Sympathy, Snow and a Robin

Recently, in the lead up to Christmas, I travelled from Australia to the UK to attend the funeral of a close family member. I had been working through a natural sense of physical loss prior to my trip, and so I was feeling a gentle sense of acceptance within myself as I undertook the long journey north to celebrate the passing of this person’s life.

Travel protocols and security require us at several stages of air travel to declare our reasons for travel, and we often converse with fellow travellers and share our reasons for making such a long trip.

When I shared that I was attending a funeral, the first and immediate response from people was to connect deeply with themselves and with me. However, what I began to notice is that after a short while, this turned into sympathy, expressing how they felt sorry for me. This began to sever the connection we had established at the start and it was immediately evident how this emotion separated us.

For example, one remarkably consistent comment was, “Well, at least it might snow for Christmas.” Another person also added, “…and you may get to see a robin.”

What I began to observe was that these responses came in after I did not go into sympathy myself or follow suit by feeling sorry for myself.

An incongruity arose because I was not holding myself as a victim of this circumstance, a natural part of life, but felt that it was simply this person’s time to pass on. I surely mourned the loss of the specific relationship we had and the loss of the physical presence of the deceased: this too felt like a natural, ‘clean’ expression of loss.

However, I had no need of drawing pity from others, or of wanting to make myself a focal point of attention by having others feel sorry for me.

I was at peace with the passing of my relative and I found the imagery of the snow and the robin to be a strange non sequitur to the conversation, and what had initially felt like a heartfelt connection seemed to turn into more of a mental conversation of sharing happy thoughts.

The image of a snow-covered landscape with a red-breasted robin was one I had seen on many Christmas cards throughout my childhood in the UK. The anticipation of it snowing on Christmas Day is a huge part of the lead in to Christmas; snow is romantically idealised as being the feature that makes the perfect Christmas.

These pictures have been consistently shared through the postal system since Victorian times so this idealistic picture comes with close to 200 years of romance attached to it. That is a lot of energy when one considers the amount of mental aspiration, wishes and fantasies that would have accompanied this image during that time, all validated, confirmed, embellished and contributed to by literally millions (or billions) of people.

What I began to feel in this situation was that this potent imagery, as well as the socially expected and endorsed response of sympathy, were overriding the initial opportunity to connect and to share an event that touches all of us.

From this situation I understood two very significant factors:

  • Initially there is an attempt to connect with another on the subject of passing on or death. However, if either person is not open to receiving love, there is a very distinct turning away from the initial impulse to connect through Love, and then sympathy follows superfast on the tail of this turning away. I could sense it was anticipated that I would feel bereft and abandoned and that life at that point had become futile. However, my actual feelings were that it was the right time for this person to pass on (not pass away, pass on), that they had been sick for some time and that this was the next part of an ongoing cycle for them. I felt that holding them in love was truly supportive of them, my family and myself. Going into sympathy would have made this love appear ‘wrong,’ so I was left with the conclusion that sympathy is what we ‘do’ in the avoidance of this Love.
  • We often seem to have a tendency to use ideals and images, to distract ourselves in potentially emotionally charged situations like this one, to give us something to aspire to for the future – to give us a future. This takes us out of the present moment and the opportunity to connect, and into our minds.

I was touched that ‘strangers’ should want to connect with me. However, I also saw clearly that, perhaps collectively, we use sympathy and mental energy – ideals and pictures with great longevity – to distract us from the truth of a situation.

Which leaves me (and all of us) with some probing questions to ask.

Why would we substitute sympathy for Love, especially in the area of someone’s passing on?

What would happen if we had more understanding about our cycle of physical life and passing on, rather than believing that once we draw our last physical breath, that’s it – we are gone?

Of course we are going to feel sorry for each other if we believe that our close family is gone forever! Is it possible, though, that this is not actually true?

That the actual truth is that we are all ongoing and that in our ongoing-ness, we have no need for sympathy, only the acceptance and the celebration of the next part of our cycle?

If this were the case, then sympathy could most likely be the very tool that would inhibit our absolute acceptance and understanding of this; sympathy could well be what cements us into this belief that we end forever, that we pass away, rather than that we pass on to the next phase of our ever unfolding, divinely sustained life.

by Coleen Hensey

Further Reading:
Comfort
To Observe and Not Absorb
Reincarnation – Taking Responsibility for the Next Time Around

743 thoughts on “Sympathy, Snow and a Robin

  1. It seems that for many our automatic response when we hear of a death is to go into sympathy. To know that we pass over and that it is not the end is something we don’t talk about enough. Death is a sensitive subject and not everyone wants to talk about it but it is an inevitable fact. If we were taught from young that death is not the end we would grow up with a much better understanding of what happens to us all. I had always felt from young that we don’t just die and that death was not the end so I feel we do know as children but we get caught up in the emotional ties as we get older.

  2. What you offer us is true ponder on our responsibility; how we have taken them or not, and or have we have a relationship with either responsibility or not. And to feel the oh so clear truth that once we allow emotion in, we lack in connection. And that if we express in emotions we actually leave connection behind. Love the example, so raw and real. And what you share in this sentence is blowing our minds all away: ‘This began to sever the connection we had established at the start and it was immediately evident how this emotion separated us.’
    Thank you Coleen, by the whole of humanity for enriching us , our world with truth..

  3. Fantastic to become more aware of the things we bring into our relationships that get in the way of simple connection with each other.

  4. Sympathy in this instance does seem like a block to delve further. I enjoyed your words on how sympathy also comes in when love is not chosen. The thing about love is that it brings forth so much wisdom, with that wisdom we know so much, for example, we just innately know that life does not end, so death is a new cycle beginning. In that love and wisdom, there is much responsibility for self and others.

  5. Thank you Coleen for a great article leaving me much to ponder on. I feel sympathy comes party because there is lack of understanding of the cycles of life, that death is not the end as many think but that reincarnation is part of a system of evolution.

  6. So when we reject love, we allow other things like sympathy to drop in, and your sharing has made that very clear Coleen, and given me a clearer understanding of what sympathy is, and how in fact we are falling into images with this, rather than just holding that connection and accepting what is presented by life. For in fact sympathy and images are ways we do not accept and embrace the cycles of life, in death and passing on and otherwise, if we can let these go and just stay with what is felt it offers us a possibility to accept with grace with life offers us no matter what the circumstances, and that is in fact Love.

  7. I recently attended the funeral of a family member. The family is often in a lot of tension with many family members not talking to each other and long held conflicts in place. At the funeral and around this death these tensions dropped away momentarily and everyone came together, spoke to each other and you could feel the opportunity to let go of this as you realise carrying the hostility is not worth it. Observing the passing of another can sometimes make you stop, reflect and offer new opportunities for how you live your life.

  8. Seeing death as a celebration of one life lived and a beginning of another is something that is not so often discussed in today’s society. If the death of a loved one was shared more honestly and openly with our friends and families it would alleviate the sympathy and remorse that settles in and offer a much deeper space to reflect, enjoy and honour the love, life and celebration of our amazing living cycle.

  9. Well said Coleen, sympathy keeps us stuck in the illusion and belief that death is it instead of appreciating and accepting the end of a cycle and the reflection that the loved one offered us throughout their life.

    1. I agree Anna – ‘..sympathy keeps us stuck in the illusion and belief…’
      No matter what that belief if, the moment we choose sympathy we are actually choosing to not be aware of the bigger picture and the choices that person is making.

  10. Sympathy in any situation is undermining, as we feel the person who is subject to our sympathy is in a lesser state than ourselves and cannot handle the situation they are in, whatever the situation….in subtle and not so subtle ways this makes them feel less/unable and us feel more capable…..there is no love, equality or true connection in any form of sympathy.

    1. I was just speaking with someone about this yesterday, how we may feel uncomfortable when we really feel into what we are imposing on another when we sympathize, but that it is far more loving and supportive to see it for what it is and that we are all equal.

  11. Your words here Coleen beautifully articulate how there is an energetic quality that the truth has – anything else just doesn’t match up. We like to think we can say anything and ‘get away’ with it but that’s simply not the reality. The supercool thing is we can tell whether something is true or not by just listening to our body.

  12. ” That the actual truth is that we are all ongoing and that in our ongoing-ness, we have no need for sympathy, only the acceptance and the celebration of the next part of our cycle? ” If this were truly understood, that there is no end to us, simply a continuing cycle of life and death, it would immeasurably change how we viewed and lived our lives.

  13. It is true that there would be a totally different experience of the death of a loved one and of ourselves if we fully embraced this as simply another stage of someone’s evolution, that we pass on as you share not away, forever gone. When we allow ourselves to connect soul to soul you can do this with the living and those that have passed over.

  14. Death “passing away” and “passing on” they appear pretty similar but bring different images and reflections to them. The ‘away’ feels completely different to the ‘on’ in that it seems not to have an end but a beginning, the on feels more like a cycle. I know it may seem minor but from this article I will be more careful with how I use these words. I know I have shared many ‘away’s’ with people over the years and now the ‘on’ will be in use. It never made sense to me growing up, about death. What, you live and then die and you’re gone? I just couldn’t get my head around it and while I asked questions for a while it then went into the “it’s just a part of life” box that still didn’t give it any sense but just parked it out of view. This makes sense and also where I build awareness to the “cycle of physical life”, “What would happen if we had more understanding about our cycle of physical life and passing on, rather than believing that once we draw our last physical breath, that’s it – we are gone?”

  15. It is clear to me that we use sympathy to avoid feeling the love that is so abundant in everything and in all of us and actually is the ultimate binding factor in our human relationships. When we allow this love to be part of our lives we are also asked to be intimate, vulnerable and transparent which is sometimes too much and instead we go to sympathy to not have to feel this love we actually are looking for all our life.

  16. When we express sympathy for another we perceive them as being lacking in strength to deal with some life situation or other, and through us going into sympathy we often miss out on a golden opportunity to share truth and to deepen our connection with them.

  17. I see emotions like hooks – we can be bated by them and get sucked into the story or the want to enjoin in a feeling with someone – or, we can hold steady in the knowing of who we are and that emotions are a misunderstanding of what is actually going on. From there, we offer a different point of reflection for people that is not entwined with emotional upset.

  18. I agree Coleen! We don’t want sympathy, we would rather celebrate and appreciate what it was that this person had to offer the world.

  19. Going into sympathy is a good marker that we have contracted, making ourselves small to make others feel comfortable…but what truly serves another is expressing our natural divinity.

  20. Sympathy feels awful on the receiving end and even awful going into it myself. A lot of the time it is ourselves sympathizing with ourselves if we were in the other person’s shoes. This serves no one.

  21. I am reading this blog for advice and some guidance for attending a funeral for someone who suicided. I can already sense the dark emotion-laden room full of questions as to why and the feeling that someone other than themselves needs to be responsible; this was a previous experience for me! I will be myself and hold my light in a room that I am sure will be filled with darkness.

  22. I agree that sympathy and also the belief that we have to go into sympathy when there is a death drives a wedge between people. To go into sympathy you have to see the other person as somehow missing something or worse off than you. This judgment creates an inequality and stops us from feeling that we are complete, whole and equal at all times, whether we choose to feel it or not.

  23. People often feel awkward and don’t know what to say to people who have had an event occur such as a death that they interpret as being a negative experience. In such situations, they often resort to the ‘endorsed response of sympathy’. In my experience sympathy feels like a heavy shroud which wants to smother me and if I stay steady and do not become party to it people often see that it is not needed and feel relieved that we can speak openly about the situation without emotion. If we buy into it, we are further cemented in the belief that we are a victim and we use the situation as a form of selfish identification, getting a perverse enjoyment from being the centre of attention.

  24. Anything we use to substitute love with will never give any satisfaction to our being and will keep us going round and round in circles.

  25. Interesting to view sympathy from the point of love and the ongoingness of our lives, that it is deliberately keeping us away from this fact, keeping our emotions running the show. It is trough leaving sympathy that we can truly connect and see the path that life takes and see it as an ever ongoing way to learn and return back to our essence.

  26. Sympathy seems to stem from us wanting everything to be ok. We have an image of what “ok” is – we don’t want others to feel sad for example. But this is such containing of someone and doesn’t allow for them to move through what life presents. It’s like we want to protect them from life – but this never serves any one and in fact is quite imposing. Basically we are saying that we don’t think they can cope.

  27. Great observation Coleen. Sympathy is a friend to many who are avoiding a deeper connection and understanding of life, and we have all had a tendency to not want another to feel sadness and quite happily fill them with joyful imagery in a false attempt to put them out of any pain we perceive them to have. Both cases are neither a support or true love, but merely another step away from a deeper love that we can truly offer.

  28. Sympathy is a very deceptive emotion that is so full of pity and the mentality of misfortune that it drains us of any wisdom that will bring true clarity, understanding and compassion to any experience.

  29. Thank you for sharing Coleen. Your experience highlights the lack of connection that many people accept as being ‘normal’. When you make it about connection you give yourself, and everyone you connect with, an opportunity to feel how grand we really are.

  30. What I have observed recently is that whenever there is a sense of loss… it could be a relationship breakup and we are holding onto them we can potentially attract sympathy because we have not accepted the situation in full knowing that in this case the relationship has ended and we are to enter into the next cycle that supports both parties to evolve. As I observed I realised I had a choice either to go into sympathy or be with me. Although I initially felt sympathy and the feeling of being pulled into the other’s story it wasn’t long before I clocked what was going on and brought myself back to me because I know that by connecting to me I am being love.

  31. We are here with each other in this great ‘soup’ of life until such a time that we feel how natural it is to be openly connected with each other and how unnatural it is to live in separation to this.

  32. When we go into sympathy with another we contract, feel less and ‘needed’. As you have pointed out Coleen what truely serves another is if we express our love, tenderness and divinity, thus making a true connection

  33. I find it particularly interesting, that as is shared here, when we initially share a loss of a loved one that there is an immediate sense of those you are sharing with being very real, still and present with you. Then there is that point that many get to, that ‘oh my, what do I say in this situation’ the point where they feel uncomfortable in their own steadiness, that naturally supports, that something has to be said or done. In a way it is true, but the ‘what do I do in this situation’ is not about what was shared, it is about ‘what do I do with my own natural tender loving presence that I just connected with?’

  34. You are pointing out something very significant here, Coleen. Sympathy offers to ‘calm’ something that doesn’t need to be calmed, but felt. It’s clear that avoiding or hiding our feelings behind sympathy is not a supportive way to deal and truly accept these natural situations of life.

  35. Well said Coleen: “What would happen if we had more understanding about our cycle of physical life and passing on…”
    Someone’s passing is not necessarily an easy event for those around them, nor themselves… Yet when the truth of reincarnation is denied, it’s as though there is no foundation whatsoever that holds anyone in the understanding of what is actually occurring. ‘Death and dying’ becomes an intense burden to be experienced as such – but does it have to be so?

  36. A relative of mine passed over not so long ago this year, after being diagnosed with what is termed an ‘aggressive form of cancer’ only a few months before he passed. What I got to witness and hear, was many words about the ‘cruelty’ of this cancer… as something perhaps random that had occurred and/or he had been unfairly ‘smitten’ by God/suffered a horrendously harsh blow in life, and unlucky ‘draw of the cards’…
    Again, this highlighted how there is much understanding to be built – and awareness chosen, potentially… around illness and disease, around our state of being, way of living, harboured emotions and more, that can contribute to a condition in our own body. And so much understanding yet to be built in our families, communities and society, around what actually may be offered by a disease such as this – for the person going through it, as hard and difficult as it may of course be, and all around them.
    Dare we go there? As Universal Medicine has from day one? And look deeper? To me, such foundations are what hold me in life – it is an absolute blessing to ‘go there’ and understand more about illness, disease, and the energy behind all things.

  37. This is a great blog, I love what you have shared about how we connect with others but then often sever this when we start to open up, that if we don’t live with this level of openness all the time it can be hard to go deeper in moments like this as then we start to feel the gap in what we have been living.

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