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March 23, 2006

Orbits, and I don't mean the kind you buy tickets with

I’m learning slowly this week (read: lifetime) about how to love people without bearing too much of their weight.  I’m not sure how to get my mind around this one, though, because I believe we’re all interconnected, and that lives don’t have definite starting and stopping points so far as the space we each take up.  We’re not paper dolls.  We’re more like, maybe…universes.


So what do I do with the notion of “healthy boundaries” and the reality that though I’m interconnected with everything, and most particularly those I love, it doesn’t do anyone much good for me to stymie in other people’s mire?  I’m a big believer in the power of solidarity, of standing with others in pain, and have experienced quite personally how this makes way for hope to break through.  But there’s a certain quality of standing alongside, I think, that doesn’t multiply the yuck, that doesn’t make two people now feeling awful, but rather two people both feeling better.  Or four or sixteen or a hundred, depending on who’s standing.


I want to find a way to be moved by the suffering around me, acknowledging that this movement is good and natural and part of living an interconnected life, while not being drawn by it into orbit.  Standing alongside others cannot mean losing connection with my own sense of gravity, my own sun, with the struggles and tremendous joys it has of its own.

05:26 PM in Philosophy, Psychology | Permalink


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oh kristen, welcome to my world (or universe?)!!! liam and i have been struggling through this dance very intensely this past year. i started to reply here, but it got so very long, i decided to make a blog post of my own out of it.

Posted by: bobbie | Mar 25, 2006 2:15:45 AM

Kristen, what a lovely and thought-provoking post. I just discovered your blog, will look forward to reading
much more.

I've been a therapist/astrologer for 20 years, so I've grappled often with how to "be with" another most effectively.

I started my career being annoying, cloyingly eager to let people know I really, REALLY understood and empathized with where they were at. Yuk.

Over time, and I mean at a snail's pace, this changed for the better mostly because 1) I practised non-judgmental, objective "witnessing" personally and professionally 'til it became second nature, and 2) the more I handled my own stuff, the more I got that everyone else would do fine with theirs with or without me. And the less fear I brought to another's situation, the better I got at keeping them company from a healthy distance.

Writing that, I realize my over-involvement was usually fueled by an underlying fear that they wouldn't make it through unless I was really, intensely "in it" with them.

It always seems to come down to this, doesn't it? That the best I can do for someone else is to handle my own journey.

Posted by: France Kozlik | Mar 26, 2006 10:10:37 AM

Hi Bobbie! By now you've already read my comment at your blog, so I'll leave it at that. :)

And Frances, very nice to meet you! I think you're so right: handling our own journies seems the very best way to healthfully walk alongside others in theirs. I'm coming to conclude that the times when I feel most sucked into others' orbits are the times I'm not tending to my own self very well. Is it transference that's happening? Projection? Surely stuff like that.

Posted by: Kristin | Mar 26, 2006 11:39:39 AM

Support, sympathy, empathy are beautiful gifts. Sometimes I am able to give more than others
without losing myself. Other times I am empty and can find nothing to give. I don’t think there is a firm boundary.

Posted by: harmonyinline | Mar 26, 2006 12:56:10 PM

I completely resonate with this. I consider myself a highly empathetic person, which I've always considered a strength. But as I get older - and more and more of my friends and family experience sickness, death, etc. - I am aware of the need to balance my desire for interconnectedness with the reality that I cannot carry the weight of others' suffering so frequently. Sometimes I need to step back from the hot topics of world news and politics to feel my own gravity. Sometimes I have to consciously will myself not to "get into" the emotions of other people, but only deal with what my own psyche is experiencing by proxy. I guess my fear is that because of the bombardment of media information, I will become numb or apathetic about the pain around me. What a beautiful picture - connecting with my own sun and standing in my own gravity. I will hold onto this as I search for a balance.

Posted by: Candi | Mar 29, 2006 11:16:00 AM

Candi, I think you're so right about the bombardment of media information. It just isn't possible to feel deeply about all of it, and an overload of awful stories just makes me go numb. Not sure what to do about that. Maybe there could be times in a day or a week set aside to honor the events of the world. Making ritual space for that, maybe--lighting a candle at the start, opening oneself up to compassion, and visualizing something of release at the end. This is inspiring me...

Posted by: Kristin | Mar 31, 2006 8:41:59 AM


This is a very thought-provoking post. I'm still learning this balance (a process that will continue forever, no doubt.) I definitely lean toward yuck-multiplication (love that line of yours, I will remember that).

I used to struggle much more greatly with the feeling that I needed to save everyone from everything...hell, there own foibles, you name it.

A very wise man once said to me in high school (some of my worst years for this issue) that I needed to let people experience their own failings and problems, learn their lessons, live their own lives. I could feel for them, try to help to an extent. But although we're all connected, in another way (as Lily Tomlin says)we're all in this alone. I probably wouldn't accept all of what she may have meant by that, and at times I now have to protect myself against numbness (a shocking new issue), but learning how to be okay and hold my center in the midst of every level of chaos has indeed been a healing gift.

I like your idea of making a ritual around dealing with the mass of world issues. Making a special space for what can either be ignored or overwhelming. That's inspiring. Hmmm...

Posted by: tess/chamleon chronicles | Mar 31, 2006 9:17:13 PM

How eloquently you have captured this struggle? It's one of those battles that I keep deluding myself into believing that I've mastered... only to be reminded... sometimes harshly... that I haven't even passed first base on the journey. Learning what to let into my personal world and what to close the gate too is something that I struggle with as much at 45 years old as I ever did.

Posted by: Tess | Apr 3, 2006 7:33:27 PM

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