compassion

Expansion

12:00 PM


Like every other Monday through Friday, I get to watch over my two-year-old grandson Finn, and our aging-but-debonair 13 year old golden retriever, Keller.

Keller, a fortunate “only child” of a dog is accustomed to taking three walks a day to complete his rounds and accomplish his business. The noon day walk is usually handled by Finn and Lala, as we are mostly home during the day, and we’re up for an outing almost anytime. But today, something went haywire with our Keller. 

On the first walk of the day, my husband Aaron and I usually take Finn and Keller out together, but this morning, before Aaron was out the door of the garage with the leash that frankly, he never uses anyway, Keller bolted around the corner, faster than Finn and I could catch him. It was alarming to watch Keller tearing down the street like a wild child; I wasn’t sure, pushing Finn in a stroller, I could intercept him. We tackled Keller five houses west of ours, and I reminded Aaron that Keller just isn’t safe off leash any more.

Later, Finn and I put Keller on leash to offer him his afternoon constitution, and it turned into a full scale chaotic fiasco.

I tried to walk Keller on leash, but one-eyed and mostly blind in his spare eye, the poor guy kept straying right into Finn’s stroller, jumping in surprise every time he did it. I decided to let him off leash a while so he could wander around and find a good spot to relieve himself, but he has also lost most of his hearing, so he ran ahead enthusiastically, but he couldn’t hear us calling for him to slow down or stop.

After a wild chase to catch up with him, and after strangers on bikes who sensed the drama of the struggle offered to help, I cried “uncle,” and put him back on leash. He had a crazed look in his eye that implied he might be suffering, and I knew I was powerless to help him. Walking alongside this sweet golden, possibly facing his final weeks or months of life as he knows it, I felt torn and inept.

Attempting to negotiate the passenger-less stroller with one hand while keeping up with an energetic Finn, now “hiking” on foot, I tried to keep Keller out from under the wheels with the other hand. Finn was beckoning us to come when I got tangled one too many times, feeling myself tempted to collapse into tears on the sidewalk. I heard myself whine, “I can’t be compassionate and attentive to both of them at the same time!”

 And that’s when I felt myself expand just a little. A small but significant stretch. 

Gathering Keller’s leash a bit tighter, drawing him closer to me to avoid the wheels of the stroller, I praised Finn for walking close to us. I also laughed a little, something I am learning to do to shift out of the familiar grip of fear, or self incrimination. And I paused to ask myself, why do I think I can’t focus on these two precious but dependent beings at the same time? Granted, it’s challenging. I am feeling anxious, and my default-driven brain tells me I have to let go of one to care for the other. 

 But what if that just isn’t true?

More importantly, is this moment uncovering the tip of a love-limiting iceberg? 

Although my prayer life has on occasion been focused on just keeping my own shit together, I do have an overarching, lifelong prayer: I want to learn how to love beyond my inner circle.

Today, tempted to abandon one loved one to care for another, I found myself being tricked into another mini-surrender. What if learning to love bigger means that I will need to accept that frustration, feelings of incompetence, and rate-limiting anxiety are just part of the deal...at least while we’re learning?

Maybe, when we don’t have enough hands, or resources in general, we accept the chaotic nature of a walk that is awkward and clumsy, but driven by compassion and care for others.

We’ve all played the lifeboat game at one point or another, right? 

Who would you choose to care for if an anxiety-challenged grandmother, a toddler, and a handicapped, elderly dog were on a sinking ship, and there were only two seats left in the life-boat? 

Well, clearly, we're gonna need a bigger boat.

"I think what I need to learn is an almost infinite tolerance and compassion...if we can just prepare a compassionate and receptive soil for the future, we will have done a great work. I feel at least that this is the turn my own life ought to take."
Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love

mindfulness

Magic 8 Ball

8:31 AM

In the 2010 film, Inception, Leonardo DeCaprio plays some type of secret agent who targets and steals intel from the dreams of unsuspecting bigwigs. It’s a crazy cool concept, shining a spotlight on the power of the subconscious to conceive an idea and then massage it into fruition. What if the process of conceptualizing that idea could be interrupted, and redirected? The film’s implication: if we can find a thought’s point of inception, and influence it with a different idea, we might alter someone’s original life trajectory.
A thought can become a belief, a belief can becomes a belief system, or a value, and a value can become a patterned way of responding to life’s invitations. This is not a new concept, but it always fascinates me to consider the impact my own thoughts may have had on my trajectory over the years; even more fascinating is considering the impact re-setting a specific thought could have in altering that trajectory.
I imagined for decades that I had been a disappointment to my parents. As a small child, I had created an image of the daughter I thought they wanted me to be, and when I eventually fell short of that image, the one I had myself created, I experienced over and over again what I perceived to be their rejection. What a shock to realize this was all happening inside my own imaginative little head. I was in my fifties when I finally challenged the idea, looking at my folks’ actual words and actions instead of focusing on my fears of rejection.  All of the evidence pointed to the same thing: my parents dearly love me and they’re proud of me. What impact might this one shift in awareness have had on the fear-based baggage I hauled around for decades?
We do, after all, tend to create for ourselves whatever it is we think about, at least, what we think about continuously. Meditation has been helpful, teaching me more and more to become an observer of my own thought life, turning over and re-structuring my mind’s soil to keep it fresh and productive. This is an ongoing process, but I’ve come to believe it’s better to be aware of the thoughts that are propelling us forward, or dragging us backwards,  than to ride along, mindlessly, in the backseat  of our own lives.  
Mind you, I’m not looking to take on the whole Pandora’s box of childhood memes, but I am trying to address whatever is prominent in the moment, using a sort-of, DIY approach. Pushing the pedal that’s up.
When something makes me uncomfortable, an anxious thought or an unpleasant emotion, I try to create a bit of space for it, and then just...sit for a while, allowing whatever underlying belief is causing the discomfort to come into focus. Although this isn’t always instant, our underlying beliefs do come to light, truth revealing itself like the prophetic 8 ball gadget we used to play with as children, circa 1965.


Marketed as both a children’s toy and a parlor game for adults, the Magic 8 Ball claimed its own oracle functions, guaranteed to answer questions about the future, but only when questions were asked in a yes or no format. As children, we would urgently ask something of grand importance, and shake the ball.
“Does he like me?” and a simple yes, no, maybe or something more mysterious, like “too soon to know…” would float into view in the clear center of the ball. Believing in the magic gave the answers their power.
The questions run a bit deeper these days.
Do I like me?
What am I afraid of?
Why did that exchange I just had with my husband create a sudden Tsunami of anxious energy?
Although I don’t often come up with answers about the future, I still believe in the magic, and I have an internal 8 Ball that is holding the secrets I need to know.  I just don’t look for the answers “out there” anymore. I believe in God although I refer to God more as my Higher Power, these days. I also believe that my Higher Power sees clearly through the fog that clouds my perception. When I pray, meditate, or walk with a listening state of mind, I am trusting someone wiser and more sensible than myself who can decode my involuntary programming and give me fresh eyes. Change the way you perceive a thing, you can change the way you experience it. I don't have any better magic than that.


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