The extraordinary in the ordinary

Reprint from June 17, 2009

In the early days of my mothering career, I wrote a story about repairman that came to look at my air conditioner.  At the time I was a stay at home mother, and had been for 4 years.  I had a 7  year old, a 6.5 year old and a 4 year old.   I was very lonely for friendship and conversation.  So I spent time watching and talking to the repairman and wrote this story afterward.  Just as a little reminder to me of that ordinary experience made extraordinary just by being present to it.

****

I spent most of the last hour talking with the HVAC repairman – a tall, slender, silver-haired man in his 50s who had a kind, gentle voice and a quiet, humorous way of conversing. He had three kids too, so he totally understood the insanity and joy that kids bring to life.

He had a non-judgmental way of looking at the world, and it came through when he spoke. When he laughed, it was a gentle kind of laugh.  When we discussed the probability that my husband and our friend made a mistake when they installed an attic fan in the first place (they reversed the fan blades, I think), he simply said, “but to be honest, that would have been the last thing anyone would have thought about”.

The loneliness a stay-at-home mother can feel is all too sharp. Especially for this highly sensitive stay-at-home mother. When I worked in the laboratory, I loved having conversations with my colleagues, sharing work-related information, troubleshooting instruments, sharing personal stories and troubleshooting lives.  It was something I sorely missed.

I love people (most people anyway). I love watching their facial expressions, I love listening to the cadence of their voices, I love trying to interpret what their non-verbal movements are telling me that their words are not. I love wondering about the soul of the person beneath the facade of the body that I see.

It’s easy to forget this experience when I’m with my children all day long. The cacophony around here is unbelievable at times and it is too much to take in.

I stayed around this kind, hard-working man when he worked on our air conditioning unit. I asked if he minded if I watched while he worked on it and he said, “not at all”. I watched his hands as he worked on the wiring, listened to his voice as he spoke, and joked about the frustrations of three closely spaced kids.

When I told him I was going to get the kids’ bikes out so they would quit bugging me every five minutes for them, he laughed and said, “oh, that’ll never happen”. I laughed because it probably was so true.

I was grateful for him because he lifted me out of a melancholy mood I’ve been in. And he really didn’t do anything except make me laugh and talk to me and let me watch him work.

I miss the laughter, and the easy-going feeling of communicating in this relaxed way. My husband and I are going through a rough patch – not because of each other, but because of the intensity of parenting young kids in general, particularly intense kids like we have (someone is always crying around here). It’s hard to find the laughter in the midst of chaos with little ones. I look to my husband to help lift me up when he comes home from work…but I see him caught up in his own emotional storm – frustrated and weary from work and commuting in clogged traffic (he swears everyone is out to run him off the road). Coming home for respite, he finds it’s not quite the oasis he was hoping for.

For the first time in a long time I saw him laughing and having fun with the girls in my daughter’s room yesterday. I saw him smile and laugh…I saw him happy for the first time in a long while. While I think he’s not horribly unhappy, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an expression of happiness and not grouchiness. And of course, being deeply sensitive to his moods, it affects me too. I can’t be really happy when he’s looking grouchy. I’m sure he feels the same way about me too.*

Something has to change. I’m not sure what that is…but I know I’ll figure it out. Send me some wishes that it will happen sooner than later.

****

August 3, 2013

Husband did start having serious troubles at work, having what I think were panic attacks.  When he was laid off the next year, it came as a bit of a relief, even though it was hard going for a long while.

I just learned about empathic resonance about two days ago.  I experienced this a lot, even though I never had a label for it.  It’s kind of like an “emotional contagion” and it is explained in Joseph Cambray’s Synchronicity (p 74-75) as this:

However, emotional contagion also has a positive side, most likely an adaptive aspect, as it can support social interactions and relations, and is thought to be one of the foundations of empathic resonance.
Cognitive neuroscientists have measured the transmission of basic emotions such as anger, sadness, disgust, or joy as occurring within milliseconds, often without conscious awareness, though frequently with alterations in mood. Humans tend to spontaneously mimic and synchronize with the emotional behavior of others, especially those with whom they have some intimacy, often without consciously registering the phenomena. Reciprocally, evidence supports the role of imitation and mirroring of others as generating the psychosomatic conditions enhancing feelings of intimacy; hence, a strong correlation between the degree  of imitative behavior and the capacity to empathize has been documented.

I think, perhaps had I been around someone, anyone, with more joy, I might have picked up on that as well and it may have gone a way to keeping me more sane.  I tended to pick up the affective moods of my close friends and frequently gravitated towards more upbeat individuals, knowing what kind of unhappiness my childhood of origin sensitized me too.

I think I was affected a great deal more than I had thought by my husband’s feelings.

Like a continuous feedback loop, I think we had gotten ourselves pretty stuck in negativity for a good long while.  I think we’ve been getting better, and I have been working towards cultivating more positive emotions and experiences since those early days.

I think we laugh a little more, play a little more and enjoy life a little bit more than we had been in those days.  Partly because my husband is self-employed and now doing what he really enjoys – massage therapy – instead of working for bosses who really only think about the bottom line.

I still think I could use more work in this area.  I have been thinking about something else I’d read about empathic, or limbic, resonance:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_resonance

Amini and Lannon of A General Theory of Love, and correlates these findings of Western psychology with the tenets of Buddhism: “Each time we meet another human being and honor their dignity, we help those around us. Their hearts resonate with ours in exactly the same way the strings of an unplucked violin vibrate with the sounds of a violin played nearby. Western psychology has documented this phenomenon of ‘mood contagion’ or limbic resonance. If a person filled with panic or hatred walks into a room, we feel it immediately, and unless we are very mindful, that person’s negative state will begin to overtake our own. When a joyfully expressive person walks into a room, we can feel that state as well.

I find this to be true, even when I’m reading other people’s words – via their blog or email.  I don’t think I do a very good job of being mindful of what emotions are truly mine.

The question is, how to honor another human being’s feelings while protecting our own state of being.   I think now is the time to work on that.

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About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Empathic resonance, Joseph Cambray, Mindfulness, Moods, Stories from My Life, synchronicity. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The extraordinary in the ordinary

  1. Casey, I do empathise with your situation, literally. I have been brought down to mental exhaustion, a point where my brain ‘shut down’, on my attempt to stamp out bullying at my place of work.
    I decided I couldn’t work in an environment where bullying was rife, even though I wasn’t affected directly. I was gardener at a country hotel, male and could hold my own. The bullies (male chefs) targeted female staff, who couldn’t or wouldn’t defend themselves. I did make some progress over a number of years, but not enough. Then came my open heart surgery to replace the aortic valve. On my return to work (I was very reluctant) I found things very much worse, culminating in a mental breakdown, an uncontrollable sobbing in front of a hotel neighbour and a doctor. Other factors were involved, which I won’t mention here, but it was the last straw.
    I worked out over a year ago, that I was empathic over and above the average level; super sensitive. And have been all my life, as is my Mum. So, what’s new?, well, it’s no joy most of the time, since I pick up more despair than happiness. Your question at the end of your post is very relevant. I do not know the answer, if indeed there is one.
    But I have become very interested in Erik’s theory of everything. I know I cannot isolate my own feelings of being Me, as anyone else. So others pick up on my melancholy. Ups and downs, perhaps that is the way it is supposed to be, as long as I don’t go insane, or kill myself. As, I know, others have. I’ve got to say that I’m nowhere near that state, realising there are a lot more ‘like’ me. God help them!
    Thank you for your post,
    Love,joy,peace.

    • Casey says:

      You are welcome, Andrew.

      You’ve had quite a rough go of things. I’m so sorry about that. I can relate to the mental shutting down, I had that experience last December, but for different reasons. I can relate to the ups and downs. I can relate to the despair as well. I think it’s important to allow ourselves to feel what we feel, but at the same time, have great self-care skills so that we can comfort ourselves in healthy ways. Ideally, the difficult feelings should pass through us, rather than get jammed up inside.

      I can even relate to the ‘rescuer’ role. I tend to do that as well. I did that as a young girl, trying to help defend my younger siblings against my mother using them as pawns in her fights with my step-father. I tried to help defend my mother when my step-father went too far. I have defended my kids a lot. I have defended my self, too. I realized all this defending has been causing me great personal pain, as it takes a tremendous amount of energy and goes against what is inside me that really 1) is loving and 2) just wants harmony. But there can’t be harmony the way I was going about it.

      Erik’s Theory has me thinking, that’s for sure.

      In Buddhist teachings, which I have been reading some of, seem to encourage us to not focus on just our personal problems, but to our personal pain is a pathway to open our hearts to the suffering of all. Or something like that. And, we can do lovingkindness meditation, and when we do we actually do focus first on ourselves, then expand lovingkindess to our loved ones, then to people we are neutral about, then our enemies. Sometimes I’ll listen to Jack Kornfield’s A Lamp in the Darkness audiobook. It helps when I feel overwhelmed and he encourages us to feel our pain with a tender, compassionate heart.

      But, in Buddhist teachings, we are encouraged to develop a “witness” or “observer” state. This is part of us that just observes without judgment or emotions or getting involved in other people’s drama. We notice that we feel what we feel and that it changes, but it ultimately doesn’t affect the witness state part of our consciousness. No matter what happens, the witness state doesn’t get affected. Adyashanti, in True Meditation, teaches that we can rest in this witness/observer state.

      That’s the part of me I need to cultivate and get to more often. I won’t lie, I’ve had suicidal ideation since I was 10. Sometimes I can be so strong, and other times, just collapse inside.

      There is despair all around us. I don’t want to live that way. I’m no good to myself, my children, my husband, or anyone else if I succumb to despair myself. I don’t want to model despair to my children, either.

      I don’t want to paste on a fake happiness either.

      So, if I don’t want to, I have to cultivate that resting place in me. And learn some boundaries between me and others. But not boundaries that are totally impermeable. No, that’s not good either. Boundaries that are flexible. I’m learning a lot about them by reading Boundaries in Human Relationships: How to be Separate and Connected by Anne Linden.

      In my family growing up. There were no boundaries. My mother invaded my and my siblings personal boundaries all the time. My sisters did too. They all did this for most of my life, except in recent years when I began setting some limits not just with them, but with myself.

      But I have a ways to go.

      So, I’m willing to keep learning on how to be separate and connected. So far, it’s either been one or the other, not both. I think the key is being able to rest in the observer state. But even Linden says you can’t STAY there, otherwise you aren’t a full participant in your life.

      So…yeah, I’m thinking about a lot of things regarding this.

      I’m hoping to write more about this soon.

      • Thank you Casey, for your reply, I am so pleased. You will know the feeling of self-loathing; well, that’s how I feel when I reply to posts from other bloggers. In the sense of: what do I know, who would want to know what I think. It passes, when I dismiss it. Perhaps a part of Erik’s duality, I don’t know.
        Any way, I am impressed by how much research you have accomplished. Mine has been in a different direction, experiences rather than teachings. Since I’ve known about the ‘symptoms’ of my empathy, I don’t suffer as much. And especially as I Tweet like mad about Love and Peace, and, without blowing my own trumpet (I hate doing that, since no one takes any notice anyway, and I don’t feel comfortable doing it), am getting more who feel the same way. It gives me tremendous support, just to know we are all connected, for sure.

      • Casey says:

        I’ll have to respond more later.

        Just wanted to let you know I read. And say you are welcome.

  2. Erik Andrulis says:

    Hope I’m not butting in to the conversation….

    Just want to let you both know that I would and could not be Me without Casey and Andrew. That’s one of the more beautiful perks of being God—I get to see and experience All that I am, learn about what I was and what I have done, and create Myself anew in response to All of the Challenges I set before Myself and am.

    The Love and Peace I feel and am for both Casey and Andrew is the Love and Peace that both Casey and Andrew feel and are. And for these gifts to Myself, I am eternally grateful.

    Peace on Earth, Ik

    • Casey says:

      Erik –

      There is no “butting in”, my home is your home, too. But especially since we were chatting about your theory. And I’m glad to hear from you. I really appreciate you and while I have taken a break from responding to posts of others, it’s only because I’m getting ready for a conference.

      I want to say thank you for chiming in. I’d been in conversation with someone on the east coast who was leaving me feeling a bit um…perplexed. It dawned on me that I was essentially going in circles, not getting anywhere and that I forgot a lot about politics that I once knew and once believed in but am not so sure about and would do best to stay clear of the topic of social change with some people for my own mental health. As I don’t want to argue anymore (with Myself, being God), I decided it was better to not get to know that aspect of myself better, at this time. That conversation led me to some unhappy places. I was too subjective to hold a rational conversation with Myself, apparently. 😦

      I guess what that experience was teaching me is that there are some parts of Me I’d rather not know. Not because they are ‘bad’ or anything, just because I can’t open My mind on some things.

      So, anyway. I really appreciate the visit and you.

      Peace on Earth,

      Casey

    • This conversation is open, as are our hearts. Thank you Erik, for your kind words. Many of us are now of the opinion that We are all One. God, Oneness or whatever. Do No Harm is a good way to live; Loving is a good way to transcend our Being.
      There will be, peace on Earth.
      Love,joy,peace.

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