Tag Archives: Emotion

Compassion is Still a Practice

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I change it regardless of the time of year. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Over the weekend I sifted through some old writing and reread my post on compassion  from May 2015. While I previously committed to practicing compassion to myself and those around me, I’d forgotten the journey I took to get there. I’d forgotten the finer points of the thought process that helped me understand what it means to be a kinder, more compassionate individual. Rereading that blog post reminded me and I’m glad it did.

Reflecting, I think I’m more judgemental than I want to be. While there are definitely  circumstances when passing judgement on another person is appropriate, there are likely many more when it is not. Anything that qualifies as gossip almost certainly falls into the latter category. There are few things we can unequivocally determine about others, yet we are quick to draw conclusions that may be dangerously inaccurate or at the very least, misguided. Those conclusions affect our actions towards others or our thoughts about them, often to the point of never attempting to know or understand them. The mere thought of engagement with someone we have condemned becomes abhorrent and inconceivable. This then leads to a breakdown in social relationships, an unwillingness to step outside of our tight circles, and a refusal to hear or recognize perspectives that might differ from our own. We are uncomfortable admitting that whatever we heard might be more complicated than we initially thought.

This is what happens when we are quick to appraise others, especially those we don’t know. We smile knowingly at those in our confidence and say things like, “I’m in no position to judge but. . . .” We admit to knowing that we don’t have the knowledge or understanding to say what we’re about to say.

And then we say it.

I’m guilty of this, too, which is why I’m writing this post. The next time I catch myself (or you catch me!) beginning such a sentence, I’d like to stop with, “I’m in no position to judge.” And then I’d like to take a moment to think about what I want to say. Maybe there is nothing to say, which should be the end of the conversation. I expect this to be the case rather frequently.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, I believe we need to accept Matthieu Ricard’s explanation of ignorance as “the mental confusion that deforms reality and gives rise to an array of mental obstructions such as hatred, compulsive desire, jealousy, and pride”. We need to accept that ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. From there, we have to accept that people who do harmful things are suffering in some way due to ignorance, due to mental confusion. When we approach others and their actions already knowing that the actions are a mere glimmer of what might be happening internally, it far easier to approach other people mindfully, thoughtfully, and compassionately. It is far easier to extend a hand in love, kindness, and generosity to help them return to a place where the inner confusion and turmoil do not take such a hold.

This way of seeing others, truly seeing and not just looking at or looking past, paves the way for dialogue and understanding, essential aspects of building a better and more peaceful world. Though I firmly believe this, I’ve been negligent in my practice of compassion because I often find it challenging. I tend to feel emotion very intensely and can be uncomfortably reactive in my thoughts, though that’s now much rarer in my actions and behavior. I’m much better at keeping the thoughts to myself than I used to be but I’d like to grow stronger at tamping down the thoughts as they begin rather than letting them flare until they burn out.

Compassion is a practice. It is ongoing. It can hurt, it can heal, and it will wax and wane as we work at it. But it will ultimately get easier and hopefully become a deliberate habit. I have a renewed understanding of this. Practicing compassion is necessary if we are to create a better, more peaceful world. Simple as that.

If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, I might put this one aside for next year. I might brush it off as something to do someday but not quite today. But I don’t, which is why I’m writing about it tonight. Life is about getting better daily and this is one way I’m trying to do it beginning right now.

The Day After the Worst Day

Recently, a friend mentioned seeing a segment from reality TV show in which participants discussed the worst day of their lives. I immediately cast my brain around to unpleasant areas and two days came to mind, though not in the way I expected.

I thought first of the night when my dad looked at my sister, brother, and me sitting around the kitchen table and said, “Mummy and Daddy won’t be living together any longer.” And then he started to cry. So did we.

I thought next of the morning when my now ex-boyfriend and I ended a relationship that had lasted eight and a half years. Calmly, in a fog, I looked at him and said, “Okay.” I did a lot of writing that day.

There’s a lot that I remember and still viscerally feel about those moments. I remember tone of voice and facial expression and it still makes me ache. As I write this, my breathing has constricted and my stomach has clenched. My hands are shaking over the keyboard and my chest hurts. I remember the feeling that came later: anguish, despair, and the sense of falling into thick, dark, unforgiving blackness.

But what I can’t remember at all is the day after each of those events. I can’t remember the day I got out of bed after what must have been a sleepless night and had to cope with a reality that, mere hours earlier, had been unimaginable. The day I had to begin relearning how to live because the way I’d been living no longer existed. The day the nightmare inside my head grew louder as time passed instead of fading.

I can’t remember the day after. I can only guess as to what happened.

This is probably a neural defense mechanism. My brain has probably suppressed the memories of the day that followed my parents’ separation and my breakup because they’re painful, harmful, and detrimental to my daily functioning.

The brain’s purpose is to keep you alive and the way that happens is fascinating. During a traumatic episode, the flight-or-fight response activates, leaving a sketch of what happened but relatively few details. The brain and body need to focus exclusively on getting you out of a dangerous situation. Both adrenaline and noradrenaline are released to allow you to respond quickly and to fight or flee as needed. Adrenaline blocks out non-essential information to focus on the essential (the quick response) and noradrenaline destroy’s the brain’s ability to store memories. Basically, the brain focuses on getting you physically out of a dangerous situation or mentally through a traumatic one and it streamlines its neural processes in order to do that. (Useful reading: Why Can’t Accident Victims Remember What Happened to Them?)

I’m willing to guess that this is what happened in the aftermath of my worst days. I have flashbulb memories of the specific events themselves (truly, neither of them fall in to the trauma category, which I’m inclined to reserve for real disasters, death, violence, sexual assault, etc.) but it seems that my brain’s neural processes interfered with my ability to remember the day after in order to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.

Since my hypothesis is based on one anecdotal example, I’m wondering about others’ experiences. Can you remember the day after a traumatic event? If so, is there something specific about that day that you remember? By contrast, is there a gap in time that you don’t remember? Have something else to say or a different idea entirely? Post a comment or send a message through the contact page. Thanks in advance!

Dear You

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide

I grew up listening to Elton John and this particular song always comes back to me in moments of a certain strong emotion. As I write this, the video is playing in the background and I know I’ll be listening to his music all night. I’m writing now as a way to stay grounded, to remind myself of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Where we’ve been.

I spent this afternoon with my best friend from the last ten years. He lives only a few miles from me, in an apartment leased in both of our names. I pass that street every day on the way to work. I had dinner on that block just last night.

We broke up back in August. A lot happened between us and everything changed. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve grown, hopefully in positive ways.

A friend called to ask how the afternoon went and when I tried to explain, I found myself a little choked up. There’s a whole life buried under the coffee we shared today.

I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

After all that has passed between us, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for always being able to make me laugh, for holding me when I cried, for giving me the wings I never would have found without you. I want to thank you for teaching me to run and for broadening my understanding of the world. Thank you for all the times you didn’t give up on me. Most importantly, thank you for letting me see you, know you, and love you.

I didn’t always do right by you because I didn’t know how to do right by me. I’m sad for both of us that I didn’t know better. I know better now and I’m sorry you were the one caught in the middle of that journey of self-discovery.

I want you to know that you are always welcome in my corner of the sky, in my home, or at my table. I wish everything for you that you wish for yourself. I hope that you smile and find peace in where you are and what you’re doing. Please know that I’m always cheering for you, darling, and that will never change.

Love always,

Rebecca Michelle