A tidal wave came crashing in on me. Then suddenly I found myself standing on an outdoor stage, holding my brother’s hand. I was a widowed silhouette, covered in black. And then I woke up. It was just a lucid dream!
Now, 30 years later, the dream is real. It’s really happening. I’m holding my brother’s hand on the outdoor stage by the dock in the town of Port Washington, New York, where we grew up. We’re saying “good-bye” to our home town, as my brother is about to embark on a new journey to live with me in California because mom passed away and he has Down Syndrome, and I love him. It was then that I remembered the dream which also foretold every major event of my life. So, I knew that taking my brother to live with me was predestined – part of our “pre-conception contract.”
My brother is part of my “soul pod,” as Father Seán ÓLaoire, PhD often tells me, “a person with whom I move from incarnation to incarnation, creating a drama which affords each of us the ideal circumstances in order to develop a particular virtue we want to work on for an incarnation.” This time it’s compassion.
It’s no wonder that Father Seán’s blog of August 21, 2018, Circles of Compassion, affected me emotionally on many levels. I realized that he was mostly writing about compassion from the perspective of those who grew up in dysfunctional families (as I did), and are caring for persons who possess the innate capacity to make and be responsible for their own decisions and the outcomes of those decisions in this lifetime (and beyond).
Yet, I couldn’t help but read this blog from the perspective of my “caregiver” role with my brother, who because of Down Syndrome – a chromosome 21, genetic disorder causing developmental delay and intellectual impairment – lacks this capacity.
In his blog, Fr. Seán writes, “Compassion, I believe, is born when love meets fear.” The compassion I have for my brother is quite different in that it is born when love meets LOVE.
Since the day he was born, my brother has always been a source of joy and inspiration in my life, simply because he enjoys every minute of his life. When I am unhappy about something frivolous, seeing his smile uplifts me. Growing up, he was always there to comfort and shield me from the abuse of our dysfunctional family. My brother is the one person in my life who has always loved me unconditionally.
Although facets of my compassion for my brother differ from some aspects of Father Seán’s descriptions, overall, my compassion is congruent with the four stages he describes: (1) Physiological; (2) Psychological; (3) Sociological; and (4) Spiritual. I will speak about the similarities and differences of my experiences of Stages (1) through (3) next. Then I will talk about the luminous, mystical event which fully awakened Stage (4), The Spiritual Response, in me.
Stage (1): The Physiological Response
According to Father Seán, this initial stage occurs when one takes on “the physical pain, illness or symptoms of another.” As a child, I saw myself as the source of my brother’s developmental disability, in that I ‘won’ the genetic lottery since it was not me who was born with Down Syndrome. I felt my brother’s perceived pain then, now, and will for the remainder of this lifetime (and possibly beyond). Most siblings of folks with Down Syndrome experience this internalized pain on some level.
Stage (2): The Psychological Response
Father Seán describes this second stage as a codependency where the compassionate caregiver becomes psychologically disabled by the anxiety and dysfunction of the caregivee. My experience differs. Although I mistakingly felt that I was the source of my brother’s Down Syndrome, I was the true victim of my parents’ anxiety and dysfunction. In addition to taking on my brother’s perceived pain, I took on my parents’ actual pain. When my mother would physically abuse me, it was my brother who was my rope-thrower and compassionate caregiver – despite his disability and need to be taken care of.
Stage (3): The Sociological Response
In his description of this third stage, Father Seán says that the caregiver can burn out from a combination of making interventions on behalf of the caregivee and being enmeshed in the toxic dynamics of a dysfunctional family. He also says that sometimes the appropriate response is, “You need to do this for yourself.”
Aside from the fact that my brother lacks the capacity to do many things for himself, and that our toxic, dysfunctional family members are deceased, my experience of this stage is in sync with Father Seán’s description.
As my brother’s caregiver, I make interventions, drive him to his day program, doctor appointments, cook his meals, clean our home, manage his finances, and persuade his sheltered workshop “bosses” not to “fire” him from his “job” assembling frames for tablet PCs when he arrives hours late for “work.” This is exhausting! Also true to Father Seán’s description, is that if I do not get respite (personal time) on a daily basis, I burn out.
My Awakening to Stage (4): The Spiritual Response
Since the compassion I have for my brother is born of love – not fear – some aspects of Stage (4), The Spiritual Response, differ from Father Seán’s description. He says that this response entails “being a channel for healing.”
Since Down Syndrome is a genetic disability, I could not be a channel for my brother’s physical healing. The healing that needed to be channeled was my own – my faulty perception of my brother as a one-dimensional being in a purely physical “spacesuit” of incarnation.
Father Seán also says that to reach Stage (4), we should step back and observe the scope of our situation. I took a few steps BEYOND and observed! This happened while I sat in the room watching my brother have an electroencephalogram (EEG) to track and record his brain wave patterns. As the technician stimulated brain wave activity, I “met” my “brother” in different levels of reality!
The experience reminded me of The Transfiguration of Jesus –especially Luke’s version: “As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor…” [Luke 9:29-30 NIV]. Yet, this was happening in front of me as I watched my brother during his EEG! Of course, the “two men” who appeared were not Moses and Elijah! They were my brother!
The appearance of my brother’s face changed. At times, he appeared as himself in his present incarnation – without Down Syndrome! Other times, he appeared as an older, Irish-looking man (also without Down Syndrome) with the same color blue eyes, a round face and wavy gray hair! I knew in my “heart” (the innermost core of my being), that this was my brother in his last incarnation!
I saw “both” versions of my “brother” several times, as the technician stimulated brain wave activity. And during the entire EEG, I saw my brother with the WHITEST WHITE halo surrounding the right side of his head. Most of the time, it was about one inch away. Other times, it became a half-egg ellipse which was much wider. His whole body remained illuminated throughout the entire procedure.
Somehow, the EEG enabled me to see beyond the “Mask of Incarnation” and meet my brother as the eternal, multidimensional being he really is! I was so moved, I cried profusely.
Through this experience, I learned that so-called “disabilities” only exist at the most dense layer of reality – physical matter. Seeing my brother as the eternal, multidimensional being he really is enables me to respond spiritually. My mission is to help my eternal-being brother through this difficult incarnation, which he courageously chose so that he could learn – and teach me – about compassion. By doing so, I help him in all levels of reality.
It’s still a mystery to me why I was able to see my brother in multiple layers of reality during his EEG. Perhaps, since I was in the room, my brain wave activity was also affected by the EEG stimuli. There’s even a relatively new science, “Neurotheology,” which attempts to explain these types of mystical experiences in neuroscientific terms!
Finding Our Way Home
According to Father Seán, as “soul-pod mates,” my brother and I have had “many previous loving incarnations.” And now, we are incarnational actors each playing a part in our lifelong drama to learn about compassion. When our performance ends, as Father Seán says, we will “find our way home.”
It’s been great learning about “compassion.” Funny how the ancient Rabbinic sages summed it up almost 2000 years ago with the concept “Tikkun Olam,” which means, “repairing the world.” One way to do so is by “g‘milut chasadim” (acts of loving kindness), a.k.a. compassionate caregiving! If only we had incarnated then!
Although I love my brother unconditionally and my life is so much better with him and his love, I do need some “time out” – like right now! I’m going to stretch out on the sofa, meditate and hopefully, leave my body and commune with my “pod-mates” – soul and shadow – on the “other side” and start planning our next incarnational adventure! Stay tuned!