“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
Raise your hand if you are a caregiver, either personally or professionally. Do you spend your days looking after the wellbeing of family, friends and/or clients? At the end of a long day or an even longer week, do you feel “all gived out”? As a therapist and consummate caregiver in most of my relationships, I would often admit that my compassion meter was running a quart low. I would find myself feeling impatient and annoyed with the drama that swirled around me. That’s when I knew I needed to examine the areas in my life in which I was neglecting that which I was showering on others.
Compassion is defined as:
“sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
In many spiritual traditions, compassion is a core value. The task at hand may be to allow for the people we love and even those we may never meet, to have their own experiences even if we can do nothing beyond sending them good intentions and wishing healing for them in whatever form they most need. Being free of judgment about whether a situation is good or bad, is one challenge I have encountered over the years. Like every person on the planet, I have experienced love and loss, joy and sorrow. The measure of my maneuvering through them has a great deal to do with a certainty that all would work out for the Highest Good. Sometimes that sense of knowing was elusive. It would show up like a prn — as needed — medication to provide a healing balm amid confusion and chaos. That was when I most needed a hardy dose of self-compassion. AND that is when I was least likely to be able to offer it.
It was when I was in a yoga class many years ago, gazing at a statue of Kwan Yin who is known as the Goddess of Compassion that I literally heard her comforting voice questioning why I was so hard on myself and wasn’t I ready to drop the struggle and love myself as is, where I was at any given point along the stretching spectrum.
It was not the first time, nor would it be the last that sweat wasn’t the only liquid that splashed on the mat. Healing tears cascaded down as I realized how often I judged myself for not being “enough,” or “too much,” as a means of over-compensating for my perceived shortcomings.
I became adept at hiding the truth of who I was so I wouldn’t evoke disapproval, which at times felt like obliteration. If friends and family could see beyond the facade I desperately gathered around me like a cloak of protection, they would know that this seemingly confident woman harbored insecurities. Who doesn’t want it to appear that they have it all together? I have wondered if clients and friends knew how I truly felt at times, they would confide in me or trust my therapeutic abilities. I was speaking with a client today about that idea and expressed gratitude that none of us have thought bubbles over our heads that let others in on the workings of our minds.
What might yours say?
My friend Ondreah is going through an ordeal that sadly, many are experiencing as someone diagnosed with breast CA (she prefers to refer to it as “C” and notes that she is on the “C train” as she eschews the words “cancer” and “chemotherapy”, referring to them as IV meds.). A career home care nurse, she is now on the other end of the stethoscope and on the receiving end of care and treatment for a condition she never anticipated facing. All the compassion she poured forth for her patients is now coming her way, from the outside. The inside is a whole ‘nother matter. Sometimes harshly critical of herself, she would question how this condition had developed and what she as a psychologically astute, spiritually exploring medical professional would have to deal with it and what skills she would bring to bear to face the inevitable dark nights of the soul that accompanied it.
As we spoke recently, she offered these words of comfort to herself, “If I am conscious of you (meaning herself), the place I would be coming from would be gentler and encouraging. Cut yourself a break. You didn’t do this on purpose.” She continued the word ramble, “My body feels an urge to move and why can’t I move? I wish my body would move faster. Can I give myself a break and be gentler with myself? No one else would make me wrong for feeling the frustration. Hurry up and get over it. Can I say I love myself? Where do I feel it? I am sometimes pushing my way through it,” and on it goes with no solid sense of resolution.
I wonder what it would take for each of us to hold ourselves with the same sense of love and compassion, being easy on ourselves, only ‘going as fast as the slowest part of us feels safe to go.’