Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Seeing through another's eyes

I spent the afternoon with a new friend yesterday.  As she shared her experiences with me, I realized I felt the same way.  The details of my circumstances were different than hers, but the feelings were the same.  I too, have dismissed painful happenings in my life as 'just the way it is', rather that sharing the details with a someone I trust.  I too have 'just put up with it' because I saw no other choice.  I too have tried hard and found my best efforts didn't seem to be 'good enough'.  So much was the same.  I listened, shared back when appropriate, and mostly just sat in her presence, hearing her.

I know from my own experience that there's something about saying the words, and having someone really listen to your story that can sometimes change everything.  Healing happens, you hear your own words with your own ears, your words yield reactions from the listener that can shed light on the subject, and on and on.  That's what seemed to happen yesterday. 

I really heard her out, rather than just 'waiting for my turn to speak.  I listened with acceptance, understanding, even forgiveness, for we each do the best we can in any given moment.  I noticed where there were similarities in our experiences, and differences.  I heard her pride and amazement in her own accomplishments, her pain and sense of betrayal from the actions of others, and her sorrow at how her family had suffered in the process.  And as I listened, I found myself feeling her feeling as if it were my own.  When she laughed, I laughed.  When she cried, I did too.  The feelings between us went beyond a sense of compassion, one person for another, but empathy - feeling 'with', not 'feeling for' another person.  Afterward,  I realized that I not only knew her better, but that I had been broadened and deepened as a well.  It was as if we shared more of the experience itself, and not just the story about it.

Leaving my friends home, I realized that I saw my own life differently.  I was more clear and understanding, where I may have been judgmental before.  I realized where I have 'put people in a box', and where I have felt 'put in a box' myself.  And the most amazing thing of all.... I saw more than ever before how subtely, unconsciously, I had been a creator within my own life circumstances - and how my friend had done the very same thing in hers.  No blame, but witnessing only the happenings, causes, effects, and all the many situations in which experience and learning happen.

My belief, and my experience as well, is that each one of us is so much more powerful than we ever could have imagined.  Learning is important to each of us, and it requires certain circumstances to best learn certain things.  I remember my father saying to me when I was young, "To really learn how to survive off the land, you leave the classroom and enter the forest itself."   There have been times I have complained mightily about my own life circumstances, and had my own pain.  But I know now that (to really learn what I have wanted to learn): If it hadn't been those particular parents, those particular siblings, classmates, friends, enemies, teachers, bullies, husband, children, etc. - it would have been somebody just like them.  If it hadn't been that school, that church, that company or that group, it would have been another.

In a very practical sense, the sun shines on each of us, wherever we are.  Whether we get burned, or tanned, or something in between depends on what circumstances we bring to the situation, and what we do with the sunshine.  Me, I bring freckles.  No matter how hard I've tried, my skin doesn't respond to the sun with giving me a nice looking, smoothly tanned skin.  But I've learned that I can appreciate the tan that others can achieve, while at the same time knowing that there can be 'too much' sun for any of us who want to have healthy skin.

So, I listened to my friend, and I saw through her eyes.  As a result, I felt closer to her as a person, and I my own 'seeing' was better, too.  For many reasons we were each bettered for the exchange.  To extend the 'sun' metaphor:  We'd each had 'sun' experiences, and we shared the resulting tans, burns, and effects.  Now, the next step will be to take what we have from this exchange, using our learnings and experiences to create a better world - for ourselves, and for others in our circles of influence.  The gift is also the challenge - and vice versa.


Sterling said...

Well put! Gwyneth, I have read all your postings. I have a deep understanding of you just by reading what you write.
Yes we all have had our happy times and our sad times though out our lives. I sure have had mine.


Gwyneth McNeil said...

Oh Sterling, I wish so many blessings to you. You are an awesome person. I can't tell you how grateful I am to simply have you and your friendship as part of my life.


Investigative Editor said...

Gwyn, well said about 'empathy' when we feel 'with' someone. It sparks vibrational matching, same feeling and response. This is a pleasantly relaxing blog to be with. I have several and one is here:

Geoff in Australia

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