Friday, August 30, 2013

Another Lesson of Compassion

“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. …It's important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I'd had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I'd provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then - yes, I know, to a tiger, but still - I wish I had said, "Richard Parker, it's over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express; I couldn't have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you will remember me as a friend. I will never forget you that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.”


You may recall from my last posting how my grandmother helped me to learn to be more compassionate with myself and with my husband.  Life has seemingly kept me very busy, but I feel I must tell you one more lesson my grandmother had to teach me.

It is over 40 years since she passed on and yet I still have a strong connection to her – a bond of love forged those many years ago.

Shortly after the comfort and healing I wrote of last time, something shifted - I felt a sense of sadness. I was not grieving that she was gone; I had done that many years ago and was at peace with her passing.   It was something else.  Did I, in the words of Yann Martel, “conclude things properly”?  She had meant so much to me.  And yet, when my parents and siblings moved to BC, I was the only family she had for her last 6 years.  I began to wish I’d spent more time with her.  It was an incredibly painful realization and it seemed too late to do anything about it!

Part of it was mourning for times I missed being with her, but it was more.  Underneath the sadness was a sense of deep regret, a sense of failure.  Part of me refused to accept my behaviour – it judged me and found me wanting.

So what to do?  I knew that I needed to let myself feel these feelings if I wanted to deal with this.  So when sadness came to me, I let myself feel that sadness and to be there with it – not to hold on to it or push it away, and not to follow the whirlpool of regret into blaming myself.  Just to be there with my grandmother and my sadness. 

And, as I did so, the sadness began to soften and, once again, I sensed her love.  She was comforting me, not blaming me.  And I began to remember the many wonderful times we had during our last few years together, the times we brought her over to our place, the times I visited her, and the times I rushed to the emergency room to support her.  Good memories, filled with love.

And then I began to see things through a different lens.  Many things had made it difficult for me to be with her as I wished.  I had been a young mother with 3 small children and no car.  My husband had been attending night and summer school plus teaching adult education classes to help get our young family on a stable financial footing.  And her nursing home was not the kind of place where you could take young children.  When and how could I have done more?  Even now, I just don’t know.

But what I did come to know was that my grandmother knew I loved her.  She did not have to forgive me.  She did not blame me to begin with.  Realizing this helped me to see my deep sense of sadness and regret in a different light.  While seeming noble, I knew it was really something else.  Something I know well, but seem to ignore!

Ah, yes!  You may have guessed.  My old familiar perfectionist part was holding me responsible all these many years later.  It’s amazing really how she finds these chinks in my armour.  Guess I’ll have to get to know her better.  We need a better working relationship! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tuning into Compassion

Of late, I’ve been pondering the flow of love in my life, especially in my relationship with my husband spanning over half a century.  Ah yes, I can still remember those thrilling first years.  For sure time and everyday life has tempered things, but still I love being with him and am deeply committed to creating as much joy in our life together as possible.

This is true even now, when life has taken a turn we never expected.  My husband’s intellectual prowess was one of the first things that drew me to him.  And he was the one who saw my potential and encouraged me to develop my own particular brand of wisdom.  So, facing the diagnosis of his dementia was an incredible shock.  But, even in the face of its relentless progresses, he skillfully in finds many alternate coping strategies.

I think we have a good life – a relatively happy life.  And surely we have been blessed.  We love each other and I have a great deal of compassion for what my husband is dealing with.  I also know that, most of the time, I support him in a manner that reflects the depth of that compassion.  And yet, sometimes I feel as if I am failing.

There are times when I feel I am not compassionate enough.  How can that be?  Surely love is the basis for compassion, and I love him and want things to go as well as possible for him.   I know he needs loving support – maybe more than anything else.

So what was going on?  I began to meditate on my understanding of love which brought me back to my roots.  As a young child I had a strong loving relationship with my maternal grandmother.  She spent a great deal of time with me and loved me unconditionally.  And so, as I struggled with my feelings I found myself remembering and re-feeling how it was to be with her.  Just being in that place and letting her love envelope and flow through me, I felt comfort.

As I sat there it was as if love was flowing into my body and expanding my heart.  I just basked in this wonderful experience, and then, as I felt this love begin to overflow, I included thoughts of my husband in the feelings of love and acceptance.  And as I did so, a surprising thing happened.

Although I had begun this contemplation feeling I needed to be more compassionate towards my husband, what I felt first was more compassion for myself!  I hadn’t expected this.  But compassion simply welled up as I recognized to challenges we face in our life together. Ensuring that things flow smoothly, dealing with the day-to-day details, and keeping our life as creative and interesting as possible is not easy. The pressure of getting things done in a timely fashion, having to re-do things, and responding to new issues as they present themselves, all of these realizations prompted an outpouring of compassion for myself as I realized just how difficult this really is.

As surprised as I was by the love and compassion I felt for myself, what surprised me even more was that I felt compassion for myself for the times that I wasn’t as supportive and compassionate as I intended.  Not that I thought it was okay.  But I began to see how the way I’d been berating myself was something other than simply a desire to be compassionate.  It was my perfectionist tendency beating me up every time I missed the mark.  And I felt compassion for myself yet again.  From this place of loving presence, I found love and compassion for myself even when I was less than perfect – when I wasn’t perfectly compassionate.  And something just relaxed inside.  It was okay!  I was doing my best.  And I found I could accept the times when I tried and failed – and move on to try again. I could treat myself with the same kindness, caring, and compassion I would show a good friend. This was a wonderful revelation, but there was more. 

As I remained in this place of deep loving presence with my husband I began to sense his struggles afresh.   The awareness of the challenges he faces, the frustrations he lives with, and the grace with which he handles it all, allowed a sense of his heart’s struggles to vibrate in a new way in mine.  Could tuning in to this vibration become my anchor?  Could it help me in my intention?

This gentle connection with my husband became the door to greater presence and awareness of the times when my compassion was threatened.  Usually – when I was trying to get something done by a certain time.   Yes, you’ve guessed it; it was that very familiar “perfectionist” part raising its head yet again. 

It was incredibly healing to discover that, in my personal situation, compassion was sometimes being hijacked by perfectionism.  I even felt compassion for my old familiar perfectionist part – that desire to get things right has served me well. It helped me to succeed in my studies, my work, and even in organizing and running our home and social life.   But, quite clearly, in this case it had become too powerful.  In this particular situation, perfection had begun to think it was in charge.  And I had let it!

But, now that I realized what was happening, it was up to me to provide some leadership.  Do I continue to follow my perfectionist tendencies, or do I recognize that no one is perfect, and nurture my newly found compassion for myself and my loved one?  Will I be the critic or offer compassion?  In theory there is no contest.  But in reality it requires considerable effort and constant vigilance.  It is not easy!

It is my choice to determine what I will attend to as we move forward.  And I intend to be more attuned to that flutter of compassion for myself when I fail and for my husband when he struggles.  It is my role to tell that familiar and insistent perfectionist part when it needs to be quiet. Things don’t always have to be done in a particular way, and some things don’t have to be done at all.  Being on time is an ideal, but some days things may take more time than I expect. 

It is up to me to become more aware, to recognize the moments of opportunity and deepen my attention; to take a deep breath, and to connect with my heart as well as his.  It is up to me to calm my perfectionism and to tune into my compassion. It is my choice, and I have chosen to fan the flame of my newly-expanded compassion.

The photo was taken on our Mexican holiday with our dear friend and travelling companion, Sue.