Understanding

Daily Meditation #126 — 6/28/2022

Sometimes you just see and feel the sadness in someone.

Today, I saw someone I knew. Not well — more of a former work acquaintance. I worked closely with their mother and they worked in a different part of the company.
But I knew them enough.

They were always smiley and bubbly — generally pleasant to be around.

Last year, their father ended up with cancer. They weren’t very old — maybe 55 or so.

But, the cancer had been creeping in for years. It was late stage when it was caught.
In a matter of months, they were gone.

When I saw this old work acquaintance, they were in their car waiting at a stoplight.
But they had this just drained, deadened look. Tired eyes, slack cheeks and pale skin.

They looked miserable — the opposite of what I had known of them years ago.

— — — — —

We can never know what people are going through. Even if we ask and they incredibly have the vocabulary and emotional intelligence with themselves to be competent enough to even explain it — which most do not — we just have no idea. And, even then, we too have to be empathetically competent enough to truly understand.

This isn’t a meditation on the bland, “store-brand Cheerios without milk” level of vanilla platitudes á la “Be Kind” that you see plastered on shirts, mugs, and notebooks.

Rather, it is about the distant cousin to our frequent Death Meditation series (I, II, III, IV, V, VI).

For lack of a better name, it is empathy meditation.
Taking time to pause and quite literally imagine the world through the eyes, hands, racing heart and mind, and feelings of another.

Stepping into the soul of someone attending church for the first time in a decade, we can imagine their thoughts.
“I just know there are people whispering ‘Who is this person?’ Am I worthy enough to come into church? What did that passage mean and those words? What do I do — I see people approaching the altar?”
We can imagine their clammy hands wringing and fidgeting as they try to follow along to the songs they don’t know.
We can think of them fumbling through prayer in their heads — “Am I doing this right? I feel so lost…”

We can do this with lost teens whose parents divorced long ago and are now trying to reconcile with step-parents, bullying in school, raging hormones, and the feeling that “No one understands me — no one has been through this.”
Their laying in bed in the dark of night, wondering why mom and dad divorced when they were a toddler — “They told me it wasn’t because of me, but they’ve been caught lying to me so many times…”
The hiding of failed reports and tests between their mattress and hurrying to sneak them to the dumpster behind the gas station on the corner.

In closing — yes, certainly “Be Kind,” but actually ensure you aren’t doing it superficially. Sure, help someone across the street or compliment someone’s hair, but also don’t hesitate to “enter into” others’ lives as deeply as you dare.

We cannot change the world, but we can always change our perception — knowing the depth and breadth of others’ suffering is one more way.

Follow for daily philosophical meditations.

These are distillations from my coming book “YouDaimonia: the Ancient Philosophy of Human Flourishing.”

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