A Compassionate Pause


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  Without them, humanity cannot survive”  — Dalai Lama

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete” — Buddha

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” — Unknown

It has been an incredibly hard week.  And, in the midst of the struggle, it has been an incredibly beautiful week.

The time around my birthday is always difficult for me because it reminds me acutely of the loss of my mother.  While it is ostensibly “my day,” I always think that birthdays are a time to honor one’s mother, without whom one would not be born, so I miss her a little more each September 29.

This year, that ache was compounded by the news that a close family friend had been wounded in an armed robbery.  When I heard the news, I was preparing to teach my classes on Tuesday afternoon, and felt my mind take over as my emotions shut down. Having dealt with traumatic loss many times before, I become what Brené Brown calls, an “over-functioner.”  I focus on what needs to get done and throw myself into those things in order to not deal emotionally with the event that has set my over-functioning into motion. I taught my course, not even acknowledging the news I had just found out, and subsequently left behind my laptop, an indication at my lack of presence during my lecture.

The next day, upon discovering the missing laptop, I was flooded with emotion.  It wasn’t the loss of the technology.  It was the compounded consequence of a loss of presence.  I was physically going through the motions of my life, without the presence I needed to actually live it.  Suddenly jolted back to myself by this instance of carelessness, I felt the pain and injustice at my friend’s injury, the gratitude for her life, the sadness at the world that we live in that such a dear soul would be shot for something as trivial as money by those clearly desperate for it, the pain of my own loss and grief, the lack of presence with which I so often go through the motions.

We found the laptop, but the greater gift was a return to myself. I went through the rest of my day, but I did so with intense waves of nausea and moments of grief as I felt what I had been delaying for so long.  Instead of pushing those feelings away, I was honest with my students that I might need a moment, and I reminded myself to breathe when I felt the emotions welling up.

Yesterday was my birthday.  In the aftermath of the emotions from the previous two days, I spent much of the day alone, receiving love and greetings from many friends via text, call or Facebook, and recharging myself in the solitude and indulgence of self-care.  After several hours of self-care, I rejoined my family, those I love the most in the world, and felt present and peaceful. It was a wonderful day.

This morning, I felt all the nausea return as the blissful retreat of my birthday began to fade into the memory of another work day.  I am still struggling with nausea as I blog.  I know I need to be still and breathe, pray a prayer of compassion and gratitude that the nausea won’t let me push it away unless I sit with it.  Indeed, when I do this, the sickness fades away and I feel present again.

We are all fighting battles.  Internal. External. Against things that we have caused.  Against things that we have no control over.  It doesn’t matter.  But this moment, and in this coming year, I hope to learn to take more of these pauses for compassion, for humanity, my own and that of the world, to feel my difficult feelings, rather than to push them away, because I believe that it’s the only way to truly move forward.

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