Empathic meeting involves not just listening and sitting with another’s life crisis, stressors, or pathology, but with their striving in the process.
It’s those ‘micro-moments’ when frustration, misunderstanding or hopelessness invades the space between us, threatening to damage the sometimes hard-won human alliance—soul solidarity–when empathy can make a way for a transformative encounter.
Empathy is an opportunity for sharing genuine presence with another human whose long time companion is suffering. In the words of Parker Palmer: “Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.” Seek opportunities to hear and hold rather than advise or fix.
As I listen to a couple who lost their first child to death—a stillborn birth that has left them bereft of answers, blessing, gift, and motivation–I invite them into an experience that falls flat. A failed attempt to give them what I think may assist their grieving process. The husband lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that my attempt is not helpful at all. He begins to speak in metaphor, describing what it’s been like for him since the loss of his little girl. I take an internal step back and settle in, inviting him to help me understand better how I can truly hear him. He tells me and the tears he’s been holding back make an appearance. We all sit with the truth of no answers, recognizing that what they have is pain and loss that will never be forgotten.
I am grateful. Grateful that Spirit sits with me, inviting me into the Mystery. Grateful that there is much to be gained in Silence. Grateful that in the Fullness there is enough empathy to offer to whomever I meet.