Compassion Strengths

Workshops, consultations, education and support for care givers.

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“It was early in the Vietnam War, and an American platoon was hunkered down in some rice paddies, in the heat of a firefight with the Vietcong. Suddenly a line of six monks started walking along the elevated berms that separated paddy from paddy. Perfectly calm and poised, the monks walked directly toward the line of fire. They didn’t look right, they didn’t look left. They walked straight through,’ recalls David Busch, one of the American soldiers. ‘It was really strange, because nobody shot at ‘em. And after they walked over the berm, suddenly all of the fight was out of me. It just didn’t feel like I wanted to do this anymore, at least not that day. It must have been that way for everybody, because everybody quit. We just stopped fighting.’”

— Dr. Danial Goleman, from his book Emotional Intelligence.

Emotions are contagious. We know this in our body but have a difficult time acknowledging it in our minds. Dr. Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, states: “The power of the monks quietly courageous calm to pacify soldiers in the heat of battle illustrates a basic principle of social life: Emotions are contagious.”

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly absorbing and expressing emotions, or Energy in MOTION (see The Personal Cost of Care). In some cultures this is seen as natural as breathing in and breathing out. It is unfortunate that our Western sense of individuality is often perceived and expressed more as a sense of being special and separate rather than unique and connected.

The Unsuspecting Connection

“Consider a remarkable demonstration of the subtlety with which emotions pass from one person to another. In a simple experiment two volunteers filled out a checklist about their moods at the moment, then simply sat facing each other quietly while waiting for an experimenter to return to the room. Two minutes later she came back and asked them to fill out a mood checklist again. The pairs were purposely composed of one partner who was highly expressive of emotion and one who was deadpan. Invariably the mood of the one who was more expressive of emotions had been transferred to the more passive partner.” P.115

From a separate/special perspective we are not able to fully acknowledge and understand how we can be emotionally connected with others. How can I be connected with others when I am standing above and separate from them? But, if I really am connected but not aware of this connection and do not acknowledge its influence on my communication and relationship with self and others how does this impact me as a care provider?

The unsuspecting connection, between care providers and the people we provide care for is at the root of burnout. Because of the similarities in background and personality between care providers and the people we serve, we actually do absorb, at times internalize and express some of the emotions of our clients. Conversely, they are also absorbing, internalizing and expressing some of the emotions they get from us. Can you begin to see the implications – especially for clients and care providers in closed systems such as inpatient psychiatry units, nursing homes and adult foster care homes?

Emotional Expression

There appears to be a connection between emotional expression and emotional connection. As illustrated in the above demonstration: “Invariably the mood of the one who was more expressive of emotions had been transferred to the more passive partner.” P.115

What this may mean is, the person who is more expressive of positive emotions for instance will be more likely to “spread” those emotions around and cause others to be “infected” by their contagion. The reverse is also apparently true. Expressing distressing emotions will more likely cause others to experience them as well.

One of the implications for care providers is, we may actually have influence over the healing process by who we are as well as what we do.

“How does this magical transmission occur? The most likely answer is that we unconsciously imitate the emotions we see displayed by someone else, through an out-of-awareness motor mimicry of their facial expression, gestures, tone of voice, and other nonverbal markers of emotion.” P. 115.

Another explanation or our connection to each other comes from a surprisingly different source: Quantum Physics. World-renown subatomic physicist Dr. David Bohm in his book: Wholeness and the Implicate Order writes: “This new form of insight can perhaps best be called Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement…In this flow mind and matter are not separate substances. Rather they are different aspects of one whole and unbroken movement.” P. 11.

Emotions may truly, in fact be Energy in MOTION. We may also be able to consciously or unconsciously “tune” ourselves into to each other’s emotions much in the way we tune in a radio station by creating rapport and synchrony with the sending channel.

Consciously tuning ourselves to others is the therapist’s craft. We do this by developing rapport and synchrony with our clients. Dr. Goleman states: “The degree of emotional rapport people feel in an encounter is mirrored by how highly orchestrated their physical movements are as they talk – an index of closeness that is typically out of awareness… This synchrony seems to facilitate the sending and receiving of moods, even if the moods are negative.” P. 116.

We can also unconsciously tune ourselves to the emotions of others. Again, Dr. Goleman states: “We transmit and catch moods from each other in what amounts to a subterranean economy of the psyche in which some encounters are toxic, some nourishing. This emotional exchange is typically at a subtle, almost imperceptible level; the way a salesperson says thank you can leave us feeling ignored, resented, or genuinely welcomed and appreciated. We catch feeling from one another as though they were some kind of social virus.” P.114-115.


“There are six critical issues that affect how people with PTSD process information: (1) They experience persistent intrusions of memories related to the trauma, which interfere with attending to other incoming information; (2) they sometimes compulsively expose themselves to situations reminiscent of the trauma; (3) they actively attempt to avoid specific triggers of trauma-related emotions, and experience a generalized numbing of responsiveness; (4) they lose the ability to modulate their physiological responses to stress in general, which leads to a decreased capacity to utilize bodily signals as guides for action; (5) they suffer from generalized problems with attention, distractibility and stimulus discrimination; and (6) they have alterations in their psychological defense mechanisms and in personal identity. This changes what new information is selected as relevant.”

— Bessel A. Van der Kolk, Traumatic Stress

Experiencing another person’s traumatic emotions is more likely to trigger our own personal vulnerabilities especially if that person is highly expressive of those emotions and we are unconsciously tuned to the traumatic stress that is being expressed. Parallel process is a term I use to describe the unconscious tuning or mirroring that occurs between care provider and clients as well as between care providers that can significantly affect and eventually alter the way in which we process information.

From Schizophrenia and the Family, four interdependent and overlapping ways that mentally ill consumers process information are identified that appear highly congruent with the six critical issues described above: Distraction, sensitivity, overload and misperception.

The following description is my effort to integrate Van der Kolk’s six critical issues that affect how people with PTSD process information with the types of information processing that is prevalent among people with mental illness – specifically Schizophrenia (although I do not personally believe this is restricted to Schizophrenia) and examine how care providers mirror these processes through parallel process.


“I jump from one thing to another, if I am talking to someone, they only need to cross their legs and scratch their heads, and I am distracted and forget what I was saying.”

Schizophrenia and the Family

Distraction is often the first indication that we are unconsciously tuned to the traumatic stress that we are picking up from our clients. We can be both internally distracted by our own churning thoughts and emotions as well as by the constant demands of our work. In either or both cases, our attention span shortens we easily lose our concentration and have difficulty remembering details.

Distraction may be broken down to the combined experience of problems with attention and stimulus discrimination and persistent intrusions that interfere with incoming stimuli.

Problems with Attention
Problems with maintaining attention i.e., losing focus is usually the first indication of distraction. Losing focus can be very subtle and we are more prone to losing our focus when we are upset and distressed. To be focused means to be present, here and now, in your body where reality is actually occurring.

We often forget that while our mind is more likely than not, engaged in regretting the past and/or worrying about the future, our bodies are continually engaged with the physical, real, here-now world twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. What is happening to us in the real, physical world often occurs first in our body and only to “us” or our conscious awareness if we are “tuned in to the right channel.”

Losing focus is often the first indicator that we are not tuned in to our body and here-now reality. It often manifests as spacing out, internal brooding or emotional simmering. We find it difficult to sit quietly with ourselves and concentrate on any one task, thought or feeling.

Loss of Stimulus Discrimination
Dr. Van der Kolk in Traumatic Stress states: “People with PTSD have difficulty in sorting our relevant from irrelevant stimuli; they have problems ignoring what is unimportant and selecting only what is most relevant. Easily over-stimulated, they compensate by shutting down.”

Losing focus may also manifest as the feeling of being bombarded with a host of competing thoughts, body sensations, images, emotions and memories, all of which are experienced as constant, churning internal noise and persistent intrusions.

The experience of losing the ability to discriminate or sort out incoming stimuli is similar to being hit simultaneously by numerous opponents, some you can see many you cant. If the experience persists and particularly if it is felt to be out of our control we tend to shut down, withdraw and become numb.

Internal Noise
Internal noise is often experienced as the constant churning of internal dialog that we seem to be constantly having with unseen others – especially when upset and angry.

Have you ever noticed how much more internal dialog we have with ourselves when we are upset with somebody or some situation? We are particularly prone to attending to internal conversation when we feel personally attacked and especially if the issue was left unsatisfactorily resolved. When does internal discussion become internal noise?

Internal discussion can be a very powerful healing force when used consciously. When it becomes forceful, demanding with intense emotions attached that continue to play a situation or scenario over and over again without resolution and finality, it has become noise.

We are constantly attending to internal noise although we are so used to it, we rarely notice. To discover this for yourself, try a simple experiment. Sit quietly by yourself with eyes closed for 10 minutes and just notice what goes through your mind. You might be amazed at the string of thoughts, pictures, memories and emotions if you allow your mind to open and not censure the contents.

When we become emotionally upset or “charged” the energy of our emotion will draw to it thoughts, images and memories that have a similar emotional charge. As long as we are emotionally charged, we will give energy or life to these thoughts, images and memories that are drawn to that particular emotion. The more life we give to our internal noise, the greater our distraction and the more vulnerable we are to experiencing persistent intrusions.

Persistent Intrusions
Dr. Van der Kolk in Traumatic Stress states: “These intrusions of traumatic memories can take many different shapes: flashbacks; intense emotions, such as panic or rage; somatic sensations; nightmares; interpersonal reenactments; character styles; and pervasive life themes.” P. 9.

Persistent intrusions need not only manifest as flashbacks and visual memories, in fact, most intrusions may be experienced as a sudden shift in perception, attitudes, thoughts and emotions that feel foreign, alien and beyond our conscious control.

For care providers who have repeated contact with trauma survivors, repeated and persistent intrusions during the process of providing care, particularly when there is an intense relationship may indicate a counter-transference reaction and can result in hypersensitivity.


“I have noticed that noises all seem to be louder to me than they were before. It’s as though someone has turned up the volume.”

Schizophrenia and the Family

As our distraction continues, we may begin to feel hypersensitive and vulnerable to the constant barrage of persistent intrusions. The depth and intensity of our reaction may cause us to avoid interaction with patients and coworkers, to shut down emotionally and compulsive re-exposure to the trauma.

Avoiding and Numbing
Van der Kolk states: “Avoidance may take many different forms, such as keeping away from reminders, ingesting drugs or alcohol in order to numb awareness of distressing emotional states, or utilizing dissociation to keep unpleasant experience from conscious awareness.” P.12.

As care providers, we may be constantly re-exposed to reminders of trauma through our day-to-day interaction with clients. This day-to-day interaction can begin to silently affect our perception of self and others. The more sensitive and emotionally vulnerable we are to the emotions, situations and behaviors of our clients the more we will feel the need to avoid making empathic contact with them.

Avoidance can take the form of minimizing both quality and quantity of contact with clients and/or coworkers. We may find ourselves constantly late for work, finding ways we can avoid certain clients and/or coworker and shutting down emotionally when we do have contact.

Van der Kolk states: “Thus, many people with PTSD not only actively avoid emotional arousal, but experience a progressive decline and withdrawal, in which any stimulation (whether it is potentially pleasurable or aversive) provokes further detachment. To feel nothing seems to be better than feeling irritable and upset.” P.12.

Numbing is an actual physical experience that is often controlled by how we breathe. The best way to numb yourself, physically is to take short, shallow, restricted breaths and tensing the muscles that connect your shoulders and neck. This will restrict both oxygen and blood supply to the rest of your body creating the sensation of numbing.

Compulsive Re-exposure to the Trauma
Van der Kolk states: “One set of behaviors that is not mentioned in the diagnostic criteria for PTSD is the compulsive re-exposure of some traumatized individuals to situations reminiscent of the trauma…In this reenactment of the trauma, an individual may play the role of either victimizer or victim.” P.10. This reenactment can include harm to others, self-destructiveness and/or re-victimization.

Harm to Others
While I believe the majority of us are care providers because we have great concern for others and would not intentionally harm another person, compulsive re-exposure to trauma may make us more vulnerable to causing unintentional harm. Counter-transference issues may arise that cause us feel and act in ways that are perceived by clients and coworkers as unsafe or toxic and we may be completely unaware of it. We may re-construct and re-enact our personal trauma in the arena of our professions.

Self-destructiveness among care providers is legendary. We destroy ourselves in a host of ways including agreeing to unreasonable work schedules, demands and expectations, the continual barrage of self-depreciating thoughts and feelings and compulsive behaviors including overeating, abusing alcohol and drugs. Depression and suicidal thoughts, feelings and behaviors are not uncommon among care providers.

Re-victimization can manifest in a number of different ways. We often experience being the victim of emotional and/or physical abuse in our primary relationship with our partners and significant others. We can also become a victim of “the system” in which we work as well as within the system of coworkers and supervisors.

In each case we find that we are compulsively drawn to people, relationships and situations that will have a high probability of re-exposure to trauma that is reminiscent of our past personal trauma.

In Listening to High Utilizers of Mental Health Services, ”Vulnerability to secondary traumatization is also increased where the therapist him/herself is a person who has recovered from trauma…In one study of masters level and above community therapists, 19% acknowledged that they had been victims of CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse).”

Is it any coincidence that such a high percentage of acknowledged victims of CSA have become therapists where they may be repeatedly exposed to secondary trauma? What percentage of care providers in general have also been victims of physical and/or emotional abuse and neglect? What is the reason for this repetition?

Van der Kolk quotes Freud in regards to the “repetition compulsion”: “Freud (1920/1955) thought that the aim of such repetition is to gain mastery, but clinical experience shows that this rarely happens; instead, repetition causes further suffering for the victims and for the people around them.” P. 11

In some ways, care providers may be attempting and in many cases gaining self-mastery by working with trauma survivors. However, when our re-exposure to trauma becomes compulsive and unmanageable we may begin to experience overload.


"It’s like being a transmitter. The sounds are coming through to me but I feel my mind cannot cope with everything. It’s difficult to concentrate on any one sound. It’s like trying to do two or three different things at one time.”

Schizophrenia and the Family

For care providers, the experience of overload is almost a normative one. This is partially due to the current crisis in care giving. I personally cannot remember a time in my career, when the need for care providers at all levels of the profession has been greater with so few resources available.

I recently ran into a psychiatric nurse who left her position at one hospital to take another at a less glamorous facility. She confided that she just couldn’t take it at the previous psychiatric unit where she worked because of the continually increasing workload, change in supervisors and work atmosphere. All of these true and tangible factors are a part of the experience of work overload.

Even care providers without a past personal history of trauma can become vulnerable to secondary traumatic stress when working with trauma survivors in an environment that is constantly demanding with little patience for your personal needs. Cumulative stress as discussed in “The Personal Cost of Care,” can eventually lead to secondary traumatic stress.

In Secondary Traumatic Stress, Hydnall Stamm Ph.D, defines secondary traumatic stress as: “…The natural, consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experience by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.”

He states further: “Beyond this natural by-product of therapeutic engagement, there appears to be four additional reasons why trauma workers are especially vulnerable to compassion fatigue:

  1. Empathy Is a Major Resource for Trauma Workers to Help the Traumatized,
  2. Many Trauma Workers Have Experienced Some Type of Trauma Event in Their Lives,
  3. Unresolved Trauma of the Worker Will Be Activated by Reports of Similar Trauma in Clients, and,
  4. Children’s Traumata Are Also Provocative for Caregivers.” PP.20-21.

He further suggests: “Secondary traumatization in therapists has been hypothesized to include symptoms which have been observed in trauma survivors themselves…Results supported these expectations for the most part. First, an predictable relationship between secondary exposure and psychological distress change was demonstrated. Specifically, secondary exposure to trauma was associated with increased symptoms of intrusion and avoidance on the Impact of Event Scale and increased symptoms of dissociation and sleep disturbance on the Trauma Symptom Checklist.” PP.30-31.

Inability to Modulate Arousal

“Although people with PTSD tend to deal with their environment through emotional constriction, their bodies continue to react to certain physical and emotional stimuli as if there were a continuing threat of annihilation; they suffer from hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, and restlessness.”

— Van der Kolk, Traumatic Stress.

The combination of increased demands, fewer resources and “The natural, consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experience by a significant other,” can result in decreasing ability to modulate arousal resulting in hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response and restlessness.

Hypervigilance is the result of our fight/flight/freeze response being on all the time although we may not be aware of it. I can still remember learning to listen intently to the footsteps above me as a child with my bedroom in the basement, to discern whether they were friendly or dangerous, whether I could relax or should flee. As a result, even today, certain footsteps will send electricity up my spine.

Van der Kolk states: “ People with PTSD tend to move immediately from stimulus to response without often realizing what makes them so upset. They tend to experience intense negative emotions (fear, anxiety, anger and panic) in response to even minor stimuli: as a result, they either overreact and threaten others, or shut down and freeze.” P.13.

The experience of hypervigilance requires a great deal of energy. Besides the constant visual/emotional/kinesthetic scanning of other people to determine their level of threat, our bodies continue to react to certain physical and emotional stimuli as if there were a continuing threat of annihilation. As mentioned previously, whether we are continually aware of it or not, we are often restricting our breathing and tightening the muscles in our neck in response to hyper-vigilance.

Exaggerated Startle Response
Have you ever caught yourself jumping at even slight sounds and movements? Sometimes you feel like a gun ready to go off at the slightest provocation. Van der Kolk states: “Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this hyperarousal is the generalization of threat. The world increasingly becomes an unsafe place: Innocuous sounds provoke an alerting startle response; trivial cues are perceived as indicators of danger.” P.13.

One of the unfortunate results of an exaggerated startle response is that our autonomic nervous system loses the capacity to accurately assess threat and serve as guides for appropriate action. “The persistent, irrelevant firing of warning signals causes physical sensations to lose their functions as signals of emotional states and, as a consequence, they stop serving as guides for action.” P. 13.

When we are not able to trust our “BodyMind” to guide our emotional reactions we can begin to feel deeply lost and frightened. We are truly a “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The experience of overload can threaten self-fragmentation that can be experienced as discontinuity in time and space.


“Everything is in bits…it’s like a photograph that’s torn in bits and put together again…If you move it’s frightening. The picture you had in your head is still there but it’s broken up.”

Schizophrenia and the Family

What happens to our core sense of self when there is “no escape” from overload? We begin to “fall to pieces;” cognitive and emotional fragmentation. This is a serious condition in which we begin to experience alterations in defense mechanisms and changes in personal identity.

Alterations in Defense Mechanisms
As parallel process progresses from distraction to sensitivity, overload and finally misperception, there is a continuing deterioration to our sense of self. Heinz Kohut, a Chicago Psychoanalyst wrote extensively about the self. In “The Restoration of the Self.” he defined the core or “nuclear self” as…”the basis of our sense of being an independent center of initiative and perception, integrated with our most central ambitions and ideals and with our experience that our body and mind form a unit in space and a continuum in time.” P.176.

When our core or nuclear self threatens or begins to break down we can experience severe anxiety and/or panic. It is the terror of fragmentation and annihilation. We may also notice alterations in what we feel is necessary to defend ourselves emotionally. “Trauma is usually accompanied by intense feelings of humiliation; to feel threatened, helpless, and out of control is a vital attack on the capacity to be able to count on oneself. Shame is the emotion related to having let oneself down.” Traumatic Stress, P.15.

Shame is the red-faced exposing of who we are as bad, not just what we do. In this capacity, there is no escape from shame. It doesn’t matter what I do to feel better about myself because my sense of guilt and badness has infiltrated its way to my core sense of self. It is with me wherever I go, whatever I do. My usual defense mechanisms are inadequate to keep out this kind of threat.

Van der Kolk states: "Trauma is usually accompanied by intense feelings of humiliation; to feel threatened, helpless, and out of control is a vital attack on the capacity to be able to count on oneself. Shame is the emotion related to have let oneself down." P. 15.

To cope with the painful intrusions of shame we employ a "primitive" defense mechanism called projective identification. Projective identification is considered "primitive" because it is associated with earlier or "primitive" levels of development. It is associated with the infant or young child throwing up or throwing out "bad food" or those emotional experiences that are experienced as "contaminated" with self-badness.

Projective identification is a rather scary sounding term for disowning those parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of and identifying them in other persons, groups or organizations. When we have a strong, sudden emotional reaction of fear, anger or hatred to what we identify as a bad trait in others, this is an almost sure indication we are reacting to a despised and disowned trait within ourselves.

As the experience of ongoing shame threatens to crumble or shatter a weakening sense of self we are incapable of taking responsibility or ownership of those parts of ourselves - (that we often see and react to in others) which he have judged from past experience to be intolerable. We simply cannot take in and "metabolize" self-damning experiences. Instead, we must project (unconsciously) them out onto another person, persons or organizations.

The very act of projecting parts of ourselves onto others is one of splitting. Splitting is sometimes regarded as the hallmark defense mechanism of Borderline Personality Disorders - although I believe this is unfair and inaccurate. Everybody employs splitting to some degree. It is the matter of degree and perspective that is important.

Splitting can also be seen in organizations where there is an "in-group" and an "out-group," where there is more awareness of and emphasis on division and differences between others rather than similarities and common ground. Splitting is also at the root of most prejudices and is almost always involved in acts of violence towards others.

Reverting to earlier or primitive defense mechanisms will eventually create alterations in a person's personality structure. The more of my "self" and my experience that feels intolerable to me, the more I must split off and project it away from me. This is of course an illusory experience as we can never really get rid of a part of ourselves. The result of this continued splitting and projecting is a continuing weakening in my core sense of self.

Changes in Personal Identity

"The hallmark of vicarious traumatization is disrupted frame of reference. One's identity, world view, and spirituality together constitute frame of reference. As a result of doing trauma work, therapists are likely to experience disruptions in their sense of identity (sense of oneself as man/woman, as helper, as mother/father or one's customary feeling states), world view (moral principles, ideas about causality, life philosophy), and spirituality (meaning and hope, sense of connection with something beyond oneself, awareness of all aspects of life, and sense of the non-material)."

Secondary Traumatic Stress, P. 54

Over a period of time untreated secondary traumatization will eventually create compensating structures in the personality as an adaptive function for the growing deterioration of one's sense of self. Essentially, the more we experience an erosion in our "sense of being an independent center of initiative and perception, integrated with our most central ambitions and ideals and with our experience that our body and mind form a unit in space and a continuum in time," the more distorted our self-perception will become. Progressive self-misperception will eventually lead to disruptions in our sense of identity, world view and spirituality.

Sense of Identity
For many care providers, our sense of personal identity is often intertwined with out identity as a helper. While this has some distinct advantages in being able to empathize with our clients it can lead to self-devaluation and eventually threaten our sense of self when we do not receive the kind of personal recognition and/or satisfaction we believe we deserve.

As our sense of professional worthiness erodes under the continual demands and pressures of the job our personal sense of "enoughness" is also threatened. The less worthy I feel the less enough I experience myself to be. As my sense of enoughness erodes, the very foundation of my sense of identity is shaken; rather than my job being something I do, it becomes who I am.

This shift from doing my job to being my job creates a condition in which I must meet my personal needs through my interactions as a care provider. This shift is often silent and invisible. We may truly not have a clue that our perception has shifted. From our perspective, it is everybody else that has changed. We either feel victimized, create or fall into situations in which we are victimized, or victimize others.

World View
As our sense of identity shifts, our perception of others, our family, friends and community, our overall view of ourselves in the world also shifts. We may increasingly find ourselves feeling separate and isolated from the rest of the world. Separateness is often expressed as the sense that something may be deeply "wrong" or "bad" with us and may be manifested as our feeling special and better than others with accompanying expectations of entitlement.

This split between feeling especially bad and especially entitled is the result of a weakening sense of self. The weaker or more fragile I experience my core self to be, the more special and entitled I must feel about myself and the more expectations I have that others should perceive me in the same way. It is a matter of balance. The worse I feel about myself, the more I must have others respond to me in the way I need and expect to maintain homeostasis.

This strategy however is faulty as it relies on my perceiving myself in greater misalignment with others as well as greater incongruence within myself. The greater the misalignment and incongruence the more likely I will respond inaccurately and inappropriately to life events resulting in greater separateness and isolation. Eventually this process will expand to include coworkers, clients, family, friends and community.


"It was a beautiful, harmonious, peaceful-looking planet, blue with white clouds, and one that gave you a deep sense...of home, of being, of identity. It is what I prefer to call instant global connectedness."

— Edgar Mitchell, Astronaut, viewing the earth from the moon

Broadly speaking, I would like to define spirituality as our personal sense of connection with a benevolent life force larger than ourselves, that gives us a sense of inner belonging and direction, and this is exactly what begins to break down under the ever pressing force of misperception.

In order to have a sense of connection and belonging it is first necessary to perceive ourselves as the very small yet essential, temporary yet valuable, individual yet connected beings that we really are. It is a matter of your point of view.

From the point of view of myself as special/separate from the universe with everything else revolving around ME, for MY personal need-desires I am automatically cut off from any sense of belonging and connectedness. Belonging and connectedness require, as a prerequisite, a view of myself more in alignment with how the world really is.

One of the undeniable realities about this world is, as individuals we are small and temporary. In the context of just this planet our individual lives are but a tiny flicker among billions of others in just a flash of time. The importance we hold on our "individuality" may be better spent on our sense of community and connection.

The greater my self-importance and entitlement the further out of alignment I am with how the world really is. The greater my misalignment with the world the way it is, the more fragile my sense of self and the greater my need to feel special and separate.

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