I threw that word around a lot while volunteering in Calcutta with Mother Teresa's Missionaries. Mother Teresa exuded compassion. Her white-sari-clad sisters floated around in filth and misery and suffering with a smile and a laugh and a lightness that defined compassion better than a dictionary. All of us volunteers opened our hearts and used our hands to improve one single minute of one destitute person's life...and we did it with compassion.
And yet, that definition seems so big, so impossibly hard to reach without boarding another plane and flying to Calcutta and yet again dirtying myself in the work of serving the poor.
Twenty years ago, I didn't find a way to bring compassion home with me in any meaningful way. Certainly I couldn't pack it up in my suitcase or tuck it into the pages of my journal. Instead, I brought home perspective, another invaluable life lesson that fits my personality a whole lot more. Perspective was and still is used to remind me how much I should appreciate each and every moment and thing and person that is in my life, especially when remembering how few moments and things and people others have or have not. I'm good at a lot of things, but holding myself to high standards and being hard on myself top the list, and the perspective I gained abroad often helps to fuel these tougher sides of me.
But compassion. That's the softer side, definitely one that I use for my kids but rarely on myself. Only recently have I begun to steep myself in a little of that, in a gentle way, the way a mother would cradle a hurt child--gingerly but with strength, waiting until the tears stopped to ask why there were tears at all.
Some weeks ago I was part of a yoga workshop where the instructor, through a long guided meditation--during which I was more relaxed and at ease and open than I had been in years--urged us to stand outside ourselves and look at ourselves. It was a funny, dream-like moment. But as I stood and drank in the image of myself meditating on my yoga mat, I felt compassion for the woman I saw. She is sad and struggling, but also hopeful, tired and discouraged but still thoughtful and still trying to make others around her feel a little better. I felt compassion towards her...towards myself.
I finally began to appreciate my own story or journey of the past few years that really, of course, started decades ago in my seemingly perfect childhood home with my seemingly perfect parents' marriage. I continue to unravel myself and explore what I find in that unraveling process. I want to understand myself and, ultimately I hope, accept myself. So, with the help of an endless stack of self-help-y books, conversations with therapists, hours on my sweaty yoga mat, and miles on local trails and running paths, I think and meditate and contemplate and seek understanding.
I'm hoping to continue to do all this with a little more compassion. With a concern and a gentleness that I usually save for others, this time I'll sprinkle a little of that on myself.