I was very convinced (and convicted) by a part of the Saturday Morning Retreat this past weekend. I gave everyone a small band-aid to put on their pointer finger to act as a tactile reminder of the Meditation Mantra for the first section of the retreat; More Compassion. More compassion for yourself, in particular. We go through lots of band-aids in our house. Whenever one of my kids scratch, bump, or just get a mosquito bite they run to show me where it hurts, tell me what happened and how many band-aids they need. Very rarely does the band-aid “do” anything other than provide a visible sign that they got hurt. They are unabashedly seeking an affirmation of their pain and waiting for me to say “oh my goodness, that looks like it hurts”. Then they show it to everyone they meet, inspiring similar words of care and loving attention. My kids never want a band-aid that is transparent or skin toned. That doesn’t even make sense to them. Why would you do this?
We don’t really do that with our aches, pains, and disappointments as we get older and mostly that is appropriate and mature behavior. But with that comes a near complete absence of compassion from others or even from ourselves. I don’t often say to myself, “oh sweetie, that hurts a lot doesn’t it?” when my knees ache or my ego has been bruised. On the other hand it can be awkward and complicated to ask for that tender affirmation of our hurts from others. If my husband tells me that his stomach hurts my first reaction isn’t always to affirm his feelings with an “oh sweetie”. My knee-jerk (heavy on the jerk) reaction is to say “Well, maybe because you just ate your weight in chips, huh? Drink some water. Go to the bathroom.” Why do we have to hire a therapist and pay someone to hear our aches and pains without it being complicated, inappropriate, filled with judgment, and sometimes even making the pain worse than however it started.
So this past Saturday we all put a band-aid on our finger during the retreat to remind ourselves of the practice of More Compassion…More Compassion…More Compassion…More Compassion…More Compassion…
The Meditation Mantra of the month is the concept of Sistering. This is a technique used in construction actually. When a board has become unstable or vulnerable for the load it is carrying, another board is put right next to it and maybe on the other side too, if needed, to stabilize it and make it stronger. The vulnerable board isn’t removed or considered broken, and the sister boards aren’t taking over and holding up the load for the vulnerable one.
In human life, it can get so much more complicated than the romantic world of construction. Relationships are more often than not messy and come with unspoken expectations, always present history, and awkward communication. When I am feeling especially vulnerable I don’t always know what I need or want and I might reject or be offended by an offer of help. When people I really care about are struggling and appear (to me) to be digging themselves into a hole it is difficult for me to stand with them without lingering judgments about the situation. It is not always easy to respond to someone in pain with a sincere and humble “that sounds like it really hurts”.
I am trying to become more aware of and cultivate a sensation of compassion as part of my practice of sistering. What does compassion feel like in your body – as in what does it feel like when you are full of compassion? As opposed to full of disdain or judgment? We know what sadness or gratitude feel like in our gut. We know that relief feels different than silly, even if they are both “good” feelings. The most important part of this practice for me is developing a sensation of compassion in my body before my judgmental mind comes up with all the judgmental and snarky responses to the situation. If I am depending on my mind to choose to be compassionate I will surely over-think it and might choose otherwise.
I think I have gotten really used to the feeling of disdain and judgment. I don’t even notice how crummy it feels until I’m completely sick to my stomach with shame. It’s like eating a bag of Cheetohs and you want more and more of that perfect cheesy crunch until you are bloated and gross. And like eating a huge bag of Cheetohs, it is miserably satisfying to feel that rush of moral superiority, to know just what is going wrong in someone’s life, or have disdain because you disagree with them.
This all makes it really hard to sister one another or ever be sistered. It makes it hard to just not be a jerk. Have we all gotten so used to the toxic feeling in our gut that we don’t even notice how crappy we actually feel?
This is the practice, for me at least; generating a sensation of compassion in my body before I give my judgmental & snarky mind a chance to think about it all. Start with compassion and let my thoughts and actions be moved by that sensation. Rachel; lay off the (physicaly/mental/spiritual) Cheetohs.
And drink more water. Go for a walk. Eat an apple. Dance parties in the kitchen.
peace on your head, you. For real.