A few weeks ago, at the end of a six-week course on depression I was giving, I asked if any of the participants would be interested in an on-going group that gave them the opportunity to explore more deeply some of the things they had discussed in the course. A few said they would be, and so I set out thinking about what form that group might take. How best might participants be served to explore their experience, make sense of it and share it with others?
Within a fortnight of posing that question, while searching the net, I came by chance upon a website for the Centre for Building a Culture of Empathy, which is a global movement dedicated to the promotion of tolerance and diversity. Watching a few of the numerous videos of individuals speaking about the importance of empathy and how it plays into their lives, I became aware of how crucial a quality it has been in groups I have been a part of over the years.We humans seem to have a capacity, when other forces don’t interfere, of being able to enter into and at least partially understand the inner world of another. Commonly, this characteristic has been described as an ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, to have a notion of what it’s like to be him or her.
My experience has been that this quality, more than any other, is the one that continuously lifts and sustains me, and makes it possible to manage a life, which at times, feels isolated, lonely and unrecognized. To receive the understanding of another seems to cure all of those just mentioned ailments that accompany the privilege of being an individual. And, likewise, to give to another my full, non-judgmental attention brings me a sense connection. Whether giving or receiving, the result is similar: I discover what I had momentarily forgotten, that I am, and always have been, connected to those who share my human experience. This bond sometimes isn’t obvious or easily described, but nonetheless it is strong. Feeling it has the effect of transforming my half-empty glass into a half-full one. It makes whatever I have, however little, enough.
The Highlands Empathy Circle is a small group of participants (no more than ten) and a professional facilitator, who will work together to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for our individual differences. It will aim to do this, primarily, through the telling of and listening to our individual stories. It will look at ways in which we can deepen our understanding of those stories, and to come to see the common themes as well as the unique details. The group is open to those currently facing emotional/mental challenges, carers, mental health professionals and anyone searching for an accepting environment.