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Nien Cheng

Good day everyone! We’re enjoying a long weekend here in Canada called Labour Day Weekend. The weather’s been awesome.

I want to thank all those who donated towards the development and maintenance of TLS over the last week. A few of you asked me to remind us again next week, so here it is. You can go to the main site and click on the “Paypal Donate” button on the upper right. It really is appreciated and put to good use.

The forums are getting close to being restored, as well as several other repairs that needed to be done. We are also negotiating how to make TLS a better site, even a more mobile one, so I’m excited about that.

Today I want to write about a sensitive topic. So I’m going to speak from my own experiences. I don’t pretend to understand yours or to make light of your suffering. But I must admit I am incredibly interested in finding ways to help people feel empowered.

So here it is.

Once in a while my mentors will say something like this to me after I’ve been lamenting about a bad situation I’m in:

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

This is usually my sequence of reactions:

1. Defensiveness: Why are you asking me what I’m going to do about it? I want you to hear me. I want you to listen to my pain and get in touch with my suffering. This hurts and I want you to soothe me. I’m the victim here! The people or the situation that are causing my problems… it’s their fault. It’s not my fault. They broke it, they need to fix it! Now… on the one hand I do need to be in touch with my pain, and empathy is good, but it can’t end there. I wish there was more empathy in the world that can handle sitting with someone in their pain. It’s called compassion… suffering together. It is powerful. But this is only the beginning. It’s a good place to start. The most honest one.

2. Focus: After a while I begin to realize that even though I might actually be a victim here, that a bad situation was caused beyond my control, that I am not excused as an agent in the events or situation. If I keep looking with hope to my aggressors or initiators of my bad situation then nothing will ever change. Because one thing I’ve learned is that perpetrators of pain, suffering, and abuse, often don’t get it. They will continue their same patterns. Perpetrators perpetuate! So I have to stop hoping they will better my lot. It almost never happens. So while there is such a thing as perpetrators and victims, I can’t rely on my aggressors to alleviate my suffering. I have to look away from them for help. I will continue exposing, educating, and reforming aggressors, as well as fighting to make communities safe. But that comes next.

3. Empowerment: Finally, and sometimes it takes a while (anywhere from the length of a phone-call to maybe hours, weeks, months or even years)… but I finally get past my defensiveness, refocus, and then start feeling empowered to actually do something about it. Now, I know it depends on the nature and severity of the suffering, but I always am able to come to a place of empowerment where I can actually do something about it. I mean, I might not be able to get out of prison, or immediately out of a bad relationship, or leave my job, or bodily pain or illness, or debt, but there is always something I can do in the midst of it. Even though I may be a victim, I don’t have to think like one. I’ve been seemingly trapped in horrific situations, and sometimes for a long time, but then eventually I figure out a way to take back power and change it. It always begins with the change of my attitude within the bad situation. Then my perspective. Again… I embrace my suffering. I change my focus. This always has a way of transforming the situation from within even if the externals don’t change much. But then, sometimes it goes further. I have ended bad relationships, quit jobs, moved, declared bankruptcy, and exposed my abusers. Etcetera.

In times like these I’m always reminded of one of my heroes, Nien Cheng, who wrote, “Life and Death in Shanghi”, in which she recounts her harrowing experiences under the Cultural Revolution of China and ended up in prison for so many years. At first she was overwhelmed by the immensity of her suffering. But eventually she discovered how to be empowered in such a way that her guards and torturers were perplexed and even exasperated. Her resoluteness inspires me in times of suffering that no matter how tough things get, there is always some way to take back my power.

I know what it’s like to need empathy.
I know what it’s like to want to stay there.
I know what it’s like to wait for the situation or the aggressor to change.
I know this often doesn’t happen.
But I know the wonder of feeling empowered and getting my power back.
And I know what it’s like to do something about it.

I was careful to frame it within my own experience because, like I said, I do not want to pretend to understand yours. Sometimes our circumstances can be so extenuating that we become completely baffled and confused and even blinded to any options and all possibilities. I understand this too.

I’ve experienced it. But then, at some point, a little flicker of light comes and I finally figure out a way to be empowered.

This is what I love about TLS. We are allowed to share our sufferings and receive empathy for as long as it takes. We are provided space to eventually be honest with ourselves that our situation or aggressor might not change. We are also given time, support and encouragement to empower ourselves. I think that’s cool!

I hope this is helpful for you.

Much love,