Saturday, April 22, 2017

I experience a moment of mental health

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Tom came in from the march for science (it's Earth Day) a happy man.  He met Cassie and Otto and saw a lot of Unitarians there. That's grandson Otto standing and daughter Cassie peering out from behind Tom's head, and a sign she made.
     Tom got together with a couple of the men afterward and they went to Fox in the Snow.  He even brought home a pastry for me.  (Well, he wouldn’t mind sharing it, as it turned out.)
He talked about what he went through before a policeman allowed him to keep his sign on a stick, which was taped to his wheelchair - sticks are now banned at marches as possible weapons. Talked about the clever signs and who he saw there, a number of people including Laurie Brown, who gave me one of her kidneys via clever medical science. Most of all, he enjoyed doing it with Cassie and Otto.
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I’ve been home today, canceled my sitting group because I'm recovering from a reaction to a medication.  A friend and I were going to go to North Star for a free hamburger this afternoon -they do that for earth day - but both woke up grouchy and didn’t much improve.  I let go of that.  I can buy a hamburger there anytime.
        I've been having a problem lately with depression, but it wasn’t interfering while Tom talked.  I just felt empathetically happy.  There are many other ways you can react to someone’s joy.  You can think about how you didn’t get to go because you’re out of shape because you’re depressed and don’t do anything.  And your allergies are awful this year.  You can be sorry for yourself with a sense that life isn’t fair.  You can be pissed at someone for not asking And how are you feeling?when he walks in the door. That would be being mad at him for being who he is and was raised to be.  It all sounds a little teenaged to me today.  It's all about competitiveness, about wanting some attention for that demanding ego I call Mimi Me.

I wasn't doing that. I was just listening with a pleasant feeling, being happy for Tom’s happiness. I guess this is just unusual enough that I notice it.  I'm afraid that people I know are seldom happy. If they were, I was trained to be competitive, not to empathize with someone else's happiness.  This foreign notion is called sympathetic joy in the Buddhist tradition and goes way back into older traditions. It is one of the four heavenly abodes, places to rest the mind, the others being loving kindness, compassion, and equanimity.
     Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield calls them "the four radiant abodes" and says such an interesting thing about them:  they represent optimal mental health.  An interesting statement to anyone with a mental illness. We often try to correct our moods or thinking with medication, which often doesn't work.  My bipolar disorder is a visible change in my brain caused by genetic susceptibility and a sad childhood.  I do often remind myself to notice my moods with equanimity.  They happen to me, like a wind coming on.  But here was another thing to think about, how empathizing with Tom's happiness warmed and softened my heart.

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