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Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

We live in tumultuous times and it’s scary waking up every day with so much uncertainty in the world.  The truth is, even when things are in alignment politically, socially, and atmospherically, the person we are is always in the uncertainty zone.  How is that possible?

We’re complex beings physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If you look around your community, watch the news, or truly listen to the stories told by your friends and family you come to understand the depth of our complexity.  Unfortunately, along with complexity comes fragility, that sliver of vulnerability that exposes our human Achilles heel.

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My father called me a couple of days ago and opened our conversation with, “You know I’m at an age where a lot of people I know are dying.”  If nothing makes you vulnerable (at least in your own mind) mortality usually creates an emotional and spiritual gash in our armor.  It makes everything frighteningly real.  It exposes our imperfections while simultaneously accentuating our strengths.

We greet one another with the age-old question, “How are you?”  What are we really asking?  If you ask the question, are you prepared for the truth? I like the question “How does it feel to be you right now?”  It’s a question of connection.  It gives the person you’re connecting to the ability to be in the moment.  It gives each of us the opportunity to understand what it’s like to live in the body, mind, and soul of another human being.

I was involved in an ethics discussion about the interaction between doctors and their patients.  We were exploring the idea of empathy. When we have these discussions, the debate is often about sympathy and empathy.  Noted anthropologist, and one of my mentors, Angeles Arrien expanded the continuum.  Her research and experience shared that sympathy amplified suffering because it emphasized the pity we felt for the another.  Sympathy often comes from the vantage point of “better you than me”.   When we’re empathetic, we end up doing the work for the other person, letting them off the hook because we take on the pain.  However, if we feel compassion we don’t have to go into the emotional state of the other, but we can be totally present.  The state of presence is healing.

Where are we going with all of this?  I want to be present with you.  I want to know what your life is like right now because it’s your true story.  When you share how you are right now there’s an aliveness we can experience any other way.  Let’s shift our perspective and begin asking this very important question and see how our experiences with others change and deepen.

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The question “who is being tested?” has been hanging over my head for weeks. I read Robin Roberts book Everybody’s Got Something and she makes reference to her more recent diagnosis of MDS (myelodyspastic syndrome), like her breast cancer diagnosis as a test. Perhaps she was referring to a test of her spirit, her faith, or her body, but still she framed it as a test.

Roberts book is not the first book, talk, or movie that makes reference to a life challenge as a test. We discuss adversity in the context of a test as if it were something we’ve been studying for years and we’re now ready for the test. How is it possible that you got selected for this test? How will you know if you pass the test? Some believe if they are healed, then they passed the test. This doesn’t sit well with me because that implies paying penance, or needing to prove something to the Universe.

Don’t you think it’s possible that you’re not the one being tested? Couldn’t you just be a vehicle for who/what is really being tested? How would you feel if you knew you were a catalyst for great change because you were diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, or some other form of adversity? Are you willing to be a change agent? How is this possible?

If you want to stand on the side of being tested, let’s look at who is really being tested. If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness maybe the scientists are being tested to come up with new research and medications for clinical trials. Maybe the medical community is being tested to find ways of improving their diagnostic techniques or their level of compassion.

Isn’t it possible that the religious, faith, or spiritual community is being tested to see if they walk their talk? In a world full of contradiction, the test might be to see if these communities can put into action what they say we “should” be doing when members of our communities are facing adversity.

It’s possible to take it one step further, seeing if our inner circle of family and friends are willing to stand by us as we walk through the health and healing pilgrimage. Research often shows that illness is the reason some couples get divorced because the healthy spouse can’t handle the pressure, stress, or incapacity of their spouse. Who’s really being tested by the illness diagnosis?

Are we so self-centered to automatically assume that we’re the one being tested? Have we been conditioned to believe that a diagnosis tests our faith, devotion, or ability to persevere? I believe there are other ways to exhibit these character traits other than facing adversity. Let’s reframe the challenges we face!

Seeking education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

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Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

Why does it take catastrophe to get our attention?  We live in a crazy world and for some reason we believe everything should be smooth sailing.  We live with a false sense of security that can be breached at any moment, as you know so well.  The day your loved one was diagnosed with an illness the shattering began.

Taking on the role of caregiver/wellness partner is far greater than simply helping the person get through the day.  It reaches far past giving medication or transporting the patient to medical appointments.  It surpasses what many believe to be the status quo of compassion and understanding.  When you put all these together you get the qualities of guardianship, compassion, and love, all the things that make caregivers/wellness partners Angels-in-Training.

These actions are amazing when the person you’re caring for is a friend or family member.  When it’s someone you know there is a bit of expectation involved in the process.  What about if you didn’t know the person you were caring for, would it make a difference.

There have been studies that look at what happens to patients when they don’t know they are being prayed for by people they don’t know; isn’t that caregiving?  There are times when anonymous donations are made to individuals, families, even foundations to help those who need care, isn’t that caregiving?  Then there are the types of caregiving that put you in the trenches when tragedy strikes, testing your willingness to go beyond the call of duty.

This morning on NPR there was a human interest story on the survivors in Haiti.  The story was about a man whose family had survived the earthquake without death or major injury.  He feels blessed that his family was unharmed and they were all together.  Realizing that’s not the case for everyone he headed to a local make-shift hospital to sit with patients who didn’t have family members beside them.  I was moved by this angel-in-training’s ability to take such compassionate action in this great time of turmoil.  His ability to understand the importance of having someone who would support you through the darkest hours is the light that shines through.

You are an angel-in-training and I hope you can hold that sacred space for yourself as you support and nurture your loved one.  It’s important to remember that you don’t need a pair of wings to walk this earth as an angel.

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Ever watch a bird soar through the sky?  It looks effortless and majestic.  Leonardo da Vinci studies birds in flight and eventually came up with plans for gliders, parachutes and other machines related to flight…just by watching.  When we watch birds we see the two wings twist and turn, be raised and lowered and move up and down propelling the bird through the sky.  It needs both wings to fly.

In our emotional and spiritual lives we need both wings and we need them to work together.  In her book Compassion, Christina Feldman writes, “Wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird..  Both are necessary for the bird to soar, both are necessary for our hearts to open and heal.”  How have you kept soaring since your diagnosis?

When facing a health challenge it’s easy to develop wisdom because you’re engaged in the scholarly collection of information related to your diagnosis.  You become savvy to the medical system by learning the language, understanding the politics of the medical office, and you learn who the decision makers are in regarding your insurance.  That’s only one half of the story.  The other part, as stated by Feldman, without compassion you only have use of one wing and that means you’ll forever be flying in circles.

It’s a tricky situation to find the balance between heart and head, but it’s important since the mind-body connection is alive and well and scientifically proven.  The compassion is not only for yourself, but for each person you come in contact with who is helping you move to a place of health and healing.  It’s your medical team, your emotional support and your spiritual directors.  For all I know it can be your paper boy…but compassion comes into play because it means that each interaction isn’t false and predicated on what people want to hear…the happy and the good.  It includes the full spectrum of your experience.

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Having a chronic or life-threatening illness is difficult enough without feeling like you’re responsible for the world.  It’s amazing how many people will get annoyed because health gets in the way of “having fun”.  It doesn’t seem fair and yet I hear about it all the time.

I was talking to a friend of mine that I’ve known since college.  Over the past few years she’s been having some health issues and the doctors are still looking for a definitive diagnosis, but they have some preliminary findings.  What they don’t have to diagnosis is the experience of the illness my friend is having on a regular basis.

She shared with me that she’s hesitant to make plans with people because her health, at this time, is a bit tenuous.  It’s the next thing she said that caught me off guard.  She said that she’d rather not make plans than worry about people rolling their eyes at her because she has to cancel plans.  Is that ridiculous?  Can people be that self-absorbed that the intrusion of illness on your friend’s quality of life is looked at as an inconvenience?

If people have been friends for a while then it shouldn’t be a surprise that limitations may arise and compassion should be the only response.  We’re intelligent beings, couldn’t you alter the plans to something that isn’t so energy draining?

I hope the world would be a bit more forgiving, but maybe I’m deceiving myself.  Could it be that we live in such an ego-centric world that another person’s suffering shouldn’t interfere with our fun?  Is that practical?  Is it even possible?  Do you have any stories like this in your life?  If so please share so that people won’t feel so isolated in this issue.

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