“In compassion and grace, be like the sun… In concealing other’s faults, be like the night… In generosity and helping others, be like a river… In anger and fury, be like dead… In modesty and humility, be like the earth… In tolerance, be like the sea… Either appear as you are, or be as you appear..”
I have not been a compassionate person, generally. But apparently, somewhere back there my compassionate heart still beats. I’ve learned this since the sudden death of my 22-year-old daughter, Teal, in 2012.
Rediscovering the Lost Art of Compassion
Back then I was a driven warrior princess, out to get the best for myself no matter what. It didn’t really matter if you suffered while I thrived … I was in it for me and me, alone.
What drives this kind of competitive, ‘I must have my way’ ire is simple fear. For me, it was the fear of not doing something perfectly or the fear of having everything taken away. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. For after Teal’s death, all of my fears became real. In short order, I lost my business, my home, and my relationship.
It felt like I was left with nothing. But, in fact, I was left with something very precious – a new, yielding consciousness that could tell light from dark, and right from wrong. Suddenly I had perspective about my ambitions and my choices. Now my old striving ways seemed outdated and misguided. I began to feel everyone around me intensely, as Teal, herself, had done when she was alive.
At first, it seemed a little other worldly, and downright strange. I found myself wanting to sit down on the curb and talk with the homeless. Then I began giving out dollar bills to anyone who asked. Pretty soon I was working in a soup kitchen.
I stopped judging the world so harshly … and in turn, I stopped judging myself. That instantaneous need to be special, to be worthy, to be powerful had left me. Now it was replaced by a new gentleness. If I made a mistake, it was fine. I gave myself plenty of slack to do things imperfectly, especially as I grieved. But even now, years after Teal’s death, I find that easy self-compassion is still there. I would rediscover the lost art of compassion. If I achieve, I achieve. If I don’t, I don’t. It’s all cool.
In turn, I can give others a break far more easily. I was once the scary boss who went through eight assistants in six years and never thought twice about it.
Back then, I assumed they were simply incompetent, inadequate if they couldn’t keep up with my steady stream of demands. Now I understand that sometimes life happens and mistakes are made. And, lo and behold, sometimes I’m the one who makes the mistakes.
Now I know that we are all worthy of love and respect, every last one of us. I no longer demand perfection from anyone, nor do I expect it from myself. Instead, I enjoy the ease of life as a grand experiment – an exploration of what is possible every day. Back when Teal was alive, we used to talk about how easily we could feel victimized. “Vic-tim!” she’d chime, if I began to complain about what this person did to me, or how wronged I felt by another.
Then I couldn’t see that I was simply taking everyone else’s actions way too personally. I was caught up in the great big drama in my head and had forgotten that sometimes those around us are simply having a bad day. For this, too, is a large part of compassion. We all stumble through this life, doing the very best we can. And sometimes that ‘best’ is pretty lame. Yet, this is where our humanity lives.
It isn’t in the grand gestures and heroic deeds, but in the small acts of forgiveness just in front of us. May you find yourself giving when giving seems least likely, and opening up when all hope seems lost.