Monthly Archives: January 2015

Empathy Versus Excuse Making

I want to share an email exchange between Holden and myself that I believe is valuable:

Holden’s Message:

Dear Atticus,

Is it weak to empathize with my wife and the man she cheated with?

The anger books and in fact, practice of medication itself from a Buddhist tradition at least, focus a lot on gaining empathy for other people and learning to understand other’s suffering. The Bible teaches the same thing. Jesus’ philosophy was to pray for your enemy and turn the other cheek.

I keep being brought back to the same shitty thoughts. Because of the insane detail I was able to get off my Wife’s phone, I know exactly when she was with him. I can literally go back and remember my entire days, all the things I did those days, the things she and I talked about.

I keep getting hung up on it. I take a few steps forward, then another back. To deal with the anger, pain, suffering, sadness, etc, I have used a combo of Buddhist and Christian ideas. From the Buddhist perspective, I work on meditating on the pain points until I gain comfort then I work to put myself in my Wife’s and John’s (they man she cheated with) shoes. I work to ease not only my suffering but my Wife’s and work to not cause John any additional suffering in his life by interfering with him (basically just letting it drop and leaving him be).

I work to understand what they must have felt, how my Wife must have felt, why she did what she did. From the Christian standpoint, I work to forgive and let it go. I work to empathize. But then I seriously question if I’m just making excuses for both of them. Wrong is wrong.

Is empathizing in this particular scenario the correct path?

Anyway, just a thought. Not meaning to whine or rip off scabs on wounds that have begun to heal. It was more just a question I keep returning to that I wanted to share. I figured you might actually find it intriguing.

-Holden

My Response to Holden:

My Friend Holden,

I believe the portions of Christianity and Buddhism that you are referencing are the appropriate ones and perhaps the strongest assets both philosophies have to offer.

Forgiveness and meditation are tools that help you mentally adjust, not for your Wife’s and John’s benefit, but for your own healing. Ultimately you cannot heal and move forward without letting go of the past. You cannot let go of the past until you have forgiven. You cannot forgive until you utilize logic an reason to empathize and understand their situation.

This is the process – to gain understanding of all facets of the situation and become a master of it. Once you have mastered the situation, you can control it, let go of it, and move on. These are the reasons that forgiveness, meditation, and empathy are cornerstones of a healthy mind and spirit.

You shouldn’t make excuses for you Wife, but it is okay to empathize with her plight (for the reasons mentioned above). Excuses imply that you apply blame to yourself or on others and do not hold your Wife accountable while empathy implies that you hold her accountable for her actions, but apply higher game to truly understand the situation – thus have the capacity to move on.

Excuse making implies that you set yourself up to become a victim. Empathy implies a mindset of forgiveness, compassion, and maturity. Distinguish the two inside yourself during meditation.

– Atticus

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Pillars of Self Improvement

As I alluded to in the previous post I am undergoing a personal transformation. Moving forward I have identified three pillars in which I want to focus my efforts. The Physical, the Mental, and the Emotional & Spiritual.

In my personal journal I broke it down like this:

Pillars of Consciousness

I know that each of these elements are tied together – meaning that you cannot be successful, say mentally and emotionally, if you are not also making an effort physically. For example, one thing I am trying to do is bring mindfulness to my diet. Not just by eating healthy, but by taking a methodical approach to choosing and preparing my food.

For example:

This evening I prepared Salmon with my wife.

We searched for the perfect fillet. We settled on one with a great silver skin and beautiful deep red flesh. We chose peppers and spices for our sauce. Smelling each ingredient and holding it directly to my nose. I could almost see what the sauce was going to look like. Red and creamy with small flakes of chili’s – delicious. (I normally run through this process without thought.)

Then while preparing the meal I took time to appreciate each component. We spent over an hour dressing the meat, preparing the vegetables, and cooking. Coating every inch of the salmon in an even coating of sauce before carefully separating the collard from their stem. Each time I took time to appreciate the direction and speed I separated the vegetables – in clean symmetrical lines running perpendicular to the leaf’s veins. The stems in one pile and the leaves in another.

The Result:

Taking time to be mindful of meal preparation meant I spent more time with the family, enjoyed the food a lot more (it was the best salmon I’ve ever prepared), and ate something very nutritious. In this way I combined physical (diet), mental (researching meal preparation), and spiritual/emotional (zen – enjoying the moment).

I hope to share these efforts a little more often going forward.

A Journey of Consciousness

I have been thinking a lot about happiness and longevity lately. Probably because of my knee and facing surgery and downtime.

I have an internal struggle with myself that pulls in two different directions. On the one side I have an unwavering desire for greatness (what greatness is I have not defined). On the other side I have the knowledge that happiness doesn’t necessarily come from being the “best”, but rather from ones own “higher game” as we’ve come to call it.

All of this causes internal conflict. Naturally, I want to be the best. I want to push myself. I want to do things better and beyond what others do. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand I am rewarded by the hard work with money, success, pride, and all that comes with it. On the other hand “burning hot” results in sacrifices to my body, health, family, and who knows what else.

The trick, it seems, is to find a healthy balance between longevity and personal challenge. Letting go of those things that hurt more than help.

For Example

For example, today I went to dinner with my neighbor who does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He invited the gym guys over to watch the UFC fights. During conversation I learned that he has had two knee surgeries (the same knee surgery I will have) and currently has one knee that needs to be re-operated.

Frankly, he is in top physical shape. He is a 6′ 2″ and 200 lbs with hardly an ounce of fat. On the other hand – do I really want to be a 40 year old man with two knee surgeries under my belt and with aches and pains? What will that be like at 60?

All of the guys there seemed like good dudes with great attitudes and in great shape. Which is common in the BJJ community. As I move through this journey I want to take the best parts of this philosophy and keep it – while losing the bad parts.

Alternatives

I think I am approaching a time in my life where I need to consider a shift in my way of thinking and approach to overall health, happiness, and longevity – all without becoming luke warm or losing passion.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is changing my workout routine and diet (which are both already pretty strict). Right now I’m too rough on my body and I could have better discipline with my diet. Going forward I want to switch to lower impact high result workouts. Focus on flexibility, strength and conditioning, eating fresh foods, and making sure I enjoy it. (All of this I’d like to discuss in more detail in later posts.

Similarly, I want to boost my efforts on learning, culture, and relationships.

Pride, Ego, Spirituality, and Learning

I want to expand my mind and lose pride and ego. I think my pride and ego sometimes get in the way of doing what I really want. By that I mean that I want to do less of what is expected by society and more of what I truly want to do. Typically, I have been pretty good at doing that, but I want to double down on my efforts here.

I want to stop caring so much about “things” and find what really makes me happy and dedicate my life to it. I want to focus on being content while also striving to expand my personal philosophy.

And I don’t mean by just being a minimalist, but I mean by truly being content. I want to focus on little things more and derive pleasure from them without rushing through or skipping. For example, when I made coffee today I focused on each step (grounding the coffee beans, spooning the grinds into the coffee maker, the smells, the appearance) and enjoyed it as much as the beverage itself. I want to expand this methodology into all aspects of life.

I’ve already started this journey mentally. Reading books about great men and various philosophies. I hope to stumble upon a few people and philosophies that I truly admire and relate to then at that point take a deeper dive into those schools of thought.

I wan to be conscious. And my journey beings now.