Inner World

Compassion: Sweet, but not Pie

Well, what an interesting couple of weeks we have had.  I took a week off to vote, and to remain attentive to the larger world around me.  There were wins and losses, both personal and political.  Today I am reflecting on losing a friend, and the larger lesson of compassion that remains in their absence.

My friend did not die.  My friend did not split away from me because we had such opposite voting strategies.  It was a much more subtle end, and the culmination of a pattern that lasted our entire friendship.

The whole story of what happened belongs to my former friend and me alone.  I am certain our versions would diverge widely, and like Rashomon, each one would contain only part of the truth.  That doesn’t matter.

sliced apple pie on brown surface
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

What matters to me is this: in the conversations where our friendship was ending, I realized that we have fundamentally different views of compassion.  They saw compassion as a limited thing, to be offered first and fullest to an inner circle of trusted people.  Then, if there was anything left, it could settle on some other people. Compassion was a pie you offered only to those who had earned it.

I see compassion as a running spring, where you can dip in again and again and still come away with a full cup.  I felt like I could care about and comment on the injustices faced by one group of people and still care about injustices for other groups of people.

And, for me, in the weeks leading up to midterms, there were so many injustices to care about that if compassion were a limited commodity, I would have been out of it almost immediately.

There is a small way that I realize my former friend is right, however.  Without adequate self-awareness, self-care, and support, any human is subject to burn out.  It’s part of the reason why it is so much harder to hold deep compassion for large numbers of people than it is for a single individual.

I come back, then, to this moment.  Sitting here in the aftermath of midterm elections and the demise of a friendship, thinking about what comes next.  For me, that involves looking keenly at the world right in front of me and seeing where I can be kind.  At the same time, it involves keeping my larger eyes open to a world that is changing in ways I don’t understand or agree with, speaking about what I see, and standing up for what I believe is right.  This commitment to speaking up started a couple of weeks ago with my former friend.  I already know sad, bad, and unexpected things can happen.  And I know it is necessary.

Thoughts on the profession

Play Date

I was sitting in the park yesterday and I saw the cutest thing.  Two little girls, about 6 or 7 years old, were running around playing, all hopped up on the sunshine and the warmth of the day.  The mother of one girl called her because it was time to leave.  They both ran over, got a pen and a piece of paper, and traded phone numbers.  They hugged each other close with big smiles, and ran off to their respective mothers, calling to each other, “We’ll have a play date soon!”  Such effortless, artless happiness.  Such open and free affection.  It was adorable.

This week marks my first anniversary back in my home state of Kentucky.  It has been a beautiful, challenging year.  Every day something happens that reassures me I made the right decision to move here.  And every day I reflect on some ongoing challenge of being here.

I think my number one ongoing challenge may be shared by many adults in the United States: connection.  I am far from isolated, and I would welcome more ways to be connected to people and community.  This is why I prefer walking to work over driving, and working at coffee shops instead of at home.  To move at the pace of people, and among people, and to know I belong to them and they belong to me.

Somewhere between the age of 6 and late teens, many of us lost that ease of affection that I saw in those two little girls.  At some point, it becomes “weird” to say, “Hey.  I like you.  You’re neat.  Let’s be friends.”  Or even to say, “My neighbor, I care about you.”

It may not seem like lack of connection is something a massage therapist would notice in their office, but I see it often in my clients.  It shows up sideways in the way someone talks about the stress in their life.  It sneaks through in folded-up, protective postures that leave necks sore and backs aching.  It leaks out in the facial expressions that ask me to please listen, hear and acknowledge.

So, my clients, my neighbors, I care about you.  I see you, and I want to hear what you have to say.  I hope for you that someone offers you free and open affection, and brings you artless, effortless happiness.

pexels-photo-225017.jpeg  (not the girls from the park, but still adorable.  Thanks, free image library!)