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  • A Little Compassion is Good for the (Tired) Soul

    mindfulness meditationMerriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Most of us think of compassion as something we show to other people when they’re going through a temporary rough patch. But what about you? Do you ever consider having compassion for yourself? Maybe you can have compassion for yourself when you make an honest mistake (maybe not), or for something stupid you did as a kid when you didn’t know any better. But how are you about having compassion for yourself when you get sick, have pain, or are just too tired to do anything? For some reason, that seems a whole lot harder.

    Instead of playing the coulda, shoulda, woulda game with yourself, try playing the compassion game. This means NOT focusing on what you did wrong or what you can’t do; if it’s in the past, there’s nothing you can do about it now anyway. Rather, it means focusing on what you CAN do right now. If your illness, pain, or fatigue is temporary this will be a lot easier. If it’s ongoing, or chronic, it will be harder but it’s still doable.

    Here are a few ways to show yourself compassion (use whichever one(s) fit your situation):

    • Create a “got done” list instead of a “to do” list. Write down everything, and I mean everything, that you do; got out of bed (don’t laugh, with some conditions this could be a major accomplishment), washed face, brushed teeth, ate breakfast, etc. This is a great way to see just how much you actually do each day.
    • Have compassion for other’s pain and suffering, even if it seems minor compared to yours. Things aren’t always what they seem and looks can be decieving. How many times have you put on your “happy face” and gone out to do something when you feel absolutely horrible and answered “fine” when asked how you were doing? If you have chronic pain or illness, how many times have you heard, “Well, you don’t look sick.” Remember, life is a two-way street; if you don’t have honest compassion for others, they won’t have honest compassion for you.
    • Respect your body’s need for extra rest and/or modified activities. In the long run, you’ll feel better if you don’t push yourself to complete and utter exhaustion.
    • Don’t isolate yourself. Even if you don’t have the energy to leave the house or your bed, you can still have connection to others through social media, online support groups, phone calls, email, etc. You may have to pace the amount of connection you undertake at a stretch, but by all means stay connected. And don’t forget to work in a little face time with your friends and loved ones when you’re up to it; maybe you could invite them for a short visit to share a cup of tea.
    • Take joy in other people’s pleasure and accomplishments. This doesn’t mean live vicariously though them, but rather to share their joy instead of wallowing in bitterness or jealousy over what they have done that you can’t. This is easier said than done, I know; but joy sends out a burst of feel good hormones. And really… who doesn’t want a good dose of feel good hormones coursing through their body. Right?
    • Stay in the present moment. When you don’t feel well, it’s very easy to get trapped in the past and long for the days when you did this or that. It’s especially hard if you’re unable to take part in an activity that you once derived great joy from. But all we really have is the present and we must work with that. Perhaps there is a different activity that you can do that will bring you joy.

    If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or other chronic illness, you absolutely must read the book “How to be Sick” by Toni Bernhard. Ms. Bernhard has severe chronic fatigue and this book is her journey with chronic debilitating illness and how she came to a place of compassion and equanimity with it. But even if you don’t have chronic pain or illness, I still highly recommend reading it. It’s filled with new ways of looking at life’s challenges that everyone can use on a daily basis. On a personal level, it is one of the most useful books I have ever read.

    A few other authors who write about compassion and making the most of the present moment are Sylvia Boorstein (“Happiness is an Inside Job” is my personal favorite of hers), Byron Katie (“Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life” is a great one to start with), and Pema Chodron (“When things fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times” is full of amazing examples of her teachings in action).

    I would love to hear how you show yourself compassion, or how you plan to. Please share in the comments below. (And feel free to share this blog with anyone you feel may enjoy or benefit from it.)