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We cannot give what we do not have. 'Sounds simple enough, right? And, if you're reading this post, you're probably someone for whom caring for others is second nature. Maybe it's even the thing you go to before any other thing?
For those of us wired to help, it feels counter-intuitive to care for Self. In fact, it feels selfish. And "selfish" is a dirty word for someone addicted to fixing and saving and helping.
When putting "me" first matters
I've recently had a dramatic change in circumstance. As my marriage of 27 years winds its way to an end, I'm facing into the practice of self management in new ways. This is uncomfortable. Foreign. Jarring. And freeing. At many points along the way I've been faced with the need to tend to the hearts of my adult sons, my loved ones, and my dear friends. I haven't always done this well. And as a fixer and helper, that is excruciating. I so wish every heart around me Happy, at Peace. And here I am: a woman causing unHappy Disruption.
Before I can give into the lives of my others, I'm learning (so-so slowly), I must tend to my own motivations. I need to listen for what I need, what is true (and what is just a story that I'm telling myself to help myself feel better). Hearing my own wishes and hopes is critical. If I follow the lead of things that give me pause and invite me to breathe deeply, how might that shift what I offer the people around me?
I find myself asking, "What if I step out of the rat race, the being driven and perfect and privileged and 'somebody'?" What if I attend to the woman I was designed to be? The girl that was before life crept and stormed and wound its way around my heart and began to squeeze the life out of her?
And if I live in such a way, what might I invite others into being for themselves? Might we all come awake together?
Drawing from a deep well
I find myself curious about what happens if I deepen the well of compassion, safety, and peace in my own life. Moreover, if I begin by offering these things to my Self, will I offer them more capably and generously to others? What will that look like? Feel like? Live like?
Thankfully, we live in a culture and time where we have access to tools and resources for this kind of exploration. Are you curious? Interested in offering yourself a kind of tenderness that may deepen your own thoughtful, planet-caring, others-caring approach to the whole of your life?
For example, a few resources that may help get us started in the exploration:
Does anything there resonate? Feel like a starting place as you continue your own path of finding the truest True? The You-est You?
Rumi on compassion
My dear heart, never think you are better than others. Listen to their sorrows with compassion. If you want peace, don't harbor bad thoughts, do not gossip and don't teach what you do not know.
In compassion and grace, be like the sun...
In generosity and helping others, be like a river...
Listen with ears of tolerance! See through the eyes of compassion! Speak with the language of love.
Beverly Engel's article, "What is compassion and how can it improve my life?" notes that, "...instead of assuming that the reason someone has done something that hurts you is because they are selfish or inconsiderate, assume instead that they had a good reason for doing it...". This extension of the definition takes us beyond a confusion between empathy and compassion, and into even broader understanding. What if my assumptions about your behavior toward me are incorrect? What if I've presumed something about your motives, your thoughts, or your feelings are way off?
My filters get a little foggy from time-to-time. It's easy for me to assume that someone I love means me no harm and had good intentions in her treatment of me. It's not much of a reach to presume that someone who's not my biggest fan might wish me ill. It's probable that neither were actually thinking about me that much at all. Sometimes people are just distracted, or caught up in their own stuff. I know when I get that way I can be insensitive or just plain checked-out. Compassion allows me to expect the best from my others.
And when in doubt? It doesn't take much to check-in with a, "Hey, I noticed you didn't say thank you for that amazing lasagna I made for dinner. 'You ok?" You might get an abashed, "Sorry! Great dinner!" Or you may learn that some things went down that need a little tending.