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

821 thoughts on “Sympathy, Snow and a Robin

  1. I’ve had a number of experiences with sympathy and it is really poisonous. Yesterday I realised that I was being sympathetic towards a group of people in my life. Which is great because having this awareness can help put a stop to it. It doesn’t deserve to be expressed as all it does is make a mess.

  2. When we appreciate another in essence and whatever they bring, then the level of Loving-appreciation we are holding for others brings in an intimacy that we are also living and sharing, thus eliminating any form of sympathy.

  3. Sympathy as you have shared Colleen, cements us into loads of emotional upheavals but when we understand that we will reincarnate and get to live as we have lived in our past life then the responsibility that this level of awareness brings opens us to the appreciation of being Love to the best we can, so we can then complete in every situation with another with the most Loving attitude so nothing is left unsaid. Know that their next incarnation whatever it will be has at-least seen and felt the Loving level of connection we have shared.

    1. Appreciation is a never about physicality but about our essence, it also comes with a confirmation and authority from our Livingness and all three, appreciating, confirming with authority bring a True purpose, thus we are deepening our Humble-appreciative-ness, with humble being our Soul-full connection. Sympathy is a pathetic way of trying to disconnect us from our essence and only thinks about physicality.

  4. When we don’t really love and value ourselves the love we have for others can seem – feel and be – quite hollow for it has emotion as it’s base.

  5. When we see ourselves as victims of circumstance, we will always fail to take the opportunity that is always on offer to grow from the experience and the potential.

  6. “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”. We naturally want to have deeper connections with each other and go beyond the superficiality of social chit chat. Something like the passing of a loved one can offer this. Sadly I too have seen how quickly we sabotage this opportunity with sympathy and platitudes to cover our discomfort.

  7. When one person doesn’t go into or need sympathy when there is a death, there can be a social awkwardness. We have learned to override the initial connection and exchange pity and niceties, instead of feeling what to say. We have become uncomfortable going to these depths with ‘strangers’, yet it is what we all crave as a natural part of relating.

    1. I agree Fiona that deep down we all crave going deeper with each other but in order for that to happen and for us to feel comfortable with it we have to be prepared to and be comfortable with going into greater depth with ourselves, it’s impossible to dive into the depths with others if we’ve been thrashing about in the shallows with ourselves.

  8. Perhaps the reference to snow is not so far off the mark as every flake of snow has a different form but when they melt and pass on from one form to another they flow as one in the water.

  9. Many people run a mile when something even slightly a bit deeper than what they were prepared for gets presented – like, truer truth, truer love, and I totally agree that sympathy and niceness are the severs that stop any deepening.

  10. Sometimes an impulse can come from the depths of our being but we don’t let ourselves express it, because on a mental level it doesn’t fit in with our scheme of things. When we do this, it is like closing ourselves off from the possibility of a divine plan and we dull our vitality and connectedness.

  11. It is interesting here, how sympathy has basically become the socially accepted norm, when there is a whole other level available to connect with each other. It’s almost like sympathy stops the deeper questions being asked, and it stops the opportunity for an honest inquiry into how one is actually feeling.

  12. Thank you Coleen, it’s quite an observation to realise the interplay between love, letting love in, and if not sympathy is there as a kind of substitute – “sympathy is what we ‘do’ in the avoidance of this Love.”

  13. If we were all raised to know 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?” how different would our conversations be around the passing on of someone in our lives. Gone would be the need for expressions of sympathy, to be replaced with a deep and meaningful conversation about life and its many wonderful and most natural cycles.

    1. We would certainly be more responsible, and perhaps realise the purpose of each life, to return to the fullness of love we each are as souls, and then return again and again to support all those who are yet to get there.

      1. I too feel that this understanding would naturally bring us to more responsibility and that would be embraced not avoided. And then the choice to “return again and again to support all those who are yet to get there” simply becomes a given and something also to be embraced.

  14. Sympathy is a horrible feeling, it stops any true connection with another and takes away the opportunity to read and feel the truth of what is going on.

  15. I think a lot of people, myself included in the past, think of sympathy as being an expression of love or care but I can see now how it actually doesn’t support and that there is a difference between sympathy and being compassionate or understanding of another and what they may be experiencing. There can naturally be a sense of missing someone when they have passed over and we can be understanding of this for sure but with sympathy it’s like it adds to the emotion rather than truly helping…

  16. Sympathy with people is the attachment to our own creation in disguise, although once sympathy is understood for what it is and no longer confused for love, care or compassion but known as a most selfish emotion the disguise is exposed as ugly falsity.

  17. Sympathy – the age-old trap/comfort of joining and hiding instead of being the beacon in the night.

  18. Death can be an uncomfortable and taboo subject for many, and so when people are in the discomfort that they feel, they can say things that do not come from the depths of their hearts.

    1. It’s definitely a subject we could benefit from being more open about, because being unprepared for something so profound and inevitable as death is not an easy or loving experience at all. We really need to talk about it, so we have opportunities to learn and grow and embrace it.

  19. Sympathy – avoiding to take responsibility for one´s own lack of connection with self by focussing on someone else.

    1. Spot on, and in the process we also disempower the other from how they could be more full with themselves.

  20. It is lovely that mentioning a funeral ‘short-cuts’ the small talk and connects people to something deeper. However, the tendency to then go into sympathy without even waiting to hear how the funeral attendee feels is quite imposing. Surely when someone may be feeling raw and vulnerable we should hold them and give them space to speak, rather than suffocate them in sympathy.

  21. Much for us to learn as humanity to know clearly the difference of true connection through love and its false substitute through sympathy and alike, otherwise we will stay caught in a lesser version of who we are in life, without being fully aware of the loss of quality in love as it may look just fine, but will not be the real deal we know it can and should be.

  22. How lost are we when we go into sympathy, are we not judging, not only the dead person who’s time of departure was hopefully when it is best serving them for there next incarnation, but also the friend who needs only to be loved for, anything less is a judging imposition because we think we can somehow tell what you are going through.

  23. It feels like sympathy comes after judgement, which comes from our beliefs and/or ideals or mental pictures of how life should be. Life doesn’t match so we judge, then sympathy comes in. If I observe, feel and understand a situation there is no judgement and no sympathy.

  24. It is interesting how you describe sympathy as an emotion that creates separation. All emotions create separation and that is particularly striking when we are indulging in an emotion such a sympathy, which we think is helping the other person whereas it is doing quite the opposite.

  25. Sympathy is a smack in the face, because whilst believing you are doing a ‘good’ job, you actually drain yourself. The smack comes there after when we are confronted with how you feel inside your body: feeling the the tension inside boiling of not having expressed your truth, which is held in the body anyways. Absorbing the illusion of going into sympathy, whilst you could have walked and talked the truth with that other person.

  26. This shows how uncomfortable people are with death which is strange really as the one thing you can be 100% sure of in life is death!

    1. Maybe what we are uncomfortable with is life even more than death. Perhaps one of the things that death reflects to us is where we have not lived our life in full and now it is over or too late.

  27. Perfect that I should find myself reading this blog this morning as I have been exploring how I convert experiences of truth into knowledge, beliefs and ideals. What I am finding is that when I connect with a sense of something that is a deeper truth, quite soon after, I go into an attempt to capture it in some way, to make it a construct, mentally mostly – so that I don’t lose it. In doing so I am achieving exactly what I do not want to achieve because by making it a construct I lose that true connection I originally experienced. It seems to me we cannot capture connection or truth – but then we do not need to because these are things that are constantly available to us all.

  28. “This began to sever the connection we had established at the start and it was immediately evident how this emotion separated us.” So true, any emotion brings a separation and if we choose to fall for it, then the following conversation will be one that can make us feel less, and seek comfort in the sympathy being offered.

  29. When we have a conversation with someone about death, we flounder as to what to say, and try and ease the conversation yet if we were truly expressing and communicating we would find there is a wealth of things to talk about without feeling the need to go into sympathy, it may be the end of this life, yet it is in preparation of the next.

  30. You describe very well the ways in how we can disconnect from others when we are in conversation. Sympathy is one and talking about the weather or a standard topic is the other one. I find it not always easy to deal with this as when you want to truly have a more in-depth conversation it can be very hard because we are so conditioned to respond in those above described ways. And people can feel like you put them off because you don’t feel the same way or don’t like talking about the standard topics or the weather.

  31. As a health professional, I often wondered why people celebrate the birth of a newborn. When we see this tiny beautiful being in its pure essence but seldom see this in an older person, and yet they are no different.

    Why aren’t death, dying and funerals seen as a celebration? We accept the four seasons, a cycle of birth (spring), maturity (summer), autumn (dying) and winter (death) ready for the next cycle – there is no sympathy or emotions, it is an acceptance of life and human life cycle is no different too.

    1. Thanks Shushila, a great comment, we don’t need to assume each death has to be sad, we could indeed celebrate each life and respond with the understanding of cycles, just as nature so clearly reflects.

  32. A blog that gives us a pause to consider how we have responded to people when they have told us about a death. Perhaps we get drawn into sympathy because this is how we have been conditioned to behave and it is what is expected. Knowing this and not wanting to fall into it there could be a tendency to go to the other extreme and be cold and detached. Neither of these responses are loving. To deal with this with love is to hold someone in love, meet them with love, and stay connected to our own love. From here we can observe without getting drawn in to the drama or pushing it away.

    1. It’s a good point about the coldness and detachment instead of the warmth and love, or even just staying open and being willing to learn and grow. I love the bit about neither getting drawn on nor pushing it away, just staying connected as best as possible and being ourselves in our stillness and love.

  33. Passing over is a sensitive subject, perhaps we feel awkward in communicating around death and dying because we feel awkward about understanding what it means for ourselves? It’s an interesting topic that we as a society do not talk about, we’re not willing to explore and it creates awkwardness when it occurs.

  34. Reincarnation is something we need to talk about more. I love the fact that here you speak of celebrating someones life when they pass on. It seems more often than not we do not truly celebrate someone that has passed on but get engulfed in emotions of sadness etc and I agree we are human and so of course it is natural for some different emotions and feelings to arise when someone close has passed on but if we truly had an understanding about our life, our purpose and reincarnation then maybe we would see this differently. And you are right when we go into emotions and sympathy it ‘takes us out of the present moment and the opportunity to connect, and into our minds.’ which is never helpful or true.

  35. I have found that when I don’t know what to say, I may say something quite silly but even silence can then be quite awkward. Some situations can simply be quite difficult.

  36. We often use sympathy and imagery to stop going deeper and to really feel that what is presented to us means for us personally.

  37. “Sympathy is what we do in the avoidance of this love” I would agree we feel anxiety when we don’t know how to respond in the face of someone’s passing on. It will take much more understanding to helps us find another way to respond to another persons passing on.

  38. Sympathy can make you feel smothered when someone imposes their expectation of how they think you should react when a close relative has died.

  39. Over the last few years I’ve learnt how horrible sympathy feels when it gets dumped on me. On the other end I’ve had thoughts coming in of being heartless if I just say nothing but that doesn’t feel true. Sometimes what a person needs is the space to feel sad and grieve because it doesn’t last forever. Sympathy and the mental ideal pictures of the future actually stop that flow of emotion from passing and leaving.

    1. Yes Leigh, the imagery and sympathy we tend to use is in our avoidance to feel the deeper message behind such losses when people pass over, the deeper message that we are all equal in physical life that too will come to a natural end one day.

  40. Sympathy would have no place at all if we allowed ourselves full awareness of the cycles of life and the natural unfolding they cannot help but be. Whether it be loss of a family member, of a home or possession or maybe an illness we may be experiencing. They are all part of the ebb and flow of life and have consistently been so since the beginning of physical life on this planet. What if we allowed ourselves to reconnect to the fact of reincarnation, that we come back time and time again? Could there then be nothing but love and joy and acceptance of these conditions/events knowing that there has been a purpose for them? that perhaps we are clearing the way for our next life by discarding through illness and anything that takes us away from that joy and love and acceptance? No room or need at all for sympathy.

  41. Death is very challenging for people, and staying in sympathy is what people are ‘supposed to do’ . But I have found that when I express how I feel about the cycle of life and death, without attachment to emotion, many people light up and find it very refreshing to not have to keep up the sympathy game.

    1. There are many things we can believe that we ‘should do’ and games to uphold that we don’t even call everyday soical interaction because it is silently expected until one breaks away from that silently agreed life. The more I feel how to live, I feel like a small kid that ignored those socially agreed/enforced standards.

  42. Sometimes people react to death as it can trigger in them the regret of all the things that they have not done and expressed in their own life.

    1. Great comment – snow at Christmas and seeing a red robin are good symbols of things people living in Australia but with a connection to the UK may be missing in their lives.

  43. Because of the lack of education about dying, I think most of us can be unsure of what to do around death. I don’t think most people’s true sense is to be sympathetic, it is more that they do not want to come across as callus or uncaring. I have much understanding for others struggling in this department and so my approach is to support those that may be worried or sympathetic by showing how light and loving death can be.

    1. It’s actually quite incredible that such a significant thing (as death) which is also something that affects us all is spoken about so little. In fact, it feels like we actively avoid talking about it until we absolutely have to, hence our acute discomfort when it does come up. Avoid, avoid, avoid and then bang wallop there it is right in our faces and we’re often left floundering around in our own discomfort as well as in the discomfort of others. Thankfully we will all get to the point where we understand death to be the most natural and even joyous part of the great cycle of Life.

  44. How often do we speak in awkwardness and not in truth?! I know I have done this so I sat an cringed a bit when I read your blog and how uncomfortable it felt for you and no doubt them!

    1. I can recall situations when I felt so awkward when expressing to a person who had recently had someone close to them pass on. And I can see that I used this awkwardness to hold back what it was I really wanted to say and instead replaced it with something nice and often meaningless. I also know that if I had been raised to speak openly about death and dying from an early age there would have been no awkwardness in my expression, simply truth.

      1. How good would that be to talk about the cycle of life and not feel afraid of uncomfortable about what will, without a shadow of a doubt, be part of all of our lives.

  45. The ideals we have about what true love is prevent us from experiencing true love with others. But that can be corrected very quickly with the support of the Ageless Wisdom.

  46. Like the image of snow and a robin is rarely a reality, actually is an an emotion, so too is sympathy that we use to withhold ourselves from connecting with the greater truth of life we all innately know but avoid to be aware of.

  47. “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.” I feel this is absolutely true. Sympathy is a very neat way of avoiding the truth of reincarnation – a lie we have all bought into as a way to ignore our responsibility to live with energetic integrity, truth and love.. For if we believe we have just one life then we can easily believe we have the right to do whatever we want in order to ‘be happy’ in this life. If however we live knowing the truth of our cycle of reincarnation, we understand that every choice we make is one that will pave the way of our next life – karma or Love?

    1. Sure Lucy, we can believe that there is only one life because we do not want to take the responsibility for the reality that we are captured in, an endless cycle of birth and death.

  48. Sympathy separates us, it makes one party lesser and artificially elevates the other by way of being able to dispense a sugary balm that does anything but soothe what they are feeling. Sympathy kneecaps any true connection unless the conversation is brought back to truth.

    1. There is not an ounce of sympathy or emotion in Love and there is no true connection without love. So yes, sympathy creates separation which is not surprising because in order to express sympathy we must have first separated from our true selves and then whatever occurs after is a consequence of that.

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