Empathy and the sacred gift

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.

We’ve created a society that honours the servant but has forgotten the gift.

(Albert Einstein 1879-1955)

It would seem that today’s society, with its ubiquitous and complete admiration for the rationality, has not only forgotten the sacred gift, but is on a verge of losing the intuitive mind altogether. I feel that the late great economist, John Galbraith, came very close to identifying what keeps us from trusting and voicing our intuitive intelligence, when he said: in any great organisation it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.

How can we become fully functioning beings and form thriving societies when our intuition, the critical element of the human spirit, is forgotten? There is a real sense of loss here, a loss that we sometimes tentatively glimpse but generally very rarely acknowledge or attend to. And unprocessed grief contributes to maintaining a poorly developed sense of self which has a great impact on our ability to connect with self and others. Intuition outlines all empathic communication. High quality intuition, underpinned by metaphor, is intelligent communication par excellence. 

Loneliness and isolation, the menacing arc of dis-connection, loom large in keeping us trapped in the net of stunted safety. It would seem we have indeed lost the expression of the most radical form of the courage to be oneself, as Paul Tillich phrased it. However, all is not lost, for life presents us with many opportunities for change. Life is loss and change is its agent. Change is interwoven with loss and grief experiences. To harvest fully the fruits of change, to bring about transition, we need to grieve. One way is to free our tears contained in the clouds of sorrow and sadness. For, as Plutarch said, what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.  

Individuality is located within the grieving process. Accessing our intelligent intuition from this domain of opportunity is an excellent way to begin. Sensing into the elusive edge, that fleeting resonance, is a gentle invitation to elevate our inner sensations to the realm of impulse. Indulging in the lost art of intuiting the impulse brings self-soothing to our interior.

Life’s daily grind presents many forms of loss though not all changes are recognised as such. With different degrees of intensity, we experience loss and grief much more often as they are inseparable from life. Loss and grief are not only associated with death. Granted, they are less tangible, less obvious but nonetheless they occur. Losing aspects of self naturally (childhood, puberty, adulthood, etc.) or through giving in to demands of others (parents, partners, children, etc.) constitutes loss experiences. If these denials of self expressions result from distorted interference from significant others, low self-worth will develop.

Fragility woven into the fabric of an emerging self makes for flimsily self-confidence; should the complex forces of fear, abuse and shame be involved, trauma will dominate. Life’s delicate weave can spin out glorious tapestries framed around our flaws. But when our flaws are compounded by trauma, enhancement of self can become tattered embroidery.

Generally, loss is classified into four categories: developmental, some aspect of self, relationship and treasured objects; and five perspectives: philosophical, psychological, physical, spiritual and sociological. The four categories overlap and interlink showing just how immediate loss is and how it bleeds into life. No loss is a separate entity, it is all knotted tightly together. To suffer one form of loss triggers a domino effect which consequently leads to experiencing other losses (past, present and future). The five perspectives on loss embrace the breadth and depth of the repercussions and significance loss has on a human being. These categories and perspectives dovetail into one another. Separating them into manageable pieces helps direct attention to the loss prevalent at any given time and conveys deep understanding of the impact loss has.

Loss is at the heart of counselling, and grief is its very soul. Like those ancient mariners who hugged the shoreline only to have their vessels break upon the shallows, we need to let go of terra firma to ignite the process of individuality. Intuition is the sail keeping the empathic vessel afloat in the uncharted waters that is counselling. I use loss and grief categories, perspectives and framework theories to deepen my non-judgemental empathy and to facilitate better the integration process. To help me organise and embrace the different theories, I visualise them as a three dimensional interlocking system – a therapeutic grid to protect better the emerging impact of loss and grief on client and counsellor. I also use it as a navigational aid for mapping out the most tender areas for therapeutic exploration in this highly demanding emotional state which by its nature is very unstructured and unpredictable.

Bringing the pain of loss to the surface, to the awareness, may seem unreasonable to the rational mind. However, grieving does not reside in the realm of reason alone. It belongs more to the visceral world, the forgotten sacred gift of our inner self, and this is where it must be processed so that healing can take root.

Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.

(Marcus Aurelius 121-180)

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