It was mentioned to me a few weeks ago by my friend and co-writer, Rachel Lynn Brody. “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” She didn’t elaborate on it, but she didn’t need to. (I’ve since discovered that the phrase is an old Polish proverb.) Since then the phrase has been popping up in my head as a convenient shortcut to this constellation of ideas: Compassion isn’t about absorbing other people’s angst. Empathy isn’t about taking on other people’s shit. Kindness isn’t about trying to fix other people’s problems. I can be calm in the midst of other people having crises. I can be helpful and useful without bearing someone’s cross for them. I can be in the midst of a shit-storm and not take it personally. And it’s not about being remote or detached in a negative and unfeeling manner. It’s more about being appropriately calm and present-minded, even when someone else is flipping out. It’s what in Seminary they call ‘a non-anxious pastoral presence’.
So what do you think? How easy is it for you to keep your cool when you’re around people who have gotten upset about something? Have you been able to balance empathy and your own sense of groundedness?
One of the things that I sometimes remind myself, when I struggle with just that in the midst of an interaction is this: You are more than this anger, this outrage, this pain. Even if you can’t sense it right now, you’re really pure spirit and I’ll hold on to that thought for you while you rage. And I’ll love you the best I can.