Substance Feeds The Hungry

‘Compassion and empathy, without experience, is like offering a recipe to a starving person.  Experience turns it into a meal.’

A hour before an appointment, I decided to lay this thought in contemplation where answers marinade in Love.

I headed for a nearby trail of sculptures where art nestles in nature.  Once on the path I began reading titles, trying to understand the artistic intent.   What made one artist place a bed in the clutch of bushes?  Leaves and twigs adorned the disarrayed covers and skewed pillows.   Did a boulder, hanging precariously from limbs in a network of lines, satisfy a longing for balance?  Who was the artist who created a metal tree, freshly sawed and fallen?  He perched two tiny human figures on the rusting stump, highlighting the size of massive cedars destroyed through decades of ignorance.

My feelings rose from my experiences with these subjects.

Coming out of the forest and walking towards a field, I scolded myself  for neglecting my intent.  Compassion and empathy had been overridden by art.

Suddenly, two sculptures appeared in that open field.  There stood my theme.   Two tall, sleek figures – surely compassion and empathy – invited my quieting.  Two silent figures instantly symbolized all those who have shared their experiences and shaped my soul with chiseled love.

Observing symbols of Compassion and Empathy - Partners in Peace


As I approached the sculptures, viewing them from all angles, my thoughts went to a cherished friend who recently took a stand against subtle and consistent wounding of her heart.

She had called saying she needed a walk.   With each kilometer, her heart spilled more truth.  She let out her longing for genuine love.   She described the sadness of watching her partner’s deeds negate words expressing loving kindness.  She fought tears through descriptions of  betrayal.


Not out of the woods just yet.

Compassion and empathy flowed easily.  I was hearing my story.  She described feelings I had felt in the past.

Without effort, I remembered words I had uttered years before,  “I know his rages won’t kill me, but what is this relationship doing to my soul?”


Moving Closer - Thanks to Strong Backs with Soft Hearts

Hungry for an answer to my question, I was led to the appropriate people.

Two experienced women possessing strong backs and soft fronts listened as I shared my question, finally speaking my feelings.  Compassion pooled in their eyes.  They validated my strength and independence with their stories.  They listened to my disgust over placing myself in an abusive situation.  Their recovery began the same way.

They promised me I would eventually burn the whips of self-flagellation.

The respect and understanding that came from their experience wrapped me in willingness.  Their strength fired my resolve to leave the relationship.

I went home and packed.


Up Close and Full On - Substance Points with Promise

The sculptures transitioned from being other people into symbolizing my friend and me.  As I studied the strength of their lines, the depth forged by shadows and the weathering of natural wood, I saw how these are principles passed from one human to another.  It was time for my friend to muster courage, make decisions and carve the life she wants her offspring to see and emulate.

Acid rain, burning sunlight, and varying temperatures have layered a patina on two graceful pieces of art.

Life layers ours.

Our experience creates the substance that others need to nourish themselves.    Our experience offers a hand they may grasp.  They are not alone.   They are heard.

In compassion and empathy, our words may be a recipe.  However, when we add experience, we make a meal.

Substance is sustenance.


Addendum:  November 4, 2011:  I have now secured the name of the creator of these two figures as well as the Gallery that has loaned them to Hastings House.  Made with Red Cedar, “Man and New Woman”  by artist, Michael Dennis,  or

Artwork from the Sculpture Garden at our exquisite Hastings House:

64 thoughts on “Substance Feeds The Hungry

  1. Those wonderous figures sure are stately and I love how you depicted them. One question. Why is the one on the right without his right arm? Does it take empathy to make compassion and vice versa? Can we have one and not the other?

    I could imagine one being Jesus the Christ and the other, one of His Disciples. Or one could be Mother Teresa.

    Your dallying was fruitful wasn’t it? Beautiful post, Soul Dipper. Love those statues.

    • Hi Clarbojahn – except for the appendage that seems to be pointing, there are no arms on either figure. Both are uncarved and natural. I suspect the “pointing appendage” had been a branch at one time.

      The Virtues Project defines Compassion as being understanding and caring – a strong desire to ease another’s distress. It’s wanting to help even when all you can do is listen. Empathy is defined as being able to understand another person so deeply that you are able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You understand their experience.

      The Virtues Cards contain fuller definitions for both virtues and in each, they are stated in the other’s definition. So you have to answer the question for yourself, Clarbojahn! 😀

      Isn’t that the beauty of art? It allows you to ‘make of it’ what you wish or perceive.

  2. Wow, that was positively beautiful! I’m so in awe of “Acid rain, burning sunlight, and varying temperatures have layered a patina on two graceful pieces of art.
    Life layers ours.”
    I think of my own patina. I believe the wrinkles on my forehead are not from scowling but from opening my eyes so wide in awe and the surprises of life. I believe the wrinkles around my eyes are from laughter, smiling and joyous nonsense I’ve encountered. Compassion and empathy plus experience, indeed a meal and one we need to make for ourselves too, from time to time.



  3. Wonderful. We all can inspire others to leave difficult and awful situations. It just takes being there and saying the words. I wish I had had someone there when I was married. It took me far too long to get away.

    • Oh, boy, SDS – I’m so sorry to hear that you didn’t have the support to pull away sooner. I was told that every year I stayed in an emotionally abusive relationship, it takes three to heal. I hope you are well healed and are now able to love yourself.

  4. Hi,
    I think it is so true ” Our experience offers a hand they may grasp.” I have always believed this. I feel their is a reason for everything, we may not know at the time what the reason will be, we may never find out, but it usually involves helping someone else, or it leads you to where you really should be.

    • When there is purpose in even the most challenging ordeal and it turns out to be one that helps others, we are enriched twice. It sure is where we are to focus and live, Mags!

  5. “Acid rain, burning sunlight, and varying temperatures have layered a patina on two graceful pieces of art. Life layers ours. Our experience creates the substance that others need to nourish themselves. Our experience offers a hand they may grasp. They are not alone. They are heard. In compassion and empathy, our words may be a recipe. However, when we add experience, we make a meal. Substance is sustenance” -I think this is the most beautifully written truth I’ve read in a long time. These are words I want to mull over for a while. Going to reread this and contemplate in a hot bath (yes, one of the places I do my deepest thinking!)…these words of yours will stick with me for a long time. Through our experiences we learn much we can share with others to help them along the path we’ve already traveled. Compassion and empathy travel side by side and at some point they clasp hands to complete the journey.

    • Your comment, SuZicate, is a testament to your wisdom and depth. I encourage readers to visit you at: where soul is served with beauty and creativity. Thank you for your kind words. SuZicate.

  6. Hi Amy,
    Great post – I love the opening quote, the friendship (plus your ear) you offered your friend, and photos of the sculpures.

    I was interested to read your comment:
    I was told that every year I stayed in an emotionally abusive relationship would take three to heal .

    and loved SuZicate’s comment
    Compassion and empathy travel side by side and at some point they clasp hands to complete the journey .

    • Yes, Rosie, Suzicate’s comment iced the cake! Thank you for your welcome response to the post. It was a psychologist, also doing Hospice training, who told me that recovery time = abuse time x 3. That makes people sit up and pay attention!

  7. Once again your words have struck a chord. I take courage from your comment that you will ‘eventually burn the whips of self-flagellation,’ for I am discovering that I am my harshest critic. I now live with the gentlest man, who loves me unconditionally but I can find that hard to believe. But at least I am aware of that. It gives me hope to read that the experiences I have gone through in my life are not simply (many) wasted years but can inspire those close to me to chose a better ways of being for themselves.
    Thank you for sharing this, Souldipper!

    • You are welcome, Wightrabbit. May you not want to doddle one moment – stop believing that cruel message that you are unlovable. Burn the whips and accept that you are ready, indeed, for the gentle love given you. Thank you for being the promise that a hurting person needs to see. It gives me such joy to learn of a success story. Oh, I know there is no “perfect”, but to love and to be loved is such fulfillment.

  8. SD, I read this exquisite post as the sun began to warm the sky behind my maple tree, blushing the same color as its backdrop. My heart clutched as I read your description of partnerships gone awry and of friends reaching out to each other with compassion and strength. I will be rereading this post. There is much in it for me to contemplate….thank you for sharing this.

    • You are so welcome, RW. (On a lighter note – doncha just love these initials? – I feel like we are sitting across from one another with cigars! :D) Now I’m going to speak right up without hesitation: The culmination of your blog and the trail of comments you leave show you as one of those “strong back, soft front” people who would be there when needed. I see you who gives the gift of time.

  9. “She let out her longing for genuine love. She described the sadness of watching her partner’s deeds negate words expressing loving kindness.”

    These are heartbreaking feelings, Amy, and no doubt far more common than any of us can realize. Thank you for writing about them so beautifully.

    • Charles, speaking of abuse, I am going to address my sadness that you have experienced mean-spirited comments as a result of you being “Fresh Pressed”. Bullies with keyboards – they are out there. The motives of these people are irrational and indecipherable. Trying to respond seems to add kindling to the fire . Kind-hearted people find it difficult to deny these people approval. It feels abusive and unloving. However, so is the mean-spirited comment!

      Barbara Swafford at Blogging Without A Blog has been blogging for years – helped turn the sod. She has one blog with a purpose to help newer bloggers. She nails topics that I haven’t even realized I need to think about. Last November, she wrote about negative comments: I not only find her ideas helpful, but also the comments from her seasoned readers.

  10. Too often we believe we are stuck in a no-win situation and can’t find the strength to make a change in our life. You showed courage in packing your bags and making that change.

    Others need to find their own resolve and are fortunate if they can be guided by someone like you who has seen it’s no sin to call it quits in a bad relationship.

    • Yes, Michael J. – abuse is no respecter of gender. And it comes in many, many forms. Those of us who wake up and see the reality are the ones who have grasped the power and strength with which we have been gifted. To deny it is to deny our faith – whatever path we have chosen.

      Those who believe they have escaped, or truly have escaped, the clutches of abuse can at least listen. It’s listening without judgement that can be difficult for the inexperienced.

  11. Wow Amy, everytime I think this one is the best one there is another. You have outdone yourself this time and all with truth and reality. How amazing that you had been thru all that your friend was experiencing now. What a blessing that you were there to just listen, hug her and share what you had learned. I do hope that she has made some decisions, and is moving forward. There are angels here on earth and we are them to each other. She is so blessed to have you for a friend.

    • One tiny, brave step at a time, Dee. Vulnerability often veils the truth and clouds determination. To truly be a friend is to accept decisions in the face of obvious consequences. What makes so many of us think we only have one stab at love? What makes so many of us think that fulfilling an unhealthy need is love?

      Right now, my friend is busily looking for the home that she’s been wanting for three years. She’s visualizing a cottage, on the water, full of light and brightness. I believe she’ll find it, too! 😀

  12. Amy, this is a very powerful piece of personal and universal writing. So many parts of it caught my breath, but this : “Two experienced women possessing strong backs and soft fronts listened…” left me awestruck at your unique talent of being gentle with words that carry so much power.

    You are an amazing writer and have a soul very deeply connected to the Divine.

  13. Our experience offers a hand they may grasp. They are not alone. They are heard. In compassion and empathy, our words may be a recipe. However, when we add experience, we make a meal.

    A vast array of emotions played out for me when I read this. Part of it was the ‘been there, done that’ stuff of believing that abusive relationship was ‘the best’ I could do/I deserved. My worth and value got tied into making it work–in part though that manipulation the victimizer was so good at and in part cuz I believed so little in ME.
    I get the power of compassion coupled with experience. When you’ve walked there and come through the other side, there’s power in that. To know that someone else could, did and flourished–and that someone would walk through it with me…..was paramount in making those decisions and chasing something different for me. And how wonderful that, with that experience, came an opportunity to give back and pass on.
    Who’da thunk that awesome things would have come from all that.
    I didn’t in the thick of it.

    Somehow I believe you ‘get it’ when I say “It wasn’t a ‘bad’ thing… brought me to ‘here’ and ‘here’ is an awesome place.”

    And can I just add that I followed the link for Hastings House–wow…….what an awesome place!

  14. Amy, I think sometimes you wonder if you are wasting time blogging. I’m late in reading this since I’ve been driving for a couple of days without Internet access. As I browse through all the previous comments (and because I’m late, I have more to read) I think you need to feel confident that you are doing exactly what you are being called to do right now. The whole event you relate is also a testimony to that. Look how those statues were there, waiting to teach and to validate. Blessings, my friend.

    • Thank you, Victoria. I also feel I am doing what I am meant to be doing. No, I do not feel I’m wasting time at all. I love blogging. If my irregular posting causes you to wonder what I feeling, be assured that it’s because I post when I have time and when the topic will not stay in my soul.

      My life is abundantly full of diverse activities and people. Blogging is only a part of it, but it is an important part!

      As always, Victoria, I see such welcome insight in all you share – on your blog and in your comments all around the blogosphere.

  15. Hi Amy: beautiful sculptures. I have often though we are a prism: we view everything through a set of experiences which is ours alone. I love your three: empathy, compassion and experience: I think when one has all three one could have a shot at being wise…

  16. What a beautiful post. As I read the relationship between the art and your experience, it actually took me on a trip into what the artist who created these sculptures might have thought about what they meant to you, Amy, as you took these lovely photos. You have not only touched the soul of this artist. When you pay homage to one of us, it translates as a gift to all of us.

    • You express yourself so uniquely, Leslie. Many thanks.

      I had a series of interesting challenges obtaining the name of the gallery – and then the name of the artist – who kindly loaned the sculptures to Hastings House. The Gallery owners are away for an extended period, but: I found the figures on their beautiful website. The artist is Michael Dennis: or . I’ve now appropriately added this name to the article.

      In Michael’s statement about these tall, sleek and graceful figures, he alludes to the manner in which one simple line can create such significant change.

      And so it is with our taking time to listen.

      • Thank you for taking the time to share these links with me, Amy. It is as though the artist leaves an opening in all that he creates. He gives us images to bring our own story to. I like that, very much, about his work. That is ture about line. I could not agree more. 🙂

  17. Profoundly beautiful, quote, words and images, Amy. Bravo to you and your friend, and all strength to her for following through on her courageous decision…xoxo

  18. There is so much wisdom in the words you write. How we resonance with each, how important it is that we are there for each other. I particularly find your saying “Life layers ours” very beautiful. And I like the way you make the sculptures become part of the whole experience. A wonderful post.

  19. How do you connect so much, such an eclectic combination of things, and then put them together so naturally? This is beautiful, Amy.

    Peace. And love.

    • Hopefully the connectedness is a demonstration of how we are all so connected in so many ways that are not obvious. Our planet is trying to get the message through to all of us “high and mighty” humans! 😀

  20. Amy, i seem to intuitively gravitate to your site (sight) whenever I need to most. Your post spoke directly to me today. Without going into a lot of personal bs — thanks.

  21. “It was time for my friend to muster courage, make decisions and carve the life she wants her offspring to see and emulate.

    Acid rain, burning sunlight, and varying temperatures have layered a patina on two graceful pieces of art.”

    I love both of these lines, back to back, giving direction.

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