Diane Mariechild writes for this day in a way that settles into my heart. The subject is compassion, and she takes the opportunity to share very personally about it, telling us about her sensitivity even as a child. This is my own experience as well, yet because many important people around me were bewildered or frustrated by my sensitivity, and because others took advantage of it, it took me well into my adult years to understand, allow and even value what I often thought of as the equivalent of living without skin. What has helped me accept myself is the book, The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine Aron.
I write the above in case any reader of this post have a similar make-up and would be interested in better understanding and accepting herself.
Now, as for more general topic of compassion. Joanna Macy says that compassion is uncomfortable. (By the way, her website is remarkable. I encourage you to visit it.) We wall off our compassion in order not to feel. Isn't that why we say to the grieving survivor, "You'll feel better soon," rather than take a moment to truly get inside her grief? And why some of us can watch the news on television, with its photos and videos of violence and death without pausing in finishing our meal and without horror? And why nonprofits talk about "compassion fatigue"?
Yet there is a cost to this momentary avoidance -- not only to the general well-being of the world, but to our very selves:
When we harden to the suffering of others, it limits our capacity for joy...This denial also makes it easier for us to harm others.
Our self-protection denies us a full expression of our human-ness. I find this easier to understand, possibly, because I have learned to embrace and accept and learn from the physical pain of migraines. My own experience of pain, from which I have not walled myself, teaches me that I have places of compassion and a corresponding strength that means I will not die in attending to death; I will not crack open in being present to the hurt in the world.
And even more than that:
...If we are willing to experience the discomfort of others, we will be able to access our closed reservoirs of love. And love expressed does not harm.
Love expressed is risky, partly because love expresses itself without an eye to results or outcomes -- without expectation of return or gratitude. But the psychic numbing that Macy mentions is far riskier, both for the world and for our selves.
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Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.