Saturday, March 21, 2015

Learning Self-Compassion from a Long-Ago Disney Trip

"People get lost at Disney," my husband said today in reply to something I had said. I realized he meant adults get lost, not only young people like I was when I got lost in Disneyland as a teenager, trying to find my way back to an outdoor restaurant from a restroom. It had never occurred to me before that getting lost at Disney was something an adult might do.

I had always been proud that I had kept my cool that day, had retraced my steps to the restroom, had asked an employee for directions, and had found my way back to my parents, sister, and our friends.

But when my husband said that today, tears sprang to my eyes with sudden relief that I had not been stupid - after all - to get lost. Tears of compassion, too, for the girl who had thought she was irresponsible for not paying enough attention, or else she would never have gotten lost.

It was a healing moment - that thought today, that moment of love today for the self I was, that day, long ago.

I had already had plenty of the "I can take care of myself" tools in my tool box as a child. What I hadn't had, back then, was the tool of self-compassion.

What's the difference between self-compassion and self-pity, though? Self-pity, I think, looks at others' problems, and says, "I can't help you or empathize with you; I can only feel sorry for myself."  On the other hand, someone with self-compassion may care very much about the problems of others; but also takes the time and care for an inward look, at his or her present or past self, to say lovingly, as we would say to a good friend, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry that happened to you. I’m sorry you feel - or felt - badly. You are valuable and you are loved."  


I don't share this story with you to elicit your compassion for me, but to encourage your compassion for yourself. It's something I've been learning about for some time now, in theory, but it was cool to see the lesson fall into place, and I wanted to share that lesson with you all, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I've Crossed a River You Cannot Cross

This is my "Open letter from a mother who has lost a son". I didn't plan this letter or essay. I'd just been talking with my daughter, and after we got off Skype, I just started thinking about this river concept, and all of this just wanted to be said. Of course, there are - unfortunately for them - many mothers on my side of the river, for one reason or another. I don't know whether or not they would relate to what I am saying here. This is just one woman's musings of the moment. 

I've Crossed a River You Cannot Cross

I've crossed a river you cannot cross. No! Stay there. But would you do me a favor?  There's a shallow place just a little bit upstream. It's so shallow that it's more like a creek there. Would you go up there, and sit across the river from me for a bit? Bring your thermos, and I'll bring mine. We can talk or, maybe for a bit, we can just listen to the running water and the frogs, and smell the honeysuckle and the pine.

While we sit, if you are willing to listen to me, I would be very grateful. And I don't mind listening, too. Even if you want to tell me your troubles, that's okay; just know that I can listen sympathetically, but I can't come across the river with you. My place is here now. Maybe I can come across to your side for an hour, or a day, maybe even longer; but I will always come back, because this is my home now.

While we talk, I might tell you - when you get ready to go home on your side of the river – to go ahead and do what you remind each other to do. Love your loved ones each and every day, as if it were the last. But don't dwell on that, really. If you dwell on it, it might even spoil the moments. And yes, I don't try to eavesdrop, but I do hear you saying things to your neighbors like, "You never know when you won't see your loved one again". Yes, sometimes when I hear that, it makes me sad to think of the last time I talked to my son, when I said, "Can I call you back?", and then I forgot, until I got that phone call. 

But I want you to go on with your life on your side of the river. I want you to keep on reminding each other how important the little things can be, even if sometimes I wish I couldn't hear so well…even if sometimes I wish the river would rush a little louder.

I might tell you about other conversations I hear across the river, too. I hear you say how sad you are that your son went away to college, and I laugh. But then, I'm sorry, because I shouldn't laugh, and I know that you missing them is very real. And my other children go away, too, and I miss them, too, so I understand. Really, it only takes me aback for a moment, and then I can understand with you, in the way that you understand it on your side of the river.   

I so appreciate you coming to visit with me. But before you go, after you stand up and brush yourself off, and get ready to go home, will you take my hand across the water? I must warn you that I might hold your hand like I will never let it go, but don't worry because of course I must, and I will.  

And I hope you will come again. Come sit on your side of the river, across from me, and listen to the running water and the frogs, and smell the honeysuckle and the pine with me.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

It's not the words we say (or Dealing with other people's sadness)

There are many different problems and causes for sadness. We grieve someone moving away, the loss of a job, and so much more. And others can sometimes help us on that path. Or they can strew rubble on it.

I'm still not an expert in dealing with other people's grief, even though I've had two sons with sudden vision loss; even though I've lost a son; even though I've lost six people close to me within four years. But what I've learned is that we don't have to be experts. We don't have to think of the perfect words to say, because there are no perfect words to say. 

"I'm sorry" and "I will pray" are probably the words that have helped me most, but most of all people just 'being there'.

But if we feel words are important, if you want to use your words, let's consider this as a cardinal rule before we speak: Avoid Judgment. 

"Of course!" someone sputters. "Who would judge, when someone has a loss?" 

Ah, but it is not so clear as all that. There are so many different ways to make someone feel judged without even stopping to think about how it's going to come across. I wish I could give examples from things people have said to me, but there are people for whom hearing some of those comments might only add to their suffering. 

So here's the thing: Most statements, by their very nature, that try to answer "why" questions feel like judgment. The people who grieve, whether grieving a death or any kind of loss, are going to have to make their own peace on their own timetable. Let's not make it harder by throwing our "guesses" into the mix.

Let's remember that most often only God has full knowledge of any "why's". And in saying that, I'm saying he is all-knowing, but I'm not saying that God wanted a bad thing to happen. Jesus said, "What you do to the least of mine, you do to me," and he cured people of disease. Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, coming home from the temple. Jesus was nailed to a cross. So let's not try to place blame. 

I know, I know. Most of my readers would not place blame. But I know I have unintentionally said hurtful things at times in my life. It's so easy, because it's so subtle sometimes. 

Let's just try to carefully remove anything that might be perceived as judgment of any kind before we speak. And if we find that we have failed, we can say the same thing we might have said in the first place, "I'm sorry." Because, most probably, we meant well. 

And if you wonder why I brought this up tonight, there's another mystery for you.  Actually, though, I came across an article about the invalidity of the "prosperity gospel" (that if we just do the right things, everything will go our way), and I wanted to share about that topic myself. And it took the path I know, or at least one of the paths I know. 

But you know - we all know when we stop to think about it - that God is not a vending machine where you put in your quarters of prayer and good works, and you get out an equivalent amount of earthly happiness. God allows (and "God allows" is not necessarily the same as "God wanted", which I believe we can't know). But God allows us to experience the heavy sufferings of this earth, just as he did his Son, and the saints. 

But he is there for us, always; he is listening to us, and comforting us. He often gives us peace and joy in the midst of suffering. And sometimes he gives us human angels to be there for us along the way. "Lord, help me to be that to those I love, and those you send to me." 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How I Ended up in a Cult

Some of you have heard me say, "When I was 18, I went to a cult". Who would do that? Why? Why would I leave my family, and all that I knew? Believe me, sometimes I still ask myself those questions, so I can imagine others asking them, too. Intellectually, I still don't have the answers, but maybe I can share a fragment of the emotion.

A few years ago, I wrote a sort of free verse - poem of sorts - that expresses it the best way I have been able to so far. I don't remember sharing that poem publicly before now. Maybe it was because I didn't think it would stand alone. Maybe it was also because I wasn't ready to humble myself by sharing that pain and confusion. 

When I graduated from high school, I had a car of my own; my part time job had turned into a full time job as soon as summer came; and at the end of June, I rented my own apartment. My middle name was responsible, and I was flying high.  

I had also decided I wanted to become a Catholic, and I was just waiting to receive instructions, so I could come into the Church. But in the meantime, my Catholic best friend's mother had read a book about the changes in the Mass, and how "awful" those changes were; and I read it and believed it, along with my friend. 

Then she got introduced to a group that was traveling around the country, giving talks. My friend and I went to hear them. A really nice, upbeat lady, who traveled with them, suggested we go to a ten day seminar coming up in August in Idaho. She said, with such enthusiasm, you can go to Mass every day. Well, I hated to ask for time off work; but when I was growing up I had always loved church camp, and I decided to go, and my friend did too. I asked for the time off, and my boss graciously gave it to me. 

When we arrived, the first thing they did was take our watches. I was very uncomfortable with that. (Imagine someone taking your phone for ten days...and you didn't know ahead of time).  I had been wearing a watch pretty much all the time since I was in third grade. 

We had Mass, as promised. It was offered by a retired priest who, I later learned, was senile and had no idea what this group really stood for. 

Most of the rest of the time we spent listening to the leader, Francis Schuckardt, talk about how awful the changes in the Church were, how awful the world was, how no one who seemed to be in the Church was really Catholic any more. He would rant, "All the bishops are apostates, and anyone who follows an apostate bishop is ipso facto excommunicated!" Salvation was only with him and his group. Sitting here, writing it, I feel very foolish. Sitting there for hours on end, not knowing meal time from sleeping time from listening time, and mostly it was listening time, all we could feel was darkness and despair. 

And so, when the ten days were over, we had to stay with the group. It wasn't a decision, consciously made; it just was. It was desperation and it was fear. It was...I can think of no other word but craziness. We couldn't go home, except to say good-bye and get a few of our things because, out there, in the world (oh, am I really saying this publicly?)...out there in the world there were all these "humanoids and possessed persons", and we were in grave danger. If you hear something enough times, over and over, in a brainwashing setting, you can begin to believe it. And there were all these respectable-looking adults who believed it, so why not us?  

Ten Day Seminar:

Our watches gone,
Time dragging on.
“The wicked world is dangerous!
Be safe with us.”
Endless listening to
Endless ranting.

Free time – one time.
Time alone, with God.
“What should I do?”
“Keep My commandments.”
Moment of connection.
Moment of sanity.

Cling to the connection.
Cling to the sanity.

Our watches gone,
Time dragging on.
“The wicked world is dangerous!
Be safe with us.”
Endless listening to
Endless ranting.

Connection fading.
Sanity sliding.

Endless time ending.
Watches returned, intact,
But broken to our needs;
Our spirits broken, like their usefulness.

Time to go home,
Yet not home, to the world,
Where dangers lurk
And devils dwell.  


In case you want to know who was this Francis Schuckardt, there is some information here: