Among the thousand gratitudes, I am grateful for the (still rare) moments when I feel compassion – the real thing, not sympathy or empathy – but the physical feeling that cracks open the rocky shores of my heart and floods my whole self.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that the first time I felt true compassion was in my late thirties, when my older daughter was an infant. She was a beautiful baby, an energetic baby, and a delight in so many ways. But she was not what is classically considered an “easy” baby. She moved constantly. She cried a lot. She ate a lot. One morning my husband left for work, and I was sitting on an exercise ball, bouncing the baby to calm her down – and when he returned twelve hours later, I was still bouncing her on that ball. He said, “it’s like you’ve been sitting there all day.”
I said, “I have been sitting here all day.” Because that day, whenever I left the ball, she would get really upset. And then my husband was home, and I wanted to lie down, and she was still upset – she was screaming, and nothing would calm her down.
I was exhausted. She must have been exhausted. My husband had just worked a long and intense day, and I’m sure he was exhausted. We were all out of juice, and I just wanted to go to sleep. And here was this tiny baby in my arms, crying her lungs out.
And I could feel myself at a crossroad – either frustration or understanding was going to win. And for lack of better language to describe the experience, I wrenched my brain out of frustration and into understanding. She wasn’t trying to make us miserable – she was just a tiny baby, and she was unhappy.
And the moment I offered understanding instead of frustration, my heart cracked open, and compassion flooded my whole self. She didn’t stop crying, but her crying didn’t bother me at all. It wasn’t that her crying wasn’t personal – it was personal. She was a tiny baby in need of care. And my heart was cracked open, and I was flooded with love.
I wish I could just live that way – cracked-open-hearted – but for me, compassion still requires a conscious decision to wrench my brain away from frustration or judgment – one I do not always remember to make. But when I do remember to choose, I am so so grateful for the way compassion breaks in to my body and into my life.