Compassion. Merriam-Webster defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
I want to talk about compassion today and compassion toward ourselves.
I can (and likely will) talk at some other point about compassion toward other animals too. This is another facet of compassion I enjoy discussing at length and hope to do so with you, dear reader, in another post.
But for today, I am inspired to talk about compassion toward ourselves. And I want to talk about it from a painful place, a vulnerable place.
I’ll tell you a story…
A Story for You
Once upon a time ago (have you noticed that this is a favorite phrase of mine?), I had very little compassion for myself, and did not receive much from anyone else (likely because I am a private person who chooses not to reveal too much to most people — not my style; don’t take it personally).
I call this “once upon a time ago” my “dark ages” because it was a long stretch of my younger life that I struggled through, never really knowing how to navigate, always stumbling along, failing frequently.
I was sad and unable to cope. Lonely. Exhausted. Anxious. Stressed. Depressed.
That’s a whole lotta bad vibes for a young person (and really, any person) to feel.
As you can see….I’m still not telling you the whole story. I don’t plan on divulging the intimate details of my life…as I’ve said: that’s not my style (and please know that I did not go through some highly traumatic event but I did, like so many of us, go through some damn shit).
Maybe I will express the parts I am leaving out here some other day, some other place, but not now.
And so, please bear with me.
Even just writing about these “dark ages” in this generic, overview fashion is difficult for me — because I know exactly what remembering them brings up emotionally, even if I am not taking you through my life story as the files pop out and into my mind’s projector, the slides replaying over and over again.
Writing even so vaguely about it all brings up times of sadness, and I am getting teary-eyed. I am not afraid to say that — that I may cry, that I am starting to cry. I am not embarrassed to be emotional, nor am I some sappy heart (although sometimes I am — aren’t we all?).
And so I had these “dark ages” in my life — times when I had such great difficulty giving myself the benefit of the doubt, giving myself love and compassion.
I did not love myself. I disliked myself, sometimes hated myself.
This is a horrible place to be — and I do not wish this type of struggle on anyone.
I know many reading this have been in such a place at some point in their lives. It is a very unhappy, difficult place, and I am sorry if you have had to go through it, and if you had to go through it alone. I would hug you now if I could.
What I now realize is that during these times, since I couldn’t give myself the love I needed, that no one else could give it to me either. Sure, those around me could have helped me (some tried, some stuck around, others looked on, not wanting to dirty their hands — I get it).
I wanted compassion from others, naturally, but I know now that I couldn’t really expect this from people if (1) I didn’t tell them what was going on and (2) I couldn’t find a way to show even an ounce of compassion to my own self.
But I persevered (I am a killer whale, after all) because I knew — I knew, I knew, I knew — that these “dark ages” were not me — they would not define me forever, and they really weren’t the representation of who I truly, deeply was.
Even through these darkest of times, I felt the constant pull of my real self. I always knew who I was in many ways (and less so in other ways), and I always knew who I wanted to be — not some role model or idol — but my real, true self — because that’s the best it’s gonna get.
Eat, Pray, Love Moment
Reading Eat, Pray, Love finally (I’m a little slow getting to the game sometimes…), Elizabeth Gilbert expresses this pull of self in a way that made me say out loud in my head and heart, “Girl, you get me! THIS is it right here! THANK YOUUUUU.”
And so, please welcome Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert once again (and not the last time, folks):
“I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue . . . I read once, something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well–the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.
I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me–I mean, this happy and balanced me . . . who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years.”
This is so beautiful to me — this pull of self. I like to think about it also as compassion toward oneself. Without having the ability to show yourself compassion, you cannot answer this call, this pull to be who you have been all along, or who you will become.
Becoming Whole Again
It took me seemingly endless trial and error (and I’m still learning, never stop!) until I was finally able to show myself the compassion I deserved all along.
I have worked tirelessly (read: worked — this is an effort one must exert over and over again until the pieces of the puzzle start snapping together — and it ain’t f’ing easy, no cutting corners) in my mind and in my heart to say f off to the negative self-talk, to the damaging societal influences that ceaselessly linger in this day and age, to the constant comparisons to others, and to the general lack of respect and admiration I refused (for whatever reasons, for all the reasons…) to give myself.
I have battled and I have won (and you can, too!).
I am now at a point in my life where my good days far outnumber my bad days.
Although of course, since I am only human, I still have days or weeks where things just feel like shit and I need to take a little break (and that’s fine — it’s okay to break, America — calm the f up and sit the f down, RELAXXXXX).
I am at a point in my life where I feel my most alive and most like myself than I have ever felt before. And this to me is beautiful. It is beauty manifesting itself in my being.
(Thanks, universe! And thanks me! And special thanks to those around me who have helped me along the way! Big hug and kiss!)
This brings to mind the famous, cryptic lines from “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
These lines resonate with me differently now, and perhaps incorrectly by a literary standpoint (but I don’t really care — literary argument be damned).
What these stunning lines of Keats’ reveal to me is this: that what I have found is both truth and beauty and that they are indeed one of the same because I have found my own truth and my own beauty — I have found myself fully.
And this, to me, is the ultimate compassion.
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Feature photo credit: KP and Fuzz / KP Original