Everyone’s life is complicated. I don’t think mine takes the top prize in struggle but I do wish I knew some things years ago. I’m 55 years old and still figuring things out. Then just when I think I have things organized and under control, life changes again and I have to start over. Does this feel familiar to you too?
When I was younger, my mind was like that silver ball in the pinball machine. I bounced from one problem or adventure to the next, just staying a moment in anyone place. If I got through that moment, good or bad that was all I needed. I was just on to the next. I rarely glanced back and never looked ahead. People came and went. It was easy to stay in the moment, because that was all I could see. Now I float back and stretch forward in my mind so much more than I need to. I struggle to just stay in the moment.
I think about people I’ve loved and lost. I think about my health issues and what the future might hold. I think about what it means to be a good person, the state of the world and what things in life bring me comfort and peace. I think a lot. I guess that’s why this blog works for me.
What I am exploring right now is a new Meditation class I am taking it at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health – Myrna Brind Center at Jefferson University in Philadelphia. It’s where I took a Mindfulness Meditation class last year. Both the Mindfulness and the Meditation really click with me. I meditate 4-5 times a week. The better I get at it, the more I love it. I use it to manage my pain and to slow down my wandering mind. This new meditation class is called Deepening Practice: Cultivating Compassion for Self and Other.
I had my first class this week.We discussed the meaning of the word Compassion. It seems like such a simple word but I found it hard to define. I could feel it’s meaning but had trouble putting it into words.
The definition we are working with is: To be fully present to someone’s suffering while also wishing her or him to be deeply free of suffering and it’s causes. Self-compassion – To be fully present with your own suffering while also wishing yourself to be deeply free of the suffering.
They told us that compassion can be cultivated. I guess that will mean growing and nurturing that part of your heart and mind. Can that really be done? I think it can.
I was on the elevator at my hospital this week. I get up at 5am. My Rheumatoid Arthritis is not on board with my start time. I hobble my way into the hospital lobby. The pain usually subsides as the day goes on. I push myself through my morning stiffness and pain. The pharmacy is on the second floor. I got to the first bank of elevators and pushed up for the 2nd floor. Residents and staff piled in after me. They called out for the 8th floor and higher. I got off at two. As I exited the elevator, I could hear a resident say, Sad, isn’t it? She should try the stairs! I guess being overweight, he assumed the lazy fat woman just chose to take the elevator. This is not the first time I’ve have had such comments at work.
Even as a physician, he saw what he wanted to see. He didn’t wonder if I had a chronic condition that caused pain especially in the morning. He didn’t wonder if I had been on steroids 6 times in the last 12 months. And he was so annoyed with his wrong conclusion, he just had to express it aloud before I was even out of the elevator.
Compassion. Where was his compassion?
At first I was hurt and embarrassed. Then mad. Finally I decided his comments were a reflection of his inner state. It probably felt pretty crappy inside him that day. I decided he was not going to spread it to me. I thought about one of my favorite meditations from class. I opened my heart. I wished him peace and kindness. I wished him safety and good health. I smiled to myself. I felt better. I hope he did too.
I wish I learned this years ago. Maybe I just wasn’t ready. Maybe I’m just too Italian. When my mother gets really mad at someone, we say not only does she want to nail that someone to the cross, she wants to drive the nails herself! Trust me, the compassionate approach feels so much better. It’s so easy to hit Share on Facebook with little quotes about not knowing what inner struggle others carry, but living it is way harder, at first.
I am including a link to an good article in The Atlantic about meditation and compassion. From the article.. Corporations, physicians, and policy-makers who now push mindfulness as a technique for self-enhancement and physical wellbeing would do well to focus more on its potential for preventing everything from bullying to domestic violence to callousness and indifference.
Going back to that definition about being fully present with someone’s suffering, it makes me think about about what a rotten sneaky disease Rheumatoid Arthritis is. I’ve been working hard to take good care of myself. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, meditating,etc. And what happens? I have a flare. Pain. Swelling. Fatigue. Fever. I keep thinking…Not Fair! I use all my little techniques: schedule a Float session, grab the weighted blanket, apply hot or cold, wrap the really sore joints and apply my special Essential Oils. But what really helped me the most was compassion.
I have a friend who just sat with me. She held my hand and we both agreed that it really did suck, it was totally unfair and we just sat with that. It felt like she was so present with my pain that she was sharing it. Carrying a little of the burden for me.
Compassion. I think there is a little magic in this compassion thing.
So here is your homework. Find a little compassion this week. Spread it around. Surprise someone and yourself with it. I think it’s what our world really needs right now. Try changing judgement to compassion just once this week. Let me know how it goes.