December 30, 2006

Gollum and Compassion

Meredith: A friend has been going through a very difficult time. As I listened and tried to be helpful, a tide of my own darkness welled up within me. As I looked at my friend, eye to eye, and as I listened deeply, I recognized that this pain, grief, sorrow, shame and self loathing my friend was sharing is inside of me, too. As I touched this angst, it felt as though I was tapping into a hidden corner of my own being that I rarely have the courage to recognize. It wasn't until I really felt this, and looked carefully at the ugly contents that I began to really understand my friend. It seems that in these sad and deep tributaries within ourselves we will find common ground that is fertile for compassion.
"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
--Pema Chodron

Friend: This darkness within us, it is a character like Tolkien's Gollum, and it appears to be universal in all human beings. We each have a different version, but it is a darkness that is part of our shared humanity. It does provide a common ground that allows for us to feel tenderness, connection, kindness and compassion.

Meredith: These dark images make me feel sooo sad, it is nearly unbearable to keep thinking about it for very long. And yet it feels so real and authentic, like "Yes, Gollum is finally out in the open, this terrible ugly secret I have been harboring. Now you know the truth of me."

Friend: Yes this is the stuff of which Gollum is made. Acknowledging our own darkness is excruciating, and yet...and yet... we must bear this woundedness, hold our sorrow, fear and confusion within an open heart. Holding these feelings, bearing them, allowing them to be and then to go of their own accord, however raw, exposed and vulnerable gives birth to warmth and compassion. I have indulged, much more often I have repressed, and both of these ways lead to further suffering. But to allow, to accept, to hold and bear with an open heart is sooooo hard, yet it is the way I have discovered to any real peace. And yes, this is a brand new discovery. My Gollum carries the key that brings light into the darkness, the light and warmth of consciousness which dispels shadow. As excruciatingly difficult as it is, as hard as it is to hold, allowing my Gollum to be - because it is, I genuinely feel wretched and unlovable in my darkest corners, I feel sorrow and fear and confusion - is paradoxically the key to healing my suffering.

I asked the universe for the power to heal suffering, and the universe showed me compassion. Compassion was the universe's response to my request for the power to heal the suffering of myself and others.

Pema Chodron also says this over and over, compassion is a key to healing suffering of self and other. And Sylvia Boorstein says it, too; "I think it's the awareness of the vulnerability to sorrow that human beings share that keeps me kind." Warmth and love and kindness come out of being present with our own darkness, our own vulnerability, suffering, sorrow, fear and confusion. It is this awareness of our shared vulnerability to pain that generates our love and warmth for ourselves and others. It is what heals and soothes suffering.

Meredith: Right. I, too, am finding that only when I am conscious of my own woundedness and suffering, conscious of my own darkness, can I be present with the woundedness and darkness of others. This "being present with" is compassion, and it is compassion that soothes and heals suffering.


frimmin said...

Your post definitely hits home. There's nothing in "another" that isn't within us, as well, and our responses and reactions to "them" are our responses and reactions to "that."

I'm actually beginning a series of posts on this theme... the "other" in nonduality.

Meredith, have a wonderful and blessed New Year!

Ashley Cooper said...

This post touched me with resonance last night when I read its beginning and again this morning as it continues to grow.

A question emerges: What gives you the strength to be with your dark and ugly parts, to hold and allow the raw vunlernability and woundedness to be? And how do you recognize when you are indulging or repressing?

Meredith said...

Jon - I look forward to your posts on this topic. It seems that the timing is right to look deeply into the shared nature of what is within us.

Ashley - great question. I am not sure it is strength that allows me to be with the dark and ugly parts. It is more like "I can't not do it" at the time. I recognize that I am repressing when I feel this darkness attempting to come up, and I purposely try to distract or distance myself. Conversely, I know I am indulging when, after feeling darkness penetrate deeply, I allow myself to continue to cycle the feelings over and over, and to grasp or cling to them. That's indulging. I do this sometimes. I don't know why exactly. But when I realize it, I am able to move away from the intense focus. Thank you for the questions - this reflection helps me to understand myself better.

Happy new year, my friends!

irving said...

What truth and honesty in this lovely post, though it touches on sad subjects. Compassion is one of the names of God in Islam, and one of the cardinal virtues in every religion.

I have come to realize that the dark and ugly side of us is really the primal side warring with the modern ego. On the Sufi path, compassion and humility go hand in hand, yet it is a hard lesson to learn.

Peace and Blessings, and Happy New Year :)

Anne said...

Oh, your post hit home... Indulging the darkness - wow. You really showed me what I've been doing -- and how to nip it in the bud ! Thank you !!!!

There is a website called
that discusses that in great depth like Pema C. is...

Compassion for self and for others is so crucial... I have it for those I love, now I must also learn to have it for my self...

Blessings to you. Glad I found your blog.

Dan said...

A friend of mine was seeing a counselor.

"I think I can finally see my wife's shadow," he said.

"That's great," replied the therapist, "because when you are sure you can see another's shadow you are probably standing in your own."

I have always liked this story because it reminds me to examine my certainties about others. Usually when I look right at that certainty a dark cave opens up right in front of me and I can feel an unwillingness to watch the entrance to see what will emerge. Gollum is there!

Meredith said...

You mentioned the darkness being our primal side - and I agree. When it comes up it feels so primitive at times, and almost like it doesn't only belong to me, but is coming through me from generations past.

Nice to meet you, and thank you for your comment and links. That part about not indulging in the darkness, and letting it go when it will was something that didn't come easily for me. But now, just noticing that I can let it pass is helpful.

Great story. Thank you for that! I, too, have often come to realize that that which I don't like in another is actually something very alive in my own shadows - character flaws of my own Gollum. It is so difficult to really look at this messiness, this meanness within me.


Kuan Gung said...

This "being present with" is compassion, and it is compassion that soothes and heals suffering.