Compassion is the most precious of all gifts. In times of sorrow and bewilderment, it is what restores us and offers refuge. It is the force of empathy in your own heart that allows you to reach out and touch the broken heart of another. It is rooted in the heartfelt acknowledgement that others, like ourselves, yearn to be free from suffering and harm, and be safe and happy. It is compassion that rescues us from despair and helplessness, that provides a refuge of peace and understanding inwardly and outwardly. Compassion does not claim to be a quick-fix for the age-old causes of suffering, nor is it a magic wand that will sweep away sorrow. But it is our commitment to compassion and our willingness to nurture it in every moment that gives meaning to life.
— Christina Feldman in Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World
I knew what I wanted to write about in this post but I didn’t know what I was going to say until I walked my puppy this morning. As I said in my last post Compassion isn’t really an emotion but rather more a way of life. There is no doubt I have a profound compassion for others. For example, this last week there has been a raging fire dubbed The Rockport 5 Fire just a few miles from my home.
It was started by lightening and ravaged over 4000 acres taking 14 homes with it. The compassion I felt for those that were driven from there homes, wondering if they would even have a home once it was over, was significant. I also wondered about all the wildlife that might have gotten swept in it and my heart ached for all the lives that were affected by this tragedy.
We are beginning to learn that each animal has a life and a place and a role in this world. If we place compassion and care in the middle of all our dealings with the animal world and honor and respect their lives, our attitudes will change.
— Jane Goodall in The Ten Trusts
Two years ago I was taking care of my parents as my dad battled COPD and by this time two years ago everyone but him knew the COPD was winning. He was terrified of the thought of dying so much so I couldn’t even mention the “D” word. From what I could piece together from our many conversations in the wee hours of the morning was that he was afraid of where he was headed once he succumbed to his disease. He was a Vietnam Vet and I think the war haunted him. I had so much love and compassion for him as he tried to beat back the Grim Reaper who was knocking loudly at his door. I had been staying with my parents for months by this time. I had given up everything in my life to be there for them and it was taking its toll.
Because they would not allow me to get help I was completely alone. My mother was completely dependent on me being in a wheel chair and my father grew weaker by the day. By this time two years ago he weighed no more than 85 pounds soaking wet. I lifted my mother on and off her wheelchair then would carry my father back and forth to the bathroom. He became too weak to even do that and could not change his clothes. I gave him some of my yoga pants and a t-shirt because he was so skinny any seam bruised his failing body. At the very end I realized I had a foot problem. It was diagnosed as a Morton’s Neuroma which essentially was an inflamed nerve in between two bones that ran down the length of my foot. It felt as if someone was driving a nail into my foot. This was caused my constant lifting and twisting….which was all I was doing at the time. I didn’t even see a doctor until after my fathers funeral. I had to wear a special boot which is what I was wearing as my husband took me to Catalina for my wedding.
I didn’t want to wear the boot in my wedding (for obvious reasons) so I elected to go barefoot and decided to go for the “Jenny” look in Forrest Gump. It wasn’t the most ideal of situations but I embraced the challenge and made it work.
Of course all the doctors said the only way to fix this problem was surgery. Surgery in my opinion is the LAST thing you want to do. Only if there are absolutely no other alternatives. Eventually my Neuroma went away never to bother me again. Unfortunately my mothers care fell into my hands and it was the most difficult and depressing time of my life.
What do you want to achieve? The Dalai Lama responded, “To be happy. My practice helps me lead a useful life. If I can give some short moment of happiness to others, then I feel that my life has achieved some purpose. This gives me deep mental satisfaction — this feeling always comes if you serve others. So when I help others, I feel happy. For me, the most important thing is human compassion, a sense of caring for one another.”
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama quoted in The Big Questions by Lama Surya Das
I was committed to taking care of my mother until her life ended but alas the task proved too difficult. Though she had the power to help me help her she chose instead to have me do 110% of everything. She would collapse in my arms as I was lifting her (as I had to do as many as ten times a day). She refused to work on her physical therapy because it was difficult and my mother doesn’t like to do anything that is difficult or uncomfortable. Even going through bills on her desk or looking something up on the computer she left for me to do because it wasn’t “fun”. She would watch TV all day and play games on Facebook but would not even look up a phone number online…I had to do it all. She use to love crafts. She was very good at them though I never saw her finish a single thing. She was angry she lost the abilities to do them so she wanted me to do them. Not things I wanted to do but things she wanted to do. She would wait until the last possible moment to go to the bathroom because she didn’t want to….it was hard work. Instead she would yell “HURRY!!!” at me as I frantically tried to get her there on time and get angry at me when she didn’t make it, leaving me to clean up the mess. I tried to do everything I could to make her life better….I read to her…I talked with her….tried to make yummy things for her and would get her up at 3 in the morning when she wanted a cigarette no matter how tired I was and it was never enough. Every time the nurse or LCSW would drop by she would list all the ways I had failed her and when I got defensive she would just tell me “Lisa….you need to get use to my sense of humor”. Needless to say mine was waning significantly by the day.
All the while I was lifting and twisting until I blew out my hip. It still causes me excruciating pain to this day. I have seen doctors and Rolfers and Massage Therapists at a tune of 100.00 dollars a pop for I don’t have insurance you see. While I am on that topic….why isn’t medical care a RIGHT in the country instead of a privilege set aside for only those that can afford insurance or pay for expensive medical treatments? But I digress.
The nectar of compassion is so wonderful. If you are committed to keeping it alive, then you are protected. What the other person says will not touch off the anger and irritation in you, because compassion is the real antidote to anger. Nothing can heal anger except compassion. That is why the practice of compassion is a very wonderful practice.
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
My anger is mounting. I had no choice but to give up being my mother’s primary caregiver. I could no longer walk and emotionally I was dying. When my husband looked into my eyes all he saw was hopelessness. Life had finally beaten me down. He knew if he did not step in I was not going to make it. As it stands it has been 7 months since I cared for my mother and I am still not out of the woods. In that time I have been trying to reclaim myself and find some sort of balance. In the time as well my mother had me reported to the Adult Protective Services for financial exploitation. I could not leave her long enough to work and when I stopped caring for her I had nothing left. No car, no income, no job, no sense of self. That was really the final blow that I am still trying to recover from. Nothing ever came of it but the fact still remains she did that. Needless to say we don’t see each other at all.
In the meantime I have been working to put together my life and every day is a struggle. Depression and pain rule my life. There are many out there that judge me harshly for relinquishing my mothers care and they have only heard her side of the story so I am hated by many family friend. Not only am I not healed completely from my emotional trauma of caring for my parents but my body is still in trouble as well. The last thought I have when I go to sleep at night is “I hurt” and the first thought I have when I wake up is “I hurt”. I am 46 years old and I feel like I am 80 or worse.
Yesterday my Neuroma came back. I just got hired as a waitress and my husband and I are remodeling a house and I can barely walk. I laid down in bed and had to get up for the pain that was shooting down my hip and leg and the mind numbing pain in my foot. I cried half the night with sheer frustration and the loss of hope. There does not seem to be any end in sight. I love to hike and be active and ride horses and be alive and yet my body will not allow it. And because the afflictions are not obvious I feel like everyone is judging me and thinking I am complaining to get out of work or to get attention. My husband made me make an appointment with a doctor for Monday and I think what am I going to say? And what can he do? I cannot afford even this one visit. I cannot afford to be off of work and I cannot afford the toll it is taking on me. I thought of so many of the people I know who have the ability to be active and yet their idea of a hike is to let the dog run a long side the truck while they sit inside and smoke. Anger, despair and utter hopelessness washed over me. Instead of sleeping next to my husband I slept in the recliner trying to find a position that minimized the pain just enough for me to fall into a restless sleep.
I was thinking this morning about why this was happening to me and the answer came like a bolt of lightening. I may have compassion for others but I have absolutely none for myself. How in the world can my body be free from pain when it is only reflecting what is in my mind and my heart? The best place to start cultivating compassion is first with yourself. Instead of just feeling sorry for myself which is based on fear and anger instead cultivate true compassion for myself which is based on love.
So I began doing that. I did the best that I possibly could with my mother. I know what was in my heart. That should be enough. Stop trying to prove myself to the world. I know what I am made of. That should be enough. When I meet people stop immediately thinking they are judging me. Even if they are who cares? They don’t know me. Stop projecting all those horrible thoughts on to my husband. I don’t know what he is thinking but I bet it is not ”You are lazy Lisa, you are trying to get attention, you are a hypochondriac etc…” for those thoughts come from me, not him. It finally occurred to me perhaps my body was complaining because I cultivated no compassion for myself for I don’t believe I have any.
So for today and now on I must repeat a new mantra and that is “I am good enough” and “I deserve love and compassion” and ” I am worthy”. I must develop the courage to accept myself exactly as I am.
Nonviolence means an ocean of compassion. It means shedding from us every trace of ill will for others. It does not mean abjectness or timidity, or fleeing in fear. It means, on the contrary, firmness of mind and courage, a resolute spirit.
— Mahatma Gandhi quoted in Mohandas Gandhiby John Dear