I hate to throw some negative vibes out there, but this week, has there been a feeling that everything turning to shit? Or is it just in my head? It’s been one of those weeks where the news started bad and then got worse. I feel like I’m holding my body tense, waiting for a physical blow.
But I am trying to stop my thoughts running away on me. This week I’ve been keeping up with my morning/evening meditations with Niall Breslin in an attempt to get my brain focused in the morning and get my thoughts quietened down at night. This week he’s been talking about the importance of empathy in a virtual world, and practising right speech – a Buddhist concept of not lying, speaking ill of people, not spreading gossip.
He’s talked about how easy it is to get het up in the heat of an online argument, how easy it is to join in the Twitter outrage, how all media these days is set up to divide and anger. And none of this is good for our mental health, and how we should step away and take a breath.
But it’s the empathy part that’s been irking me. “Try not to react to people who are rude or aggressive,” he says. “Take the time to be kind,” he says. “Think about what’s going on in that person’s life that they have to be so bitter.”
I was surprised how quickly the whingy spoilt brat child voice popped up Why am I the one who has to make all the compromises here, I ask myself. What about the other people? Why do I have to be the one to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be mindful of others? Who’s being kind and mindful towards me?
Because I’ve been thinking this week, and last week, and for many weeks now, all the way back to The Before, that with so much going on in this world, with so many people that are suffering and struggling, that keeping a good level of empathy is actually really tough. Thinking about how other people feel is actually emotionally draining. And there are times when I really wish I was selfish and did bother with empathy because it would make for an easier life.
If I didn’t care about others, I wouldn’t get involved in their problems, I wouldn’t spend time worrying about them, I wouldn’t be thinking about how I could help. I could just get on with my life and leave them to get on with theirs. It would make my life simpler for sure, to greet other people’s problems with a shrug and a blank face. But it’s not what I do, and sometimes I struggle with this, with taking on emotional weight from other people’s problems.
When I feel like this, I think back to when my father died, and we were sitting around the table with – I’m not sure what to call him because celebrant is the wrong word – the man who was going to be the MC, if you like, of my father’s funeral. We didn’t know him, he was recommended to us by a friend of my sister. But he took his task seriously and wanted to get a good impression of our father and what he was like.
He started by asking us some simple details to start the discussion. He wrote down my father’s date of birth and paused, before making some comment on what a long life he had. (My father was 92 when he died.) He then commented on how my father would have grown up in the Great Depression and how he has noticed, from his work, that this time period, with shortages, unemployment, hunger, and poverty, affected people in one of two ways: they either became very self centred, taking an “I’m alright Jack” approach, watching out for themselves and to hell with everyone else; or they adopted a community approach, watching out for their neighbours, making sure that if you have enough you share with someone who doesn’t, because maybe next week you wouldn’t have enough and would need help from someone else. My father was definitely in the latter camp. He and my mother raised me and my siblings with this as a core value, and with something this ingrained in my upbringing, it’s not something I can shake off easily. No matter how much I might want to sometimes.
And I am lucky enough to have enough, and I realise this is a blessing. I have enough to be able share. Not just charitable support, but share time, share space, share the emotional burden.
But sometimes it’s hard.
Some days I don’t want to.
Some days I just want to sit in my own head and shut the door and not care about other people or the planet or politics or injustice. Because I care about the little things close to me, but I also care about the big things far away from me.
Some days I feel guilty because I didn’t recycle. Or because I chose to support one charity over another. Or because I bought from a chain instead of a local shop.
Some days I wonder if I’m doing enough to make Black Lives Matter, if I’m doing enough to save the planet, if I should be doing something more to support the people who lost their jobs through Covid.
And some days little acts of caring come hard, and there’s a voice in my head that says, “Oh you’re just doing this because you want people to like you.” And that makes me feel bad, feel that what I’m doing is all fake, like I’m just acting a role. What would a good person do now? I wonder, when consider what to do.
I’m curious to know if any readers also struggle with these feelings. I would like to know if these feelings are normal.
This week, Saturday 10th, was mental health awareness day. One in four people will struggle with mental health issues in their lifetime. If it’s not you, then it’s someone close to you. Ask. Listen. Be there. Even when it’s hard.
Sorry to not be sharing something anything inspirational this week. But I don’t want to leave you feeling down, so here’s a little video that should spark some joy.
I don’t plan on getting married again, but if I do, I want to get married in Maputo, in Mozambique, and I want to be in the Botanic Gardens, and I want people around me singing like this.