True empathy

I sat cross-legged in my desk chair early one morning on the cusp of the summer solstice trying to absorb the meaning of real compassion, relinquishing my neediness in my relationships and learning to “make it about them” as Ken Wapnick advises, a correction for our allegiance to an ego thought system hardwired to making it about me. But I’m not going to lie to you. If I am honest with myself as I am learning I really want to be, I must admit I don’t have a clue about what this means, at least not when the characters that populate the imaginary habitat of my dream appear to act in ways that hurt.

I sighed, shut my eyes, began the full-body breathing technique I’d learned in yoga class, and wiped the screen of my mind clean. Inhaling into the top of my lungs I asked as I do each morning what I needed to learn today to heal my mind of the thought of separation from our source that led to the belief that we are separate from each other. Because I am sorry to report I had dished up a full plate of illusions and didn’t know what to do about any of them.

Outside the window the orchestra of distractions beckoning me toward mindlessness was warming up. A lawn mower across the street roared to life.  Hammering from a construction project next door resumed with staccato gusto. The voices of children on their way to summer camp soared and dove. Please show me, I silently repeated, and started thinking about what to make for dinner. Home from her first year of college for the summer my daughter had mysteriously transformed into someone who liked to hang out with me, a startling turn of events I could not help but cherish. But with temperatures predicted to climb into the 90s again, I didn’t really feel like cooking.

Maybe we should just throw some chicken or fish on the grill again, order in some of that wood-fired, thin-crust pizza with the smoked salmon and goat cheese, or pick up some Dim Sum. Or–considering the mounting, seemingly insurmountable pre fixe menu of forgiveness opportunities awaiting me–maybe I should, heat wave be damned, opt for comfort and whip up the macaroni and cheese for which I was justly famous from that imported Irish cheddar I just scored on sale.

Mind wandering, I thought; resisting, resisting, resisting. I started wondering what Ken Wapnick sees when he looks out from his podium at the Foundation for a Course in Miracles. A sea of incredulous faces, some nodding off, others frowning, some appearing to have ingested blissfully mind-altering fungi?  Resisting, resisting, resisting. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly several more times, wiping the white board once more clean. I don’t know what to do about anything, I silently repeated, the only honest words I knew, the only prayer I could completely trust. I started thinking about my approaching birthday, reflecting on the birthdays of the close and distant past, markers in the dream of Susan that seemed–like the very body I seemed to inhabit—so heavy and hungry these days whenever I sided with a teacher invested in making me believe they had anything to do with my real self.

I thought about what I perceived as judgments about my often reclusive nature that had led me to type the question: “Is there something wrong with introverts?” into the Google browser which led me to an article in a scientific journal extolling the brilliance of introverts with “sound research” I had, in true extravert-wannabe fashion then emailed to a couple of fellow introverts, temporarily appeasing my ego before plunging me back into self-judgment. I thought about my reaction to discovering that a nonprofit program I had started and written a grant for years ago had been funded and thriving for years although I was never so much as notified.

And then I finally got to the meat of my forgiveness plat du jour: my feelings of betrayal in a  special relationship. The “real” seeming issue “out there” that had led me once more to the threshold of real learning, the awareness that I do not know what to do, what I want, what’s wrong, or what’s right. Only that I want to feel light again, forgiven and forgiving, kind and certain and beyond needing to have anything seemingly “out there” sustain me. I had turned this relationship over to the light of our right mind some time ago. That meant the healing had occurred, even if I chose to dream otherwise a while longer. A fact I could certainly remember now that I’d completed all my mental machinations and was finally ready to see and listen, follow instead of lead.

I turned to Chapter 16, 1. True Empathy, paragraph 3 and read:

“Your part is only to remember this: you do not want anything you value to come of a relationship. You choose neither to hurt it nor to heal it in your own way. You do not know what healing is. All you have learned of empathy is from the past. And there is nothing from the past that you would share, for there is nothing from the past that you would keep. Do not use empathy to make the past real, and so perpetuate it. Step gently aside, and let healing be done for you. Keep but one thought in mind and do not lose sight of it, however tempted you may be to judge any situation, and to determine your response by judging it. Focus your mind only on this:

I am not alone, and I would not intrude the past upon my Guest.

I have invited Him, and He is here.

I need do nothing except not to interfere.”

I sighed. My inner imaginary Jesus smiled and nodded, still as close as my next seeming breath. And I realized I had been trying so hard to suspend my judgment about this person and situation, to feel a compassion I could not while my anger still bubbled beneath the fragile veneer of understanding. Even though I had asked to share my right mind’s all-knowing vision, I had been trying to forgive all by myself again, as if there were two bodies involved, forgiver and sinner. Hoping as always to reinforce my secret belief in the “sin” of separation by using another’s past transgressions to prove my story of relative innocence, that same old story that I exist at the expense of infinite union but it’s not my fault—it’s yours. But I am not alone, even when I pretend to be. No different than you regardless of my “individual experience.” Like you in truth still one with the part of our mind that knows it and always remembers to smile at all ego efforts to prove otherwise, I remain awake in eternally united Love, merely dreaming of exile. Just like every other dream figure, including the ones I love to hold responsible for my pain.

I can only know true empathy for everyone and thing when I am willing to once again stop trying to solve imaginary problems and instead live within the recognition that I know nothing. I must be willing again and again, from moment to moment for as long as it seems to take and whatever new ego evidence to the contrary seems to arise to bring the serious, secret of my anger to the boundless, gently amused comfort of the inner Teacher of forgiveness. When I do, all anger, anxiety, stress, and worry about how to respond in every situation simply fades into the nothingness from which it came, allowing the one light always shining in our one mind to express its certainty and nourish mine. Allowing me to accept and offer healing, and to smile.

“… No needs will long be left unmet if you leave them all to Him Whose function is to meet them. That is His function, and not yours. He will not meet them secretly, for He would share everything you give through Him. That is why He gives it. What you give through Him is for the whole Sonship, not for part of it. Leave Him His function, for He will fulfill it if you but ask Him to enter your relationships, and bless them for you.”  (From paragraph 7)

I am now speaking regularly at ACIM Gather radio, Wednesdays, 5-6 p.m., EST.
Here are links to two recent talks: ACIM Gather talk 1 ACIM Gather talk 2


  1. True empathy is indeed letting go of our self-judgement when we catch our less-than-lucid mind defending it’s seemingly separate identity by the myriad forms of resisting, resisting, resisting… our interference with guidance infinitely kind, infinitely inclusive, infinitely shared. I like the idea that if honor my Inner Peace officer’s sage advice and ‘step away from the (ego) vehicle, no one will get hurt.’ :-)

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