Dangerous Compassions

being with

being with

Hello, how are you doing?  I’ve been thinking about “being with.”  Ming and I do a lot of care for each other, including being with.


I was playing a game with friends, my second RPG ever, over zoom.  I was a toad who had been given psychedelics by a kind witch.  We were on a quest.  My name was Tumult; I drew myself.

being with

The players were all radical mental health people.  On our journey, we encountered a non-player character who sent needy mixed messages and had a mean side.  The conversation wasn’t going well.  I said that Lawrence the Skunk needed some “being with.”

It’s funny because “being with” is a concept I know from radical mental health, particularly soteria.  It’s practiced when someone is in a non-shared reality, possibly agitated.  They could be in an altered state, feeling big feelings.  They’re not on the same page as everyone else, and there’s a component of suffering.

shared reality

In the regular psych system, being outside of shared reality is given the cold judgmental label of “delusion” or “psychosis.”  It’s considered dangerous, and you could have your freedom taken away.  You might be ignored, isolated, drugged up against your will, told you’re wrong, and deeply disrespected.  Your mind, body, and spirit might be disrespected to the point of violence and violation.

“Being with,” on the other hand, is respectful.  It’s a way to remain curious and open with someone who’s in distress.  It involves listening, patience, kindness.

Maybe it’s never been true for me, that the government was eavesdropping through the fillings of my teeth.  But what if I missed it?  We can’t know everything.  This person actually might be Jesus come back, and it’s possible that angels are anywhere.  I don’t know everything.  What’s true?

Maybe it’s tiring, to listen to someone explain over and over how the universe is a hologram, we are all robots, or time is actually an onion made of light.  But in a way, it’s the least I can do.

to love

In mainstream psychiatric situations, the goal is to medicate, therapy, and group therapy someone back into the fold, back to normalcy and being able to work full time.

The goal with “being with,” on the other hand, is to love someone.  In a chill way, with respect, on their terms if it’s safe, we can help someone feel supported during their time in non-shared reality.  I never want to abandon a suffering person.  That’s when it hurts most, to be abandoned.

We meet, even in a strange place.  With boundaries we can take care of ourselves, while gently suspending disbelief, extending considerate kindness to someone who’s being weird.

Not abandoning people is my favorite suicide prevention method.  I don’t want to grab someone to stop them from jumping off a bridge, or call the cops on someone who’s threatening to shoot themselves.  I would rather help people feel accepted and loved over the long term, preventing suicide by meaningfully being there for the long haul.


“Being with” is sort of radical but sort of basic, and personally, I find it fun.  I had a best friend who believed some wild things, especially episodically.  She would go through a few days of intense distress.  I’d spend hours sitting with her as she went off about beliefs I did not agree were real in a shared sense.

It was a lot of work, but I loved her.  She was scared, and my presence comforted her.  I completely trusted her, and it was hard work, but she was worth it.  What am I on earth to do, beside to love and be loved?

longer example

One night at a radical mental health collective meeting, someone showed up who was on a different page from everyone else.  The group seemed slightly freaked out by this whimpering person who was not doing language well and seemed scared.

She was hard to understand.  But the meeting is not just for super verbal people who have their shit together and arrive in a good mood.  Whimpering low-language scared people are welcome too.   I asked her some questions, tried to make sense of the few words I could understand, emoted care to her, acknowledged her scared feeling, and told her she was welcome and mattered to us.

Modeling this way of “being with” was helpful to the meeting.  She calmed down and stayed with us.  I don’t know how useful the meeting was for her overall.  But at least we didn’t abandon her.


I’ve seen people do “being with” with kids.  It’s a basic social skill of compassion and respect.

When a kid tells me, “The dragonfly was nice to me because she knew it was my birthday,” I smile and consider dragonfly knowledge.

I don’t say, “You’re wrong–dragonflies don’t know it’s your birthday.”  Who knows.  Maybe all the animals love this kid.  Maybe dragonflies keep calendars in a way I could never understand.

In my world, dragonflies are into darting over water, gently resting on a twig, and mating on a lily pad.  But maybe I have dragonflies all wrong.  Maybe they are birthday messengers.

The kid is much younger than I am, but that doesn’t mean they know less.  They might know much, much more.  They don’t have the common knowledge yet, which is so often wrong.  I would rather learn from a kid than teach a kid, most things.


In the game, when I told the game master that Lawrence the Skunk needed some “being with,” the game master asked, “How will you do that?”

I started narrating what I would say to Lawrence, trying to connect and earn their trust.  There was a scary part to Lawrence, but there’s a scary part to almost everyone, right?  Just a matter of how well we hide it.

I believed Lawrence was good, and I took the risk of reaching out.  I offered Lawrence an aster flower, and he was happy.  When I picked the aster from the roadside and gave the aster to him, we had some common ground to work from.  We both loved asters.

Giving someone water or food is a basic human connection move, but I learned about it as a deescalation technique.  It can be a way to establish a little trust.  Some people want to trust, a little bit.  If they are open to the gift, what a good start.

what I wish I had said

How I really like to do “being with” in regular life–not with talking skunks, when I’m a toad who’s done psychedelics–is more like this.


I show up grounded, knowing myself and my needs.  A basic boundary is I can give this one hour.  If I feel truly scared at any point, or get a creeped out feeling in my body, I leave, no explanation needed.

My ancestors have my back, and Parent Earth loves me at all times.  I’m deeply safe in myself, so I can risk contact with someone who’s not.

in my body

A basic way I care for myself is to breathe, relax my neck and shoulder muscles if I can, feel my feelings to a degree, and keep eating, drinking, and using the bathroom when I need to.

I try to stay in my body and be kind to myself at all times.  That helps me make good choices and not give more than I can give.

be curious

I prefer to stay curious all through life, in all situations.  But staying curious is especially important with someone who’s in an altered state, very upset, or seems different from me.

It’s a human thing, to want to protect ourselves by Othering someone and cutting ourselves off from them.  It’s easier short term to say no and stop listening.  But I prefer to stay open to someone, as long as I’m feeling the energy to do that.

Cutting myself off from a challenging person might feel like important self-defense.  But staying open is a way to build bridges and possibly heal culture.  I can’t do the culture healing work at my expense.  But if I stay grounded and happy, why not reach out and consider them a possibly valid person?

Staying separate in our own little apartments is not the way to connect, care, and make a better world.  We’re doing community for love.


I could have told Lawrence that I’ve had very lonely times in my life too.  I’ve been abandoned also, and anger is a valid way to feel.

It’s hard to know we’ve failed people.  It’s easier to pretend we’re perfect and pretend we’re not implicated.  But we’ve all been all the roles, probably.  I’ve been abandoned, and I’ve been the abandoner.  That’s part of why it hurts so much.

I need to show up for people.  No one is free until we’re all free.  My liberation is shared, or it’s not liberation at all.  We all belong at the table of humanity, and crazy people such as myself are my favorite.

Nothing will make me stop loving.  I can change how I express it, give space to those who need it, take breaks, and I’ll always have boundaries.  But love is what my body is for.

When I’m just a spirit, I’ll have a different project.  For now, I’m on earth as a human being.  This body is to hold other bodies.

My heart is to pump my blood, but it’s also ticking to remind me that I only have so much time here as Laura-Marie.  I’m going to do all the love I can, during this sacred possibility.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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