Extending Love, Compassion, and Mercy
by Mark Votava
Earlier in November, the Tacoma Catholic Worker hosted our friend Kathy Escobar for a number of roundtables discussions over a couple of days. This experience for me was so enlightening as Kathy brought so much wisdom from her context in Denver, Colorado. I respect her work a lot as she started a community called The Refuge about a decade ago and she has written several wonderful books – Down We Go and Faith Shift – that I just love. There are not too many people out there who are talking about the damaging effects of religious systems and how to rebuild into something more healthy, sustainable, and beautiful.
So here is a rundown of a little piece of each roundtable we engaged in.
- Welcoming Pain and Vulnerability
The first roundtable was on welcoming pain and vulnerability as a way of connecting through our shared weaknesses. This is a foundational practice of Jean Vanier who started the L’Arche communities. It is also important to AA environments.
Sharing our stories in vulnerability and welcoming our pain is so countercultural. Most of society is based on pretending we are stronger than we actually are and lying to one another. We want to look good, present a certain put together image, and show our achievements so we will be accepted among others. But when this breaks down, what do we have left to connect around?
It was interesting as we shared about what we were taught about welcoming pain in our families, most of us were raised in an environment where we learned not to show any vulnerability. This makes it extremely hard to connect in a healthy way with the people closest to us as we grow up. We talked about how to become safer people (and communities) for each other in the present.
This was such a powerful conversation for me as it seems I rarely have the space to talk about my pain, my struggles, my fears, my anger, my shame. I connect best with others in vulnerability, not in my pride about all the great things that I do. If I want to connect deeper with others I have to enter into my own pain and vulnerability while finding commonality there instead of somewhere else. This is where authentic community is created and sustained.
- Cultivating Empathy through the Enneagram and Nonviolent Communication
There is such a need for greater empathy in our world today. A few years ago, I was introduced to the Enneagram and Nonviolent Communication as a way to cultivate empathy in everyday life. I absolutely love these tools of conviviality, empathy, and compassion. These tools help us to enter into our own vulnerability around our personality and the way we communicate with others.
- The Enneagram
I have discovered that I am a 4 with a 5 wing on the Enneagram (called the Individualist). This self-awareness has been so helpful to me as I have learned that I have a basic fear of having no identity or significance. My basic desire is to be myself. I am in search of identity. My healthy sense of self is as an intuitive, sensitive person. A hidden complaint is that I don’t really fit in – I am different from others. The virtue to move toward is equinamity, emotional balance. My deadly sin is envy. My fixation is melancholy (fantasizing). The main temptation is to overuse my imagination in search of self. My saving grace is self-awareness. I have to notice when I am making negative comparisons. The unconscious childhood message was it’s not okay to be too functional or too happy. My red flag fear is that I am ruining my life and wasting my opportunities. The wake up call is holding onto and intensifying feelings through the imagination. My recognition for growth is toward authentic positive qualities in myself. The lost childhood message was you are seen for who you are. I have an overcompensation for self-indulgence. Under stress (disintegration) I go to overinvolved and clinging at 2. Toward greater health (integration) I need to move to 1, The Reformer. My invitation to abundance is to let go of the past and be renewed by my experiences – remembering to be forgiving, to use everything in my life for growth and renewal.
These are my main struggles and gifts I bring to the world. I have a deep longing for authenticity that can turn to melancholy quickly because I easily see what is missing instead of engaging the world with what is beautiful. Having this self-awareness is so healthy for me in my path toward community, connection, and compassion in everyday life. The Enneagram calls me into deeper vulnerability in my personality and this is scary, but I have to practice an authentic courage in all of its aspects.
Understanding all the Enneagram types helps us to cultivate empathy toward one another. If you do not understand my Enneagram type, which most people don’t, you will write me off as a depressed, unhappy, envious person instead of understanding what I care about and who I am in my true self. If I do not understand the Enneagram types of others, I will do very similar things to them as they do to me. This brings violence toward our relationships and how we interact with the world around us.
We are invited to practice love over violence within ourselves. This will lead us to our deepest vulnerability, peace, and compassion. Community cannot happen among us without some tools that help us to embody being an expression of love in our truest self as the deepest ground of our being is love.
- Nonviolent Communication
We also talked about the second piece to empathy that can be extremely helpful – Nonviolent Communication. Nonviolent Communication was created by Marshall Rosenberg and he has constructed a Language of Life for us who want to embody a deeper level of empathy, love, and compassion in the world we find ourselves in. It is a whole new paradigm shift to take responsibility for our own feelings and not allow ourselves to go to a place of blame and judgment when difficult things come up for us in life. Nobody makes me feel anything, I feel what I feel and this leads me to what my needs are.
The whole process is about observing without judgement or blame, becoming conscious of what I am feeling and needing while making a positive, concrete request toward someone without demanding anything. The purpose is not to get what you want, but to connect within your own vulnerability which makes everything less violent on our part. This takes practice as it was not taught to us growing up so we have to unlearn so much. I think this is revolutionary stuff that could show us the practical path to greater connection to the deepest ground of our being which is love. We usually are not literate of our feelings and needs and walk through life judging others when our needs are not being met in a satisfactory way.
Some descriptive words for feelings are: affectionate, afraid, angry, annoyed, aversion, confident, confused, disconnected, disquiet, embarrassed, engaged, excited, exhilarated, fatigue, grateful, hopeful, insecure, inspired, joyful, pain, peaceful, refreshed, sad, tense, and yearning (and under each of these categories there are multiple descriptions that describe that word).
Some descriptive words for needs are: physical well being, connection, honesty, play, meaning, autonomy, and peace (and under each of these categories there are multiple descriptions that describe that word).
- Extending Love, Mercy, and Compassion: Restoring Dignity to Others
This one we looked at how we are hesitant to say the good qualities about ourselves that are who we are in our authentic selves. We looked at the difficult things we feel about ourselves and the beautiful things we sense about ourselves too. Holding some clay and a candle, we lit the candle that represents our dignity. We placed the clay at the base of the candle to represent how the difficult and beautiful parts of ourselves exist together in a paradox of authenticity and peace.
This is one of the things Kathy is passionate about. Restoring dignity to others is how we show love in the world. In many of our lives dignity has been lost and we feel it. We need to restore this dignity which can never go out, but is buried and undiscovered for a lot of us.
- Diffusing Power: Becoming More Inclusive
This roundtable led us to talk about what comes to mind when we think of power. How can we let go of the power we have and encourage others to step into their power? This was the crucial theme. Some of us have to let go of power and others of us have to step into our power, especially the voiceless.
Practicing equally where everyone comes to the table and no one is voiceless is how our communities are supposed to operate in life. We want to be restorers of dignity and give voice to those who have very little while allowing everyone to shape our expression of love, community, and compassion.
- Pursuing Justice through Listening Deeper
We opened up this one by asking the question, “If you could create a superhero, what superhero would you be and what would be your power?” This led to thinking about how superheroes are usually into doing justice in the world, but also have a major weakness about them too. Holding that paradox is important.
We shared stories about how listening to others allows us to connect on a deeper level. Usually, we do not find that solidarity until we listen without trying to judge, fix or give advice. When we do not listen, we usually do not experience that connection and resort to judgement and all the things that come with that. Listening deeper can restore the dignity that is often times lost among us and brings about a tangible expression of justice to our lives.
I absolutely loved all the roundtables and am so enlightened by all that was shared. This will be an experience I will hold onto for a very long time and I am sure it will be hard to forget. One of the most memorable experience of 2015 for me! Thank you Kathy Escobar for your passion around becoming an expression of love, compassion, and mercy in the world!
“…if we have God in a tiny box, limited by small definitions of who God is and how God works, we will not be open to creative imagination or allow our lives to be fueled by a more expansive view of what’s possible…” Kathy Escobar Down We Go
What roundtable discussion resonates with you the most?