Aug 1, 2019
By Suzanne Steenburgh
With each day, I feel more anticipation and excitement about the Enso retreat this fall, sharing insights and practices to help others bring a shade more self- compassion into their lives. A friend reminded me the other day of the importance of sharing my own healing journey and how the insights that I have gained from mindful compassion have influenced this. There are so many ways, that at times, it feels like there are no words to describe it. But, as my friend and I spoke, it was the transitions in our lives that surfaced. The sometimes subtle and often overt impact of these times of change and uncertainty are key times when we can all benefit from a shade more awareness and compassion for ourselves and those around us.
It was almost a year ago that my mom passed away. Death of a parent presents with a significant transition in one’s life, one that all of us will experience. The loss of a parent will bring with it some commonly shared emotions, thoughts and experiences. It will also be accompanied by some uniqueness that is truly personal, specific to the memories you have shared with that person, the relationship you cultivated or missed out on, the parent/child dynamics that shifted over a lifetime and the many transitions over that lifetime including how your parent started as your care giver and perhaps you became theirs near the end.
Transitions in life bring us challenge and opportunity all in the same bouquet. As I spoke with my friend about our upcoming retreat, it was these transitions that highlighted a part of what this work is all about. Becoming a mom, starting a new career path, challenging ourselves to meet a personal goal, shifting a habit, retirement, being let go from work, a fresh start, divorce, discrimination, reconciliation, supporting a loved one with mental health challenges, observing our parents as they age, observing our children as they age. The list is endless and we are all grappling with these shifts in our lives.
Life is about change.
Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes is beautiful.
But most of the time, it’s both.
There were many days in the last few years of my mom’s life (when her suffering was at its worst) I would find myself heading onto a plane to go see her for a visit. Along with my “baggage”, I was also carrying overwhelming anxiety and fear for what was waiting for me when I arrived. It was physical, emotional and painful. That sense of doom that you feel in the pit of your stomach. I didn’t know what was worse, that feeling of doom, or the guilt I felt for feeling it. And above all of it, the question of how do I overcome this feeling?? How could I make this “feeling” go away so that I could be present, loving and nurturing with one of the most important people in my life? This is where the tools and practices of mindful compassion brought some light.
I feel unbelievable gratitude that I found this training before saying my final farewell to my mom last year. While it didn’t fix the situation, it did bring me to a place of acceptance and peace for her pain and the pain I felt along side her. It brought me insight, clarity and the tools and ability to work through all that needed a space for healing.
A specific memory I have was from the spring of 2018, when I was away with my family on a trip and received a call that my mom was once again admitted to hospital. My standard response up until then, was to get on the next plane and fly to be with her. This was not possible this time because we were out of town. Also, my compassion journey was teaching me to act less reactively and more proactively, and getting on the next plane was not the best course of action in the circumstances. But, I still ached to respond to be with her.
I had learned an active meditation called Tonglen through CCT training where you actively breathe with a compassionate intention and awareness to ease another’s suffering and bring them peace. I sat that night and did this practice, for how long I have no idea, but the next day felt an overwhelming sense of peace and connection to my mom even though I was not able to physically be with her.
To this day, I can still recall that sense of peace and the impact it had not only on my state of mind, but that it in turn allowed me to be more patient with my family, more clear with planning next steps, more accepting of my own feelings and needs in the coming days, and finally, more capable to support my mom when I finally did reach her.
Life’s transitions bring us a myriad of thoughts and emotions, both painful and joyful and everything in between. Garnering awareness and staying power to be with these times, allows us clarity of mind, strength of heart and overall resilience through times of change.
This above example is one of many that allows me to articulate how my life has shifted through this work. I am grateful to Dori at Enso to provide a space for sharing this journey further with others. Through exercises, discussion, meditations, and many other activities the space will be created to start or continue on this path of increased compassion. I look forward to welcoming you there. Whether you are a new mom, a grandmother, a caregiver, a teacher, a first responder, this work will ease you to a more gentle way to carry your burdens, no matter how great or small they may seem.
Impermanence is a principle of Harmony.
When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.
~ Pema Chodron