That is how most of us feel watching the devastation in Oklahoma. We watch the news coverage, see the images, hear the first hand accounts, and even though we aren’t there, even if we don’t know anyone who was, we feel sick.
When devastation happens we all feel it in the gut, in some visceral way we can’t explain, like on some level we are there, and yet we aren’t. We are biologically programed to feel the pain we witness. It’s a built in neural mechanism that is hardwired into us to insure the preservation of the species. Hyper-empathy kicks in during times of crisis or extreme suffering.
If you weren’t wired to feel the pain you are witnessing, you’d be less likely to run into a burning building to save someone you don’t know. Because humans are wired that way, they commit heroic acts for people they’ve never met and empty their pockets for strangers they never will meet in times of suffering.
What this means for most of us right now is, all those homes lost are your neighbors homes, or at least a part of your reptilian brain thinks so. Those people you see shocked and battered standing in the rubble, are your family, or at least it feels that way. Those children in that elementary school are your children, or children in your family, or at least a part of you can’t tell that they aren’t.
You are wired to feel the pain, and it’s a beautiful thing.
When crisis strikes and suffering happens our awareness of oneness expands exponentially to the degree of the suffering we witness. In days and weeks like this, we are more intensely “one” than at other times when our awareness diminishes and the illusion of separateness feels like an evil numbing spell. In times like this we are most awake.
It’s natural to want to look away, and yet chances are you can’t. Resistance is futile, because you are biologically programmed to stand with those who are suffering as if you’re actually with them. The Sufi poet Rumi says, “Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.” Pray for mercy for the people standing in the rubble of devastation, and pray for mercy for yourself, because whether you like it or not, a part of you is standing right there there with them.