Tag Archive | psychology

Your Brain on Fiction

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I have known that reading fiction can help deepen our empathy, understanding, and compassion for real people and real life situations. I experienced this myself in some ways and it just makes sense. When we see people in real life acting certain ways that seem unusual or negative, we may be quick to judge that person. We have no idea why this person is acting this way. We don’t know exactly what is going on in that person’s life or head. But in fiction, the author let’s us into the heads and lives of the characters. We have a very good idea why the characters do certain things where in real life, we often have no idea. In fiction, we can judge less because we understand and know better.  
For example, I recently read a novel (Killing Me Softly by Bianca Sloane) where a lady is being abused by her husband in every way there is to be abused. Sexually, other physical ways (hit, knocked to the floor, locked in a closet…), emotionally (he treats her as if she is less than him), and verbally(calls her insults and things). 
This lady is basically a prisoner in her own house. The neighbors would judge her thinking she’s freaky and a weirdo. She would act strange in public, hardly speaking to anyone, even neighbors, always being in a hurry to get home, acting fearful and urgent, dressed in very bland, unusual clothing because he forced her to, out of fear that other men would be attracted to her.
These neighbors had no idea what was going on with her but we, the readers are aware and instead of judging her as being a “freak,” we can have compassion instead. 
But what if this were reality and we were the real neighbors to her. We would have no idea what’s going on with her. We couldn’t get into her head like we can when she’s the character in a novel. 
Would we judge her, think of her as the “weirdo” of the street? Would we stop and think maybe the poor girl is suffering or just needs some love & compassion?
My compassion & empathy have always been very developed in general but I notice that fiction opens me up even more.

I have also read many other realistic novels where characters would act in a bizarre or very unpleasant way, provoked by horrific things that happened to them.
Some characters, I judged negatively myself and also would have if they were real people. Some of these characters are violent or bitter or just not appealing. 
Then the authors let me into their heads, allowing me to observe and feel every emotion and thought the person has(we can’t always do this with real people because we aren’t in their heads but the characters are realistic and have similar experiences to real people), and I understood better and made it a point to try to show and have more compassion in person to real people. 

I think this is a good reminder to develop stronger compassion and understanding for people in general. Unlike in fiction, we have no idea why they do what they do. Maybe they are suffering, being abused, mentally ill….we can’t possibly know completely what someone else’s life is like. Let’s try to better understand and be slower to judge. Compassion is always good even if someone isn’t suffering, compassion as a way of life is beautiful.

I think fiction can help open our minds and help us deepen our empathy & compassion in general.

And I just discovered this essay, while reading various things about psychology, the brain, neuroscience, and studies. This happened to show up and is fascinating! 

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Paul – mobile version

I can’t for the life of me find out how to get the non mobile/desktop link.

Maybe this?

or you can just look it up if you want:

Your Brain on Fiction
The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction

By ANNIE MURPHY PAUL
MARCH 17, 2012

It brings two of my favorite things together, brain studies or research and reading fiction! Very interesting!  

It shows that while reading fiction, our brains have extremely similar reactions as when we are involved in real life situations.
The brain, in some way, can’t tell the difference even though we know it’s not real. Our brain can’t completely distinguish fantasy and fiction. Some parts of our brain takes fiction for being real. 
This is a good reason to be careful what we read. Too much horror and heavy stuff can drag us down and generate negative energy. It’s good to mix it up a bit and read things to immerse our self in positive energy. 

Also the studies suggest that reading fiction does help deepen our empathy. And to rule out the possibility that it’s just people who happen to be more empathetic who read more, the researchers accounted for that. They did studies with pre-school children. When they read stories to them, the little kids seemed to develop better understanding for real life. It makes perfect sense to me! And I think it also applies watching movies. 

I hope you are having a great day/night!
😀

Xoxo Kim ❤

GRATITUDE

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“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

This post isn’t really about gratitude. It’s about distraction. How deceiving, right?! Lol

But the word “Gratitude” fits into this post well.

In my recent post I mentioned that I recently experienced a few losses, two of my pets (my parakeet and my cat), and my human friend who lost her life to a heart attack at work… all died unexpectedly.

I have been generally very happy even in the midst of my sense of loss and the sorrow for those lost. I’m usually good at staying positive even in the midst of stress and negativity.

Some moments the grief is more difficult than others. A few nights ago, it was hard to sleep. I kept waking up with terrible anxiety. Sleep problems and anxiety are not something I am accustomed to experiencing and I wasn’t completely sure what to do. I rarely have trouble sleeping no matter what is going on. And I rarely experience true anxiety even when something very unpleasant or painful occurs. Anxiety is a “normal” emotion or feeling most everyone feels at some points, whether mild or severe. It’s not necessarily an indication of a disorder.

But it’s never pleasant. I think it’s one of the most unpleasant feelings in the world, fear, panic, and anxiety. When I do experience anxiety for whatever reason, it’s usually mild and whether or not it’s mild, it usually ends quickly. Most of us don’t have panic attacks or anxiety that is out of control but we can draw on our experiences with “normal” anxiety and fear and deepen our empathy for people who have any sort of anxiety/panic disorder.

Anxiety should not be frequent and interfering too much with life, sleep, health…or it may be or be becoming a disorder that can be treated somehow.

My anxiety wasn’t out of control or a symptom of any condition; it was just a reaction to my recent losses and I have never had a panic attack. It looks so scary to experience and horrible. And I have much compassion for those who experience them. I don’t want to even imagine having to put up with such horror.

But when I kept waking up my body/mind was just so stiff and trem-bly with anxiety and a kind of fear and it was just so unpleasant I was desperate to end it(just the fear/anxiety, I wasn’t suicidal or depressed). I looked around my room all groggy and tired trying to find anything that may help me allay my fear/anxiety. It would have been easier if I wasn’t so tired. My sleep was restless and fitful. I thought about getting my earphones and trying to meditate but I was too tired. I tried some meditative breathing techniques which really did help. But I felt I also needed something more.

I kept drifting off to sleep, having weird dreams, then waking all anxious and fearful.

It wasn’t even really anxious thoughts, it was more physical sensations all over my body.

It sucked.

Then I looked next to me in bed and saw my gratitude journal leaning against the wall. I was so tired and through my blurred vision because I wasn’t fully awake, I saw the word “GRATITUDE” and noticed something I never really noticed before.

The word “gratitude” has the word “tit” in it.

And I burst out laughing.

(Yeah I’m kind of on the immature side.)

I was so amazed for some reason (that state in the middle of wake and sleep tends to put me in strange, often elevated/exaggerated moods and stuff).

I wanted to tell someone. “Hey! Do you know the word ‘gratitude’ has the word ‘tit’ in it?! It does!! That’s so amazing, isn’t it?!”

The first person I thought to tell was my sister. She already thinks I’m a perv(there’s countless occasions throughout the day she says “omg, Kim you’re a pig!” With much emphasis on the word “pig.” lol) . And she wouldn’t have been too happy. Which would have made it all the more fun to tell her! But she was sleeping. And I was more than half sleeping, in and out of waking and sleeping.

I began to wonder what other words may be in the word “gratitude” and thought probably not many! But I was wrong! Lots of words began jumping out at me!

A
I
(I laughed at the fact that one letter words are acceptable to me – but why not?! They’re words aren’t they?! Teachers in school wouldn’t let us use one letter words when we played games like this)
AT
Grade
Trade
Age
Eat
Ate
Aid
Rat
Tar
Grate
Rate
Guard
Art

And so many more….i wanted to write them all down but I was too groggy.

So I laid there in and out of sleep with words flashing across my mind, most appropriate words for the activity at hand, some I had to correct myself, even in my sleep/dream state. For some reason I kept wanting to put a “C” in it.

CAGE
CRATE
.
.
.

And I had to open my eyes wide as I looked at my journal to make sure there really isn’t a “C” in “gratitude.”

There’s not. :-/

For a second I even wondered why “gratitude” can’t be “gcratitude” or “cgratitude” just to make my little game a bit more impressive. It was disappointing.

My sleepy brain is a tad off. But it’s all good! 😀

But for the most part, I did well!

I was quite impressed with my slumbering brain coming up with words as I had my eyes closed sleeping or almost sleeping. I wasn’t actually seeing the word “Gratitude” with my eyes when I would drift off in my state of fitful sleep but I saw it across my mind as I was mostly sleeping.

And then I remembered how I loved playing that game when I was a little girl. When I was in middle school, my dad and me would choose a long word and sit on the sofa having a competition to see who got the most words out of it. It was so much fun. We sat there for hours playing at night, making lists, coming up with interesting and fun words. Sometimes I would cheat. But I thought it was so funny that I was brilliant and sly enough to cheat (I actually saw it as a slick skill) and cheat without getting caught, that I would open up and spill my dirty little secret and be laughing hysterically as I was telling it. It never got old, the awe over my gall to cheat and my ability to cheat well.

I had an electronic navy blue word speller that I was able to put just about any word in and it would scramble it for me and tell me all the other words it can make. I used to set my trapperkeeper (some paper holder thing with metal rings and a design with golden lab dogs) up and hide in back of it. My dad wasn’t as impressed as I was.

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Then I came back to current reality and realized how distracting myself helped me significantly with the fear, anxiety, and grief I was having some trouble coping with. The fun little activity itself not only calmed my whole body and eased my mind but provoked me to reminisce and stirred up sweet childhood memories which further distracted and soothed me, I even remembered my favorite red denim flare pants and white spice girl shoes I loved to wear on Thursdays(i thought I was the hottest little thing prancing around in those clothes with my cool electronic word speller (there was no cell phone, no computer, no Internet that I knew of back then) ), and realized that I have lots of happy memories of that age(and every age since then even though I had depression a lot – it would always go away and I would get happy again), and I was able to drift off easy and get a few hours of good sleep. I did wake up achy and still a bit anxious but much better than before.

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One thing to keep in mind is that intentionally, consciously, directly trying not to think of something will, without a doubt, make you think about it more. It’s impossible to escape its bondage when you put your mind directly to not thinking about it. It’s like an inherent contradiction. To try not to think about it, you necessarily have to think about it. Even psychological studies suggest it. I learned about it in psychology classes at Temple University many years ago.

Ironic Process Theory

(Here is a great link to read about it:

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/10/unwanted-thoughts.aspx

With some tips on how to cope with unwanted thoughts and feelings.)

And I experienced this phenomenon myself whenever I would try to directly take my suicidal mind off of being suicidal. It’s one hundred percent futile.
But what does work is allowing yourself to feel, think, experience whatever it is while gently distracting yourself by doing something you like/love, something soothing, healing, or something like exercising or other physical activity that is safe for the state you’re in.
Focus on a more pleasant thought and the unpleasant one can melt away. I experienced this then I learned about it in classes.

Eventually your mind may escape the grasp of whatever it is, for a while. You will be so into the fun or healing activity you’re engaged in.

It may be hard to find the strength or motivation to begin an activity of distraction. When we are so depressed or so anxious, it can be hard to even move or believe that it will really work or believe that we are worth it, but it’s worth that initial effort, that first step. And feeling unworthy is just a delusion that depression can put into our heads. And you won’t know until you try if it will work. Rest is good but it’s not good to sit or lay in bed just dwelling on or obsessing over anxious or depressing thoughts or feelings. Acknowledge the depression or anxiety. It’s ok. Even embrace it. Sit with it. Accept it. Then get moving to help yourself cope.

At the mental health clinic I go to for depression, some therapists give us worksheets to help us cope with different problems.

Here is a link to various worksheets to help people cope with different problems such as anxiety, ptsd, depression, low self esteem, negative thinking….:

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/freedownloads2.htm

They are in pdf files and can be saved and printed out. They are meant to be a supplement to professional treatment if someone has a serious disorder. Anyone can benefit by mindfulness activities and these worksheets but for people with a serious problem, it’s important to seek some kind of appropriate professional help as well. The worksheets are very helpful but are not meant to be the sole “treatment.” Self help techniques (like the worksheets) are great but for true disorders or serious distress, they may not be enough.

One helpful technique is the “Emergency Bag or Box.” One of the worksheets in the link above is about this activity.

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When we are in serious distress, it can be difficult to think reasonably and see an effective, safe way to help ourselves at that moment and can be tempting to resort to things that can seem helpful then but really aggravate the situation or are detrimental later. One helpful technique is to keep an “Emergency bag” or “Soothe box” somewhere that is easy to access.

I don’t have a whole box or bag put together yet. I have things that help me cope with or prevent a depressive episode/suicidal thoughts/urges and help me to cope better with cluster-like headaches.

Here are some of my emergency or soothe things:

Scented candles, especially tropical scented – they don’t have to be lit
Hot tea
Buddhist Mala beads – they remind me to think of positive quotes and affirmations and are very helpful to me with the headaches
Gratitude journal
My six dogs
Art journal/painting
Scented body lotion
Positive songs
Photography – I like taking my own pictures and editing them or writing quotes onto the pics. And also looking at inspiring pics that aren’t mine.
Quote books
Stress ball – for coping with the headaches
Comedy movies
Positive/self help books
Sharing uplifting pictures or quotes to help others
Philosophy books/texts – sometimes even when I’m severely depressed, when I read complex, abstract texts, it takes my mind off it for a while and even uplifts me. It can be hard to concentrate but it’s ok, just the process of reading challenging material is helpful.
Blogs – uplifting blogs help me when I’m in a low mood or struggling with physical pain.

The idea is when you are experiencing a crisis or just in a low or agitated state of mind, to go to your box or bag or wherever you have your soothing/emergency objects and mindfully study or use them. What do they look like, feel like, smell like(if it’s safe to breathe it in), sound like, taste like (if it’s something you can taste)…?

If you choose to put on body lotion, for example, carefully tune into the experience. Feel the sensation of the lotion on your body. Is it hot, cold, sticky, soft….? What does it feel like on your hands and wherever you’re putting it on?

Tune into the environment around you. Use all of your senses and notice the information received by each one. Hear the sounds around you, feel the clothes against your body, taste the air on your tongue…

This mindfulness activity can help you with depression, anxiety, grief, physical pain, and any problem you may be experiencing.

Another idea is to write yourself an uplifting or comforting note or list. Maybe a list of inspiring quotes or note of encouragement. And put it into your box or bag for when you look into it next. Words by others can be very encouraging and inspiring but it can be especially inspiring to see positive words either that you yourself wrote or ones that someone else wrote that you once shared or felt or agreed with. To know you once felt that way and so have it in you to feel it again.

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These things help in a psychological way and can also affect brain chemistry in a positive way. We don’t just have to consume things like medication, alcohol, food…to affect the chemistry in the body/brain. Physical/mental activities interact with our brains as well. They can be a great supplement to medication or talk(or other kinds) therapy or both. Sometimes a combination of multiple things works best.

My heart goes out to anyone struggling with grief, depression, anxiety, physical pain/illness, suicidal urges or thoughts, or anything.

and someone somewhere knows exactly what it’s like to experience whatever you experience. We’re never alone even when it seems that way. ❤

Much love to you,

Xoxo Kim ❤

On Empathy

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“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” ~ Henry David Thoreau ❤

I have thin, super thin, psychological boundaries but I have learned to handle it well and I see it as a true gift and pure strength. Thin psychological boundaries means I often have difficulty emotionally separating myself and others. When someone suffers either physically or emotionally or experiences pleasure or joy, I feel almost as if it’s happening to me. It literally hurts me, even physically when someone else hurts. And elates me or fills me with sheer joy when someone else is thrilled or elated.  Even if the person isn’t someone I like much or someone I don’t know or even on TV or a fictional character in a book. 

One day a psychic program on TV was on in my house.  I don’t believe in psychic abilities or that psychics are real but it can still be interesting. 
I was sitting on the sofa while it was on and saw parts of it. 
The psychic lady said a lady’s neck was snapped by a murderer in some room in a house somewhere that the psychic lady was standing in and the psychic lady got all worked up saying she has to get out of there because she was so disturbed over what she “saw” and she said she “saw” marks on this lady’s neck and she was holding her own neck and my neck started throbbing and felt all bruised and my head and face started throbbing on the one side, the side where I usually have the cluster-like headaches, and I was holding it the rest of the day off and on! And I felt the dead lady’s neck injury and the psychic’s emotional distress all day. I know it was “empathy pain,” not really something wrong with my neck. Not an actual headache. I was still happy that day, it doesn’t usually overly interfere with my own life.  And I don’t believe what the psychic lady was saying but I believe she may have believed it. Or believed it to some extent. Or is great at acting.

 I felt so connected to that psychic lady, deeply connected. Both of us did not have a neck injury at all but both of us experienced both physical sensation and emotional distress over someone else’s painful situation. I often get “empathy headaches” when someone has a headache. I usually keep it to myself so as not to or appear to be taking the attention or sympathy off of the true sufferer. 
 
There have been occasions I was so overwhelmed over someone else’s pain or sickness I succumbed to my bed for an hour or more. I can handle emotional pain better than serious physical pain so it’s often the physical pain that overwhelms me more when someone else experiences it. Both kinds of pain can be just as bad and painful, it’s just that severe physical pain is more difficult to me. 

It’s ridiculous and a bit uncalled for to have empathy to this extreme. I can still be empathetic without going to this extreme but it’s not my choice. I don’t have it like some people are said to have to the point they’re almost “psychic” like they feel an overwhelming sense of dread then something terrible happens. Or their chest hurts then someone in the room has a heart attack. It’s just when someone is already suffering that I see of or read/hear about, I feel it too. 

Also, unlike with some people similar to me in this way, such as my sister, I don’t feel overwhelmed in crowded places or have to retreat to a place of being physically alone to “recharge” or recover. I can handle crowded places and various people all around me. In fact, I usually prefer it to being alone. I am an extrovert even though I’m very shy around people I don’t know or don’t know well. And I can be around many people and not have to come home and rest afterwards.  I feel energized and uplifted in a room full of people, even if I don’t interact with them in anyway.  Just being physically near people lifts me.

I used to see my extreme empathy as a blessing as well as a curse but now I just view it as a gift. While it can be exhausting, annoying, ridiculous, painful, feeling as One with others can’t be a “curse.”

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I can usually sense people’s true emotions even when they are lying or pretending. I usually catch micro-expressions (the split second facial expression people reveal right before they show a different one – it’s the true feeling before they pretend to feel something else or try to cover it up. If they are angry, for example, anger will briefly flash across the face before they put on a fake smile) easily and can often sense people’s anxiety, elation, or anticipation. Sometimes when one person in a crowded room is extremely anxious I pick up on it even if I don’t know which one it is. I can often sense the overall mood in a room full of people. Whether most people are happy, thrilled, anxious, in a hurry, gloomy….not just see it on their faces but actually feel/sense the energy. 

I also understand situations really well even if I’m not involved or never have been. I can just clearly imagine things happening and why. I have a deep understanding.

I think authors of fiction books need a very developed empathetic ability. I’m not talking about being caring and compassionate but a deep, thorough understanding of how situations work even if they never been in a similar one. An incredibly deep imagination. They have to get in the heads of various kinds of people, even people who are so very unlike themselves, to bring their characters to life if they want them to be of substance, realistic, well developed, and believable. They have to imagine, deeply, how certain situations play out and conjure up the emotions of those who would be in those situations even if they themselves were never in those situations. They have to put themselves in that place. It’s absolutely amazing the skills fiction writers have! I love it! 

It seems that we often overlook their incredible empathy. We often acknowledge their incredible writing skills and even their amazing intelligence, maybe even the fantastic research they had to do for the book’s theme, but look at that empathy! They can write an entire book as if they are that character or in the character’s head! Mind blowing! I don’t see/hear people praising this enough! It’s the same for actors who have to play characters and not just act, but feel, literally (mentally)  become a whole other person! Incredible! 

Empathy. 

 It runs deeper than just caring and compassion. Someone can still be caring and compassionate but not really *feel* or understand someone else’s situation.

And someone can experience a kind of empathy but not feel concern or compassion. For example: I feel the pain of others even just watching movies that aren’t real. There are scenes in movies where a “bad” character is getting hurt like getting hit over the head or something by someone trying to protect themselves or others and I felt like my own body was being hit even when I wasn’t feeling much compassion for the character, even when I was happy when a character was getting revenge.
I have experienced empathy without compassion and compassion without empathy. They often go together but not always.

There are occasions I was empathetic and understanding enough to know something I wanted to say or write to someone would emotionally hurt or infuriate  that person and I said or wrote it to intentionally inflict pain or anger upon the person out of my own anger. I was empathetic in some way but not very compassionate in those moments. My empathy led me to know to some degree how the person would feel and I wanted the person to feel anger or sadness or pain. This isn’t usually a good thing and I think empathy is better used to help heal, not hurt. We also need compassion. 

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Most people have a basic ability to experience empathy; it’s a natural human trait we have that develops as we are growing up. It’s related to compassion. Certain experiences can deepen some people’s empathy. Some are naturally more in touch with theirs than others. And we can learn to deepen our basic empathy into something more. Paying more attention to people and all sentient beings, tuning into our own emotions, drawing on our own various experiences, meditation, trying to better understand, imagining what it must be like to experience something, focusing on the fact that when we suffer or hurt it’s a similar feeling to what others feel when they suffer and hurt…

Empathy isn’t just feeling someone else’s pain but also experiencing another’s joy, happiness, and pleasure.

I have known people who won the lottery, like 100 or 1000 dollars, and I felt like I just won. When I hear of someone getting a new job, job promotion, getting married or engaged, having or adopting a child, getting ready for vacation, I feel it too. The thrill, the anxiety, the anticipation, the sheer joy, the love. I can’t be feeling it exactly how they are as I have my own body and mind/mental/emotional experiences. But I can strongly and deeply sense it.

There’s a definite and deep connection. 

It’s hard for me to get jealous (although I have experienced jealousy and probably will again) of people when great things happen to them when I can bask in the joy and beauty of their experiences almost as if it’s my own. When one person wins, we all win.

I think about things like this often and was recently thinking about it again when I saw the news at work. 

It was startling to see on the news that in some countries people are dying of infectious diseases in the streets.  When they are sick or injured they are left for dead. 

One man of an African country, the man who inspired me to write this post here, was shown on the news laying outside dying of an infectious disease. He was writhing in pain and sickness and laying in a puddle of his own blood, a result of the disease’s progression. 

There were people standing around watching, sure to keep their distance so as not to contract the disease themselves. And then there was the person filming the horror. 

Some moments my empathy or feeling of connectedness is deeper and some moments I don’t feel as connected to what is before me.

The moment I saw the sick, dying man in excruciating pain and sickness, I felt more connected. I felt it with my whole body. A longing to take all the sick, hurting, dying people in my arms so they can feel my touch before they go or before they heal. So they can know someone cares, even if I contract the disease myself. What I felt was both empathy and compassion, a perfect combination. Empathy can inspire greater compassion. 

Imagine laying sick and in pain while people surround you at a safe distance and watch, you’re still so alone. No one will touch you. No one is coming for you, until after you die, to remove your infected, contagious body. Imagine them all staring at you, fear in their eyes, utter helplessness. For some of them, all they can probably think is that they’re glad it isn’t them. Truly, deeply imagine. 

But I felt an instant connection to a stranger across the world, briefly flashing across a TV screen. Someone of a different language, a different country, a different nationality, different culture, skin color, ethnicity.

I have never been deathly ill or left for dead. I never been to his country but still I know that underneath we’re the same.

Strip away all the outer layers of culture and language and color of skin, distance, financial status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and other experiences and underneath at a most basic, primitive level, we are One.

Our basic humanness exists the same underneath no matter the color of our skin, our level of education, career labels, class status, our location in the world, financial situations, our various experiences…..these things are important in some contexts, they contribute to different experiences and struggles for different people and it’s not always good or wise to overlook them, it’s important to acknowledge their circumstances(skin color, country, ethnicity, status in other contexts…) so we can get a better idea of their struggles and pain that may be different than our own, but in some cases they are completely irrelevant. Like in the case of raw pleasure and pain, sickness and health, living and dying. 

I’m not advocating for general “color blindness” or anything of that sort, like saying we should all literally ignore our differences such as skin color or class status. That isn’t good either because then we overlook the unique experiences and struggles that someone in a different situation than us may have. 

If we mentally block out or ignore the color of someone’s skin, ethnicity, or other factors or characteristics that are different than ours, in the name of compassion or “all getting along” then we automatically mentally block out or ignore the struggles that come along with those factors or characteristics.
People who say things like “I only have one race, the human race” or “forget skin color, we’re all human or all bleed red and that’s all that matters…” or something like that, probably have very good, loving, intentions but promoting that and living that way is NOT helpful. 
Ignorance in this way, is NOT helpful or wise or a good thing. 
This can contribute to lack of empathy and understanding of people’s situations pertaining to their own circumstances different than ours. 
It’s ok, even necessary to acknowledge diversity but accept it. But in some cases differences are irrelevant. 

Any one of us can be in the position that sick and dying man was in, our country and our money and our education or language or ethnicity won’t definitely protect us against diseases or death. For some people, truly understanding and realizing this in their heads, can deepen their empathy and compassion for others. And it’s just as bad when it’s someone else as if it were myself or someone I know. Just because I don’t know him doesn’t mean he’s a less important person than someone I do know. Or less important than me. It doesn’t mean it’s good to just go my own way ignoring his suffering. 

Some people are more at risk than others because of their location or discrimination they encounter and some have access to better health care but none of us are immune to suffering or pain and dying of disease or injury. And none of us are immune to being targets of cruelty or the indifference of others against our suffering or pain or sickness. 

Another thing I saw recently that disturbed and actually offended me(and I’m not easily offended at all) is people getting all happy over some podcast about *real* murder victims. They were talking about how thrilling it is to watch or listen, how they can’t wait for the next ones, how it’s so exciting, how fascinating! Not once did I see any one of these people expressing sympathy/empathy or compassion or sorrow for the victims and their friends/family. These are REAL murder victims, flesh and blood, like us, like people we know, some of them children, some adults, who were brutally murdered in cold blood, some tortured, raped/sexually assaulted, destroyed and discarded like they were nothing, not characters in a book or movie or story, real people. I understand taking interest in these stories but no one here displayed sympathy in even the most subtle way, not even an underlying hint of concern for those involved in the devastation, expressed in their tone. It was all just pure pleasure for their own benefit of sitting around listening to it and having fun while drinking coffee all warm and cozy at home. It made me cringe.  

I don’t believe for a second that these happy people who “can’t wait” for the next podcasts about homicide victims, these people who are “so thrilled” over victims murdered in cold blood, tortured and thrown away like trash on the side of the road, are horrible people or sadists, or that they aren’t generally loving and compassionate and empathetic. They may not be, generally, any less caring or empathetic than I am. I don’t believe they were taking pleasure in the pain itself that the victims endured.  It’s the mystery and thrill they get to experience, secure and embraced in the comfort of their own safe homes in their pj’s with their cups of coffee.

 But they were too “detached” in my opinion, in this, here, case. It’s complete thoughtlessness. They were too wrapped up in their own lives and pleasure they put up too much of a barrier. So much so, they are thrilled over real murder victims. It hurt me to witness and I know if it were their own friends and family members or themselves abducted, murdered, targets of rape and other sexual violence, it wouldn’t be so thrilling. They wouldn’t be so eager to see what’s next. I can just imagine a devastated person close to one of those poor victims reading that people are sitting around getting off of the violent, senseless deaths of the people they knew and love. It’s dangerous to let ourselves become numb to the real tragedy, suffering, and pain of others. Even when those are people we only see through a glass screen on a tv or voices we hear through a phone, radio, or words we read through a computer monitor. Even just distant echoes of pain that come to us through some invisible radio waves in the air. Those are real people. That is real suffering. 

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I think it’s important to always tune in to our empathy and compassion whether or not we have ever experienced something similar to what someone else has. And whether or not we know those people well or at all. We do know they are someone, someone just like us. 
Like us, they have/had a name, a story, a dream or goal, needs, and desires, love, joy, pain, sorrow, and happiness. 

Let us be happy for those who are well and happy and successful and full of joy and have compassion, concern, understanding, and empathy for those sick, injured, and in pain, dying, grieving, struggling in any way. But we don’t have to not allow ourselves to be happy because other people are struggling. It’s ok to be happy for our own blessings. Gratitude guilt is not necessary. It won’t help anyone or anything. Dragging ourselves down or not allowing ourselves joy, thankfulness, or happiness, just because others are not well will not contribute to overall goodness to the world, all it does is put more unhappiness or suffering into the world. 

And also, one day we may not be as fortunate in the ways we are now so there’s no need to feel guilty anyway just because we are well and others aren’t. As I said, none or us are immune to tragedy and pain. Next week my house can burn down, you may experience the break up of a close relationship, someone we know can die, we can be diagnosed with a terminal illness….But no matter what, there’s always something to be thankful for and happy about, even in pain, chaos, destruction, grief, depression, anxiety, homelessness… 

I think we do need some emotional boundaries but not too thick. A healthy kind of detachment is good to prevent burnout, exhaustion, being overwhelmed…. but not when it’s blocking our empathy and attempts at true understanding to some level. Not when we are so detached we forget the real suffering and pain of others. Not when we’re so detached, we feel pleasure associated with someone else’s horror or painful circumstances. 

It’s great to experience gratitude for our own happy circumstances and everything but not good, in my opinion, to get so wrapped up in it we forget about those who aren’t so fortunate now, in the ways we currently are, or tune out the depth or degree of their pain.

Empathy won’t always cure diseases or take away someone’s pain and it likely won’t help us in one country be able to immediately help someone dying in another country. But it can motivate us to reach out in some way, maybe to people physically near us who appear to be struggling or people we know online, or reach out to write to people with more power than us, like politicians or people in charge of something related to the issue at hand, or ones who have good things happening to them and we can share in their joy, letting them know how happy we are for them, how proud or thrilled for their accomplishments or fortunate situations, maybe to write a comforting message to someone in need, maybe just to share a link with info about a health condition or situation that needs awareness, to bring more awareness to it and help educate more people. And maybe someone with more resources can see what we share or post and help in ways that we cannot yet help. 

Instead of merely thinking “I’m glad it’s not me” or “that could have been me…” and just going about our own lives forgetting the pain of someone else, we can still feel gratitude for our own fortunate situations but extend our empathy and compassion and realize it’s just as bad when it happens to someone else. It’s realistic to expect people to be thankful some tragedy or unpleasant circumstance is not happening to them but everyone is someone just as important as ourselves and our own friends and family and they feel suffering and happiness the same way too.  We can shift our focus a bit – instead of just being thankful we, ourselves are ok, we can focus more on compassion for those who are struggling in any way.

~Hug the hurt
Comfort the sick

Kiss the broken
Befriend the lost
Love the lonely~ 

And when something amazing happens to someone, even if we wish it would happen to us, instead of resentment, we can bask in that person’s happiness. 

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Deeper empathy along with compassion can help decrease all kinds of things, bullying, cyber bullying, unjust discrimination, sexual violence, other forms of cruelty(against all sentient beings), apathy, even wars and stuff if enough people around the world including those in various governments would better tune into and develop their own empathy and compassion.

Empathy & compassion are great for practical purposes but they also are just amazing traits to possess. They make us better for them. I’m no better than someone who is less compassionate or with less developed empathy but I believe it’s better to have those abilities than not. I’m not better than a sadist, a murderer, a psycho or sociopath with no empathy, but I believe those people would be better people than they are now, in another way if they develop their empathy and compassion.

Not everything is just for practical purposes or actions. Sometimes it’s intentions or just what we are, our essence that counts for something and is beautiful. 

Empathy & compassion, especially a combination of both, can inspire and motivate us to act, reach out to others in some way whether just a simple act of comforting words or volunteering time or money for a specific cause or even just inspire us to hold our tongues when we feel like lashing out or motivating us to proactively speak out against someone else’s callousness, which can have a positive effect. 

Let us remember when we see someone suffering whether it’s emotional or physical pain that is the root of it, human or not, that it’s a very similar feeling that we would feel if it were us. This can make it more real to us and motivate us to reach out in some way, even in the most simplest way, a warm smile, a gentle touch, a kind word…even if it’s not similar to what we ourselves would feel, it’s still important to be empathetic and compassionate but realizing how similar we are underneath can help deepen our empathy. 

And let us not be overly jealous of those who are experiencing joy, happiness, and success even if we are not. Let their accomplishments and happiness inspire and motivate us, not contribute to us being depressed or jealous. It’s best for all of us when we are happy for and encouraging to one another. Let’s celebrate each other and bask in each other’s happiness and success and fortunes. 

There’s enough happiness to go around. 😀

Here are some links about Metta (universal love/compassion) & Empathy.

This explains what Metta is, the benefits, and the importance of cultivating an attitude or lifestyle which has Metta at its core.

http://www.wildmind.org/metta/introduction/what-is-metta

Another explanation of Metta.

http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_in.htm

Here, the link below this, is fascinating research on the brain and empathy. Research reveals that when we are happy and things are going well, we are less likely to empathize with those not so happy or well. We are likely to perceive their pain or suffering as less than it really is. When we ourselves are not doing well, we better empathize with others. We are more likely to validate or realize the seriousness of someone else’s pain or low feelings. In fact, we’re more likely to evaluate someone else’s happiness as less than it really is when we ourselves are not happy. I suspected this before learning of this research. I saw evidence of this in certain situations including the happy people in warm, pj’s at home, drinking coffee while being thrilled over real murder mysteries and not expressing empathy, sympathy, or compassion for those involved.

There is good news. We don’t have to make ourselves suffer to empathize with others. Empathy & compassion are not fixed. 
Compassionate and empathetic people can become less compassionate and empathetic (so it’s important to regularly maintain our empathy and compassion) and those who are not very empathetic and compassionate can become more empathetic and compassionate. 
Some suggestions to maintain or develop empathy, compassion, and an attitude of kindness are meditation, routine mindfulness activities, volunteering to help others, meditating/imagining ourselves in pain and knowing others feel that too…

It’s also suggested that vigorous physical exercises can help deepen a person’s empathy. These exercises can feel physically uncomfortable and help us realize more what it’s like for others who are hurting in some way.
Let’s not go overboard and exercise so much it’s unhealthy but a reasonable dose of routine aggressive exercise can be quite healthy, both physically and emotionally. 

It’s important to do all we can to care for ourselves, be happy, be healthy, be grateful, but keep in touch with the suffering or pain of others.  

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy

Desktop link to a video for a lovingkindness meditation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz7cpV7ERsM&app=desktop

Mobile version of the same video:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sz7cpV7ERsM&app=m&persist_app=1
 
Even if you are already a very loving and kind person in general, you and the world can still benefit by practicing this meditation or ones like it. Meditation is calm and soothing and even if we are already or are naturally very compassionate and loving, we can still experience setbacks and it’s important to maintain whatever attitude or lifestyle we want to generally live. Like working out, we must keep up with it to keep it going strong. 
Even if we are naturally a certain way, we can strengthen it by making it more intentional and consciously applying it or deepening it.
It takes some practice and maintaining but is well worth it! 

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May you be well.
May you be happy. 
May you be peaceful.
May you be loved.
 
Xoxo Kim





My (somewhat recent) Dream {you can be greater than anything that can happen to you}

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As I posted here previously, I have vivid dreams that I frequently remember. Sometimes they’re inspirational.
My dreams aren’t usually bad, negative, or scary. They’re often strange. Bizarre beyond comprehension. And when not bizarre beyond belief, usually just quite ordinary like an extension of a normal day.  But I can often gather little parts of them, bizzare or not, that can be analyzed or interpreted. I like my dreams. They seem so real. And I love that I remember them so easily, I even remember dreams I had years ago.
My dreams are so profound and so intense, like I can experience my emotions in my dreams just as strongly as during my waking hours. 

I believe that dreams are usually just stuff we have been thinking about consciously or unconsciously whether it’s important or not so much. I think it’s often just our brains releasing everyday stuff in symbols or images as we sleep. Like a kind of replenishment. I think sometimes we have certain dreams for a certain reason that we aren’t consciously aware of. Some deep, seemingly unreachable, part of the Self is attempting to reveal something.  I love the mystery of dreams and I think they often try to take unconscious thoughts and put them into the conscious mind.

Sometimes I know things unconsciously that I don’t realize in my waking hours. These messages come to me during my slumber and I’m often blessed enough to carry the message out of the dream and into my wakening. 

In another post I mentioned that I have a recurring dream while I sleep sometimes, when I’m depressed and suicidal or having suicidal thoughts. The dream is someone chasing me and trying to kill me and in my dream I want so desperately to live and will do almost anything to survive. I’m passionate about living. My desire to live in this dream is overwhelming and I would do almost anything to save myself. This is a dream I usually only have when I’m depressed and having some degree of suicidal thoughts.

I believe it’s my unconscious mind letting me know I really do want to live, deep inside I want to live, not to listen to and give into the deadly thoughts and urges, that the depression is deceiving me into thinking I should die. The depression is clouding my Truth. My Truth is pure like sparkling white snow glistening on a cold Winter day. But depression comes along like a speeding truck headed straight for me, leaving tracks of mud upon my pure Truth. But no matter how much mud and soil and sludge it leaves upon my Truth, my inner self, my Truth and my authentic Self is still pure and sparkling, still fierce, still strong. No pain can take that. My Truth is that life is always a blessing even when it doesn’t feel so, that there’s always beauty and hope and something to carry on for, something to smile about and be thankful for even when pain or circumstances are overwhelming. No matter how much it hurts. Even when it feels like it will never get better, like all hope is lost. My truth is that I have a purpose and always will. My truth is that I want to live to inspire anyone I can, to share my own story, my happiness and sadness, my joy and pain, my beauty and my uglines, my strength and my weakness,and bring hope and healing to anyone in need.

A few months ago, I have been depressed again and had another dream. I dreamed that someone died. A woman named Angie. She’s not someone I know for real, I don’t know where my mind got her. I don’t think she’s based on a real person that I know of. But I read a fact about dreams that says when we see faces in our dreams they are people we once saw in our reality whether we remember seeing them or not, even if those people were never significant in our lives, even if we saw the face only once, and even if we haven’t seen them in decades. Our brain can’t make up faces. 

The faces/people we dream may not, in the dream, be based on who they really are in reality. It’s just the same physical face/appearance, nothing more necessarily. The example I read is that as a child we may have watched a man pumping gas into our dad’s car then years later dream of a serial killer and it’s the man pumping the gas! His face! Lol So while the face is real he wasn’t necessarily really a serial killer, he was just a man pumping gas whose face made it into a dream years later and the brain made him a serial killer. In the dream the serial killer isn’t that man we remember pumping gas at one point. It’s that our brain just took his face to incorporate into a dream.
Now, I have absolutely no clue how true this is. And if it’s true I have no idea how someone found this out. How does someone know our brains can’t make up faces that never existed? Maybe it’s common sense how someone knows but I’m lacking that common sense or maybe some research reveals it somehow. Some kind of neuroscience? It’s fascinating but I don’t know much about it. I did go to college for psychology and took many brain classes, even held an actual human brain in my hands, along with a spinal cord. My professor had/has a human brain collection in her basement. They float around in jars of fluid. Lol please don’t ask because I don’t know! 

She’s some kind of brain researcher in a lab and keeps the brains for her own entertainment. I would too! Lmao
This sounds like something out of some kind of science fiction or horror movie but it’s reality. So yeah.
I don’t remember over half the shit I learned back then. But it’s ok at least I’m humble enough to admit it! ;-D
It’s funny because sometimes I dream about this fact about dreams and faces that I’m not sure is really a fact. Lol
As a matter of fact, it’s only in a dream that I remember first learning it! 
I don’t remember learning this “fact”/fact while awake. I dreamed about learning this then one day I woke up and thought it was just some weird thing I dreamed out of nowhere. Then I looked it up and saw it’s actually said to be a fact! So I must have learned it and forgot but my unconscious self remembered and had it tucked away until I fell asleep one night.
I haven’t found any reliable sources to support it.
So anyway, if this is true, Angie in my dream who died, must be real since I saw her clearly in my dream. Maybe her name isn’t really Angie. 
Maybe in reality she’s not who she was in my dream. And hopefully she never really died.

Maybe I saw her on a bus one day years ago or in a class in college or in a picture on Facebook….who knows?
But in my dream she died. In my dream I did not know her well at all but the news of her death devastated me. This isn’t quite a stretch or unrealistic as in my reality I find the death of someone to be devastating, even the death of people/animals I hardly know or don’t know at all. Of course, it’s not as deep as for people who actually knew the person/animal but I am just filled with sorrow over the losses I hear of. I can see on the news that someone died or I read a Facebook status and am somewhat somber the rest of the day off and on or even the next few days. It’s not always equal for every one that I see. Some things hit harder for whatever reason.
But in my dream I was in a room full of people who all knew the woman who died. I don’t know where I was in the dream but in the dream it made sense. I think it may have been inspired my the building of the mental health clinic I go to for medication. There were big wooden tables and chairs, like lunchroom tables,  and a lady in charge….in charge of what I don’t know…., she was going around to different people with a clipboard and paper and pen and when she got to me we sat on the chairs, facing each other. I was grieving and felt a kind of fear and I sensed this woman before me was trying to push the problem under the rug, not wanting to talk about the issue directly or in depth because it was painful and uncomfortable.
She asked me questions I can’t remember. She wrote down my answers. I even remember the paper in the dream, clearly. It was white with black text and black boxes to write the answers in. 

Then the last question she asked me I do remember. She said something like: “What is the one quote you want to live by, choose a quote you truly believe in, one that is important, a quote you want to be the foundation for your life?” I thought about it for a few seconds and almost instantly a quote popped into my head. For real I was depressed and in my dream I was depressed and grieving. When I’m depressed I often have certain insecurities thinking I’m not good enough for anything or anyone and in my dream that’s how I felt.
I was afraid to answer. Feeling as if my answer wouldn’t be good enough. Just because it’s my answer, because nothing about me is ever good enough, it seems. I don’t always feel this way, only sometimes, especially when I’m depressed. And in the dream I felt this.
In reality I was feeling a bit hopeless. 
It carried over into my dream.
And the quote that came to me in my dream:
“You can be greater than anything that can happen to you.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

I told the dream lady(who I must have also seen in my waking hours if that fun fact is in fact true, but I don’t remember her either, in my reality) and she happily wrote it down. She seemed impressed and she said to me “Now, you always remember that, don’t you ever forget it.”
And then I woke up.
I was and still am in awe of the beauty my brain creates when I sleep.
Of course my brain did not make up this quote. If only…lol if only my slumbering brain were THAT brilliant!
This is one of my favorite quotes that helps remind me whenever something bad happens, whenever I’m in pain of any kind, depressed, struggling with insecurities or painful memories of any past event or day, grief, struggling with tmjd “cluster headaches”….that no matter what it is, I can be greater if I let myself. I can be greater than anything that can happen to me. No matter how painful or devastating or tragic or sad. I have the power within to rise above it. And that goes for you as well. We can all be greater than anything that can happen to us. We don’t have to give our power to other people, situations, events, pain, things, or anything. Generally and ultimately, no circumstance, no person, no thing has power over you unless you allow it.
We have the power over ourselves. 

In some special cases, people do have the power to control us, situations get the best of us but in the long run, overall, we have the power over ourselves. We can choose to take it back when it seems to be taken away and pro-act.

Sometimes I let my pain, both physical and emotional, repress my Truth. I let it conquer me and my life’s philosophy. I let everything else, everything I know to be true to me, take the back burner and my pain prevail. But then it comes to me in my sleep because it never really left me. It’s still my Truth. It was there all along. And my dreams remind me… 

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I encourage you to listen to your dreams and your truth. Not everyone can remember their dreams at all or enough to interpret them or glean any inspirational or useful insights but if you do remember them, it’s possible a part of you deep inside is trying to tell you something. Listen. Listen to your inner Self. Not just your dreams while you sleep but your waking Truth. 
You may have values, opinions, philosophies, virtues that you generally firmly believe in or live by or want to honor and live up to eventually if you don’t already. But pain, either physical or emotional, situations, unpleasant experiences can cloud those truths and they become muddled and repressed and the pain becomes your truth instead. 
Maybe the pain tells you you can’t go on or that there’s no reason to. Maybe it tells you you’re worthless or that there’s no hope, no point, no purpose, no beauty, nothing but pain. Maybe it tells you that you aren’t good enough, beautiful enough, not equal to everyone else. Maybe it’s just so painful it feels like you have to die to end the pain, whether physical or emotional, or just curl up in solitude and give up on everything.

You can find and develop your Truth and authentic Self through reflecting, thinking, tuning in, meditating, writing, looking for evidence throughout your every day and your whole life to see what you really believe deep within, think about how you handle or have handled various situations and how you felt about the situations and how you handled them(were you sorry you reacted a certain way? Proud of your actions? Was there some sense of dissonance with how you reacted and how you felt? Did the two match up?), think about how you really feel deep inside around certain people, in certain circumstances, reaching out to others, photography if it’s your interest, searching through books, magazines, images and words and seeing what jumps out at you. What captures your heart and resonates with you? It doesn’t matter if you know why something captures you or not or if you never knew something appeals to you til now. Your deeper self knows. I got this idea off of author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, searching through magazines, stores, catalogs without the intention to buy anything, just listen closely and see what calls to you, what clothes, objects, jewelry, vacations, people… call to you? Which ones tug at your deepest parts? Which ones make your pulse speed a bit faster? Which ones make you tingle all over?….glue pictures to paper or a journal and it’s your self discovery journal/journey….keep up with it often to keep in touch with your deep inner Self who may be buried beneath layers of expectations of others or society as a whole or yourself that you think you should be, buried beneath fear, anxiety, pain, and anything else. 

Your pain is very real. But pain clouds our judgment making it not sound so we forget our authentic Self and our deeper Truth. Don’t listen to that pain when it deceives you. Definitely listen to your pain, tend to it, embrace it if you can, accept it, let it teach you and strengthen you and deepen your wisdom, but not conquer you and delude you. That’s not you. It’s part of you for sure, maybe even a significant loud part that screams in your eardrums, screams in your face. But screaming and throbbing and being loud doesn’t make it true. The true you is what deserves to be honored even when your Truth isn’t screaming and loud. It’s quiet and gentle and calm and warm and deep, whispering  inside but it’s evermore worthy of being honored than that loud, screaming pain that demands you to give up and lose all hope and joy. It’s more powerful than pain and delusions, quiet and gentle as it is.

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Sarah Ban Breathnach is amazing! I love her and she’s one of my greatest heroes, though I never met her in person. I would love to though! The book I referred to above with the self-discovery activity is “Something More – Excavating Your Authentic Self.” She also mentions self exploration and authentic Self activities in her book “Simple Abundance.”

Her books are mostly directed at women but they really can help anyone.

I wish you much love, hope, healing, happiness, and joy. And I hope you will always make the choice to honor your deeper self, your authentic Self, your Truth. Even when other people don’t like the true you, even when it’s hard to honor yourself. Always choose life, always choose you.

Xoxo Kim