Suzanne Steenburgh is an RN, a leader, a Compassion Cultivation Trainer, a friend and now a co-host at our upcoming retreat. She has written a beautifully real and moving passage for our blog post this month. Please take a few moments to read it, integrate it and comment on it. We welcome your comments, and what came up for you as you read it. For me, it is comforting to have a compassion cultivation partner.
by Suzanne Steenburgh
Dori, thank you so much for the invitation to write a blog post for enso regarding compassion. It has taken me some time to get this to you, mostly because there is so much to share and say about my journey with this, I could not decide which area to focus on, so I just started to write and this is what surfaced.. I am so excited about sharing this journey with you and our retreat in the fall.
One of my favourite quotes to describe some of this work is by John Kabat-Zinn about how mindfulness can impact our lives;
“The waves will come and go,
but you can learn how to surf”
I tell you, with each day I am so grateful that I have started on this path of increased compassion awareness.
Understanding “compassion awareness ” more wholly, integrating more ease in my life and slowing down with expanded awareness, I am learning to fine tune my surfing skills, and I no longer fear what the next wave is going to be.
It is always fascinating to me how life’s paths direct you to exactly where you need to be. I feel that way about reconnecting with my former colleague Dori Howard who for many years I admired, learned from and worked alongside in some incredible work as nurses and health leaders at BC Children’s Hospital. Dori is an inspiring and skilled facilitator, insightful and effective coach and incredible example of living an intentional life.
This time, it is not only our nursing work that has brought us together but a common passion for wanting to help others to live their best life, for themselves, for their loved ones, for their communities and for the planet as a whole, both its people and its nature.
I started in compassion training partly because of my own personal journey, having developed what I thought was a thick skin that allowed me to work with very sick children and keep emotion in check, only to then unconsciously avoid extending to others in my personal life. When my mom became unwell, I realized that I was what some might call “burnt out”. I struggled with the capacity to be emotionally available for her, in the toughest times of her life. I could not accept that after caring for others loved ones for almost 20 years, I had such difficulty caring for my own mother in the way that I wanted to and the way she needed. And so, I went on a quest to find effective programs that would truly prevent, treat or heal this type of emotional distress/burn out or fatigue, whatever you want to call it.
It wasn’t just my own emotional personal journey that would drive me to this action, it was my role as nurse, leader and confidant to many health care professionals. Witnessing emotional exhaust, verbal outbursts, mistreatment of others, and an overall lack of awareness as to how to emotionally meet the challenges of our health care system, our patients and our clients who need us the most. Our patients most in need can present with their own emotional outbursts, anger, aggression, fear, threats, and physical violence at times. I realized if our care providers are burnt out how can they truly be there to support their patients who need them so desperately at these incredible times of need. This, coupled with increasing reports of suicide rates in physicians, first responders, youth, and other groups, I was mobilized to share what I was learning about compassion awareness with others.
Through this work I have come to realize that it wasn’t others demands on me that caused my burn out or empathy fatigue, it was my innate need to please, be there for others, and be “helpful” (part of our compassionate nature) coupled with my lack of awareness on how to create balance between extending care to others and extending care to myself. Extending compassion to others filled my emotional bucket and nurtured my sole, but I didn’t realize that over time it was also critical that I extend that compassion to myself.
But how??? The first part was this awareness in and of itself. The second, was to develop that awareness and nurture it and build support around it through the compassion practices, reflections, teachings and exercises I have spent the last three years learning about and now sharing with others.
1. Become Aware
2. Develop Awareness
3. Support Awareness
4. Share and Teach
“Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and provides the type of balanced awareness that forms the foundation of self-compassion. Like a clear, still pool without ripples, mindfulness perfectly mirrors what’s occurring without distortion. Rather than becoming lost in our own personal soap opera, mindfulness allows us to view our situation with greater perspective and helps to ensure that we don’t suffer unnecessarily.”
― Kristin Neff
With each day we are bombarded by the media’s coverage of continued systemic racism, increasing suicide, depression and anxiety, climate change anxiety, and political and social divisiveness. While it wasn’t these worries alone that brought me to this work in wanting to share the learning, knowledge and science of compassion to others, it has become another one of the ongoing driving forces for me to want to continue to share the knowledge and practices that have been collected by many around the globe. Easing these fears starts with each of us at the individual level and then to create global change, we extend it beyond ourselves from there.
And so, we are back to the waves of life. Those that bring challenges to each of us individually. I believe compassion awareness will bring each of us the tools to heal and meet these waves with increased resilience and grace, and this will in turn allow us to collectively come together, re-connect and heal our communities to do the same.