There is a very powerful meditation called the lovingkindness meditation. It was originally presented to the author as a guided meditation in a group of about 12. The teacher invited us to picture a being that we love without condition. She invited us to take a moment and really conjure a mental picture of this being that we loved with our whole heart.
People pictured their child, their pet, their parent. She invited us to imagine the being in his or her completeness—how did they sound, how did they smell, what was it like to touch them? Everyone imagined their Love: a child’s giggle, the deep soft fur of a faithful pet or the loving eyes of a partner. We were guided through layers and of imagining how we ached to make them feel better when they hurt and delighted in their joy. We pictured bravely and joyfully standing between them and anything that would hurt them. We inhaled deeply and fully took on the role of their protector. We imagined putting a comforting hand on their cheek to wipe away a tear, picking them up when they stumbled and holding them as they cried.
The teacher asked, “How much forgiveness do you have for them?
It was boundless. It surrounded them like air. We imagined landscapes of it, oceans of it, mighty cloud banks of forgiveness rolling over a horizon. Ofourse we would forgive them. That went with our love. As we were guided through this tsunami of increasingly vivid images in which we pictured ourselves protecting and adoring these children, these pets, these spouses, these friends, the teacher suddenly said:
“Now turn all of that compassion on yourself.”
Some people literally gasped. No one expected it. Everyone in the room cried. In that freeze frame moment, when she suddenly reversed the mighty flowing rivers we had all created, we could see how very, very far we all were from treating ourselves with anything approaching lovingkindness. It was breathtaking.
We would never say hateful, minimizing things to these beings or do anything to sabotage them and yet we often have a running diatribe in our heads of brutal judgment about ourselves. As healers, rescuers, we sometimes minimize our efforts because we can’t save everyone all the time. We get discouraged and turn to a lot of damaging self-talk about our efficacy. We fail and become “failures.” We experience loss and become “losers.” But that self-talk doesn’t have to be the choice we make.
This is one way you might choose to think about the sea of “saving” to be done, whatever your field as a healer / rescuer:
We all have only three options, no more.
1. Save every single one of whatever you are saving all the time. And I think we can agree that not even Mother Theresa could do this. It simply is not possible. Mark it off your list.
2. Save none. Turn away from it and refuse to participate. If you are reading this far, you are probably not wired to do that. So scratch this option for most of us.
3. Save as many as we can and live to tell about it. This is the path that will allow us to find a balance and do the most good. Go into what you are doing with a mindset that you are going to work as steadily and authentically as you can and that is what you can do. You will feel the sadness at the losses, to be sure. But the goal can’t be to never be sad. It is a part of living. Sadness can energize us, ground us, focus us, fuel us and even soften the sharp edges on some of us in how we deal with the world. Sometimes, sadness can just be. We can just choose to acknowledge that we feel it, not fight it and let it just move through and around us. Sometimes it isn’t the pain of the feeling we experience but the pain of the struggle not to experience it.
Expectation is everything. A veteran marathoner once said, “The only thing that you can be sure of about any marathon is that some parts will suck.” It does kind of mentally to prepare you for being able to stand mentally a little apart from mile 20 and think, “Oh, here it is, the suckage. I expected this.” But if you expected all rainbows and unicorns, you’d struggle with trying to figure out what went wrong. In fact, nothing went wrong. You are simply on a path.
We invite you to use a bit of compassion week to take some time to consider self-compassion. There are talks/meditations this week by wonderful teachers including Micki Fine at www.livingmindfully.org and meditations at the Houston Zen Center at www.houstonzen.org involving self-compassion. For many “wounded healers” this concept is so much harder than compassion for others. And yet, without that foundation of self-care and self-forgiveness, there can be no true compassion for others.
Look after yourself a bit, healers. Put your oxygen mask on first. Then turn to save somebody else.