have talk ourselves or pray ourselves into more energy or certainty or positivity.
We only need be honest and true. That’s what creates relatedness, compassion, and empathy. That’s what calls forth the difference that we make, the beautiful contribution of our lives to Life, simply by being here. That’s what heals the world.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, September 1. 10am service at Bosque Center for Spiritual Living, with special musical guests Melissa Martinez and Pat Rhoads. XO, Drew
© 2019 Drew Groves