Wake up! Listen. Learn.
I have always prided myself on having empathy and compassion towards others. I learned early in life to care for others and cultivated this in my life and my career. However, as life unfolded (as it does), truly caring for myself took a backseat while I increasingly paid more attention to all other aspects in my life: my family, my relationship, my work, my community. Giving and caretaking at all costs, cost me a lot, and I hit an all-time low about two years ago impacting me physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially. The universe works in mysterious ways (more of a purposeful flow, really) and the ‘opportunity’ presented itself to redefine my life, my purpose and my path.
Par for the course, I started seeing a therapist. At the second appointment, the therapist at the time said my main work was to cultivate self-compassion. Without it, I was merely a compassion idiot.
Whaaaaaaat? Idiot compassion? When I first heard her say this, I was shocked. How can compassion and idiot be in the same sentence? Idiot compassion. Idiot compassion. This phrase swirled over and over in my head.
The Dalai Lama, in his book, A Force for Good, says that ‘wise compassion includes self-compassion’ “Self –compassion. To cultivate genuine compassion, we need to take responsibility for our own care and have concern for everyone’s suffering—including our own” . Pema Chodron says idiot compassion is merely enabling.
" Compassion is an inner stance, not an external pose. We can only know the difference through an ongoing connection to our own heart. When we allow ourselves to feel, it is possible to detect what is most compassionate in any situation. When we are afraid to feel, it is not. So one could say that when we lean into our heart of hearts, we discover the fount of kindness. When we clamp down on our inner experience or avoid emotions, the path to kindness is also obscured. Kindness toward others is actually synonymous with kindness toward self."
I have studied, taught, facilitated and learned a lot about compassion in the context of emotional intelligence. Intellectually, I know there needs to be a balance with tending to self and tending to others and was well acquainted with this imbalance in my own EQ profile. But it really didn’t sink in enough to embrace radical change. So how did I end up being THAT person who was a compassion idiot?
Over the course of my career as nurse, leader, educator, coach and facilitator, I have worked with many people, mostly women, in caring and helping professions. One commonality among most of us, (I am generalizing a tad here), is that women in service professions tend to care for others and put others’ needs first before their own needs. Whether we land into this as a result of our profession or we are drawn to the profession as a result of this innate quality, remains a question. Regardless, we put our efforts into ensuring the needs of others are met first and put ourselves second or third or fourth. If we have children, then our children’s needs come first, then the partner, then the household and so it goes. The “To Do” lists grow and continue to add additional pressures that take us away from caring for ourselves. The all too often excuse is ‘too busy’ or ‘no time’ or ‘too tired’ or ‘no child care’ or…
When I reflect on my life (I have done a lot of this lately in service of transforming), I enjoyed a balance of self and others in my early adult years. I was physically fit, somewhat emotionally mature and managed a chronic illness quite effortlessly. I met the needs of others and myself, balanced most aspects of my life and experienced inner peace. And then life happened. I started to put others' needs first INSTEAD of my own. As I dove deeper into my work as a healthcare provider, I cared for many patients and families with situations far more in need of compassion than my own (or so I thought). I married and took my vows to heart which included caring for my partner in sickness and in health. My go-to response with him was compassion and tolerance for various behaviours to keep our family together, at the expense of my own well-being, self-esteem and self-worth. My dream came true with the birth of my daughter....and I needed to return to work. Although my daughter was well cared for by various caregivers. I had slight pangs of guilt being away from her, and as a result spent most my non-work time with her believing that I couldn’t leave her with someone else again, to meet my own needs. I volunteered in the community by starting a volleyball club for youth girls to meet a need, committing myself on weekends and evenings compromising my own health. I was the default coordinator of family gatherings and so I planned, organized, booked etc. everything for our family gatherings, often feeling exhausted at the end of the holiday. When I became a Director at work, I ‘took one for the team’ and made decisions that put my own needs, health and well-being at risk. The insidious pathway of idiot compassion was forged. If I could have a do-over, I would make the same choices and decisions, except I would have changed one thing…to listen....truly listen to my inner self, gut feelings, my heart and cultivate self-compassion.
Self-care is not to be confused with selfish. Self-compassion is the balance of self and other. Selfish is meeting your needs at the expense of others with a lack of empathy and disregard for others’ needs, emotions, and state. Selfish can lead to reckless behaviours that harm self and harm others. It can be mistaken for living in the moment or being present or “YOLO” or whatever the phrase of the decade is. Self-care also involves being present and in the moment, paying attention to your ALL emotions, listening to your internal barometer and meeting your needs that does not harm others. Self -care involves having the courage to set boundaries of what serves you and what doesn’t serve you, having empathy and compassion for others while taking care of self. It is a balance of ME, YOU, WE, US. It is a hard choice especially for women who are caregivers by nature, with the added components of family, children, work, partners, community, global concern. AND it is a necessary, life-giving choice.
There is no magic bullet, no pill, no one book, no inspirational quote, no exotic trip, no one therapist, no one pathway to self-compassion. I was at the depth of despair. I fought hard to create a learning organization in an organization that wanted a different direction…the job ended; I fell numb to the confusion in my relationship…the relationship ended; I refused to listen to my weakening physical body…I became ill. I was afraid to lose my 'identity' and this prevented me from listening and living my true self. Around the same time, my dear brother passed away. Throw in a house sale, a few moves and continuous chronic pain, my stress scale was at an all time high. I had three options: stay there, check out or rise strong. Kristen Neff identifies three elements to cultivate self compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. With the help of many wonderful body, mind and spirit health providers, a strong social network, unconditional love of family and friends, my own resiliency and curiosity, I chose to rise strong and begin cultivating self-compassion. I had many conversations with myself and asked questions of “Who am I? What is my identity? What is my higher purpose? What do I need in this moment? What is my body, heart and head telling me? Who can help me?” The journey is an inward one, with deep discovery, daily workouts of the mind, heart, body and soul. It is a journey that involves listening and paying attention to all emotions that arrive at my doorstep, noticing them, listening to their message, moving through them, letting it BE, surrendering to the moment and practicing loving kindness. I started bushwhacking this pathway over two years ago (probably more like 10-12 years ago), but I just stood at the entry to this path less travelled, merely pruning a few branches here and there. The universe kept nudging me towards a truer path and I kept ignoring it until it was too loud to ignore and finally woke me up, literally. One night, about 2 years ago, believe it or not, I was woken up from a deep sleep at around 2 am hearing a child-like voice saying "wake up Dori, wake-up" . Who knows, it could have been my own voice, but the voice woke me up, and that started my path of rising strong. I finally woke up, began to listen, and continued to learn. The people I am connecting and reconnecting with, learning from, and the way that circumstances are entering my life, are all guiding me through this new pathway to a truer me. It is liberating, scary, and still unchartered. I am grateful for all the people who have stood by me, been there for me and with me, trusted in me, loved me and could truly see me more than I could see myself. Awakened consciousness is not mastery or perfection but rather a daily practice of being intentional, aligning with your higher purpose, listening from the heart, being ego-free and practicing self-compassion.
"Having compassion for yourself means that you honour and accept your humanness"
I am here, now, at this point in my life, living A Shade More... A Shade More…self-compassionate, A Shade More… True, A Shade More… Wise, A Shade More… Kind, A Shade More…Liberated, A Shade More…Enlightened, A Shade More…Connected. A Shade More…Renewed. A Shade More...Forgiving. A Shade More...Light. A Shade More at Peace and Ease.
It is, after all, "all about the learning".