Yesterday my mum gave me the Times Magazine that she had finished with. There were lots of healthy food ideas and an article about digestive health so she knew I would want a read.
I was flicking through and I got to reading Melanie Reid’s column. She is a tetraplegic after breaking her neck and back in a riding accident in 2010.
In this article she says that she had received a letter from a reader to say that she should be more positive in her writing and that she should stay quiet about her suffering and the way it makes her feel. She was told that she should put forward the positives in life in her work to help others and to help herself.
Of course as a Mindfulness Coach at times I have at times suggested that writing a gratitude list is a really beneficial thing to do. It certainly is and it can help with promoting more positive thoughts. However, before suggesting this to someone you need some real understanding of their situation and where they are emotionally.
It got me thinking about how difficult it can be to help others, to know what to do for the best. I am sure the lady who suggested that she should focus on that which she was grateful for was well meaning but it seems to me that she displayed a real lack of understanding by making her blunt recommendation.
Melanie Reid’s column is a really valuable source of information. It is such an honest account of how she really feels, a true picture of the horrors that face her every day. Because of her writing we can learn to put ourselves in her shoes, to picture exactly how she feels, to be compassionate.
This deeper understanding is invaluable. There is no other way we would experience this awful reality short of having the same experience. Our own loved ones would be unlikely to put us through an honest account of how they feel, they would want to protect us.
So if you are close to someone who is suffering and you are struggling to know what to do for the best then think about the difference between being sympathetic and being empathetic.
Being sympathetic means we look from our own perspective and see someone else’s suffering and feel sorry for them. That is about as far as it goes and any actions we take form this stance may be limited in effectiveness because we don’t have a real understanding.
Being empathetic is all about putting yourself in someone else’s position. This means you can imagine what they would want you to do for them and hopefully come up with much more effective contributions to make their life slightly better. Sometimes just being there for them is as much as you can do.
When you are mindful you can see situations more clearly. You learn to listen so that you gain a better understanding. You learn to observe until you are sure of the action you want to take.
Come on a Revitalise Session to see how you could become more mindful. The commitment to meditate every day is a challenge but when you realise how much those around you benefit from your calm, patient and caring state of mind it becomes much more possible.