I remember as a kid, how my Dad would sometimes have a tear in his eye when talking about a situation at work. The difficulty of having to tell someone they’ve got cancer, listening to a patient’s last wish when they knew they were near the end, or speaking to the parents of a recently deceased child. That one was always the worst.
To experience the death of your child, before you rather than the other way around. I can’t even imagine the intensity at which that would shake a family, or how hard it would be to sit in those emotions of others as they crumble around you, knowing that you have to stay strong to take the weight of that heavy burden.
I never fully appreciated how difficult it must be to hold your own emotions in check when someone else is breaking down, and how hard it is to give them everything that they need at that particular moment in time. For my parents to have to face situations like this frequently in their daily life, as well as dealing with all the normal pressures of family life, to me is inspirational.
I’m not sure how well I would do on my compassion-o-meter right now if I was tested, to be honest, some days I find it difficult to give myself compassion when I’m sinking deep into dark emotions. If anything, the worst times are when I need someone to pep talk me through it, as some of you might know (thank you shout out to my brother and my ex-fiancé). I would like to think that in times when I’m more level headed that I have the strength to show compassion to those who need it, and I’m starting to become aware that it’s possibly the most important of life skills to have. Like all skills, it takes practice, setbacks, feedback, and development in order to build and it’s an interesting journey as I move forward through it.
Every week I stumble across new challenges, concepts, and ideas which I can apply to my trauma recovery and as I continue to explore the magical wonders of Bali this week I’ve found some interesting concepts regarding life and the meaning of it. This isn’t surprising here, as the majority of people in Bali are exploring something like this, whether on the Eat Pray Love trail or not. One of these theories is that of Nondual Inquiry – the notion that we’re driven by a greater force and ultimately don’t have control over our own actions because they were decided long before we even made them. In contrast to this theory is that of the Law of Attraction – that we can positively or negatively change the environment around us, depending on our internal energy (feelings). I’m not dismissing that there are many other beliefs on life, how the Universe works or God and it’s not actually something that I’m willing to discuss – being from a 1/2 Muslim, 1/2 Catholic family who encouraged me to explore all concepts of life I believe that each person is entitled to lean into whatever they feel is right for them. However, I find both of these concepts that I’ve mentioned fascinating, and in terms of trauma and I think they are both valuable lenses to look through, in order to take a step back and separate oneself from current life situations and the emotions engulfing them. Emotions that might stop us from giving ourselves or others compassion at the moment they need it because they’re just too uncomfortable to face. I mean, if we can step out of the blame/shame of he/she did x, y, z and instead see an objective situation, maybe we could focus on that ‘what does this person need right now?’ question that my parents must have had to ask themselves constantly.
I guess that’s easily said, right now as I write this, clear-headed, balanced and seeing life from quite an objective viewpoint. However when I’m deep in an overwhelming emotion (usually in tears, verging on panic attack, acting aggressive in my vulnerability-PTSD-sandwich of emotions) I know that it can be difficult for those around me to ask themselves that question, never mind answer it. That makes me wonder why the first question when we see someone upset isn’t What do you need right now? Because let’s face it, we’re not all blessed to have the high levels of compassion that Doctors and Nurses have, so maybe by asking that question could we build up the experiences to become more compassionate? I think that question just the tip of the iceberg too because we don’t always know what we need or even how to express it. For me, when I’m emotional I almost lose the ability to speak altogether, so even expressing what I need is sometimes physically difficult for me.
I don’t have all the answers for this subject, and to be honest, I don’t think I even have all the questions yet, but what I do know is that questions like ‘Are you ok?’, when I’m sobbing my eyes out, in shock as I talk about a trauma or I’m shaking from a PTSD trigger aren’t really helpful, neither is ‘I don’t know what to say’. At least with ‘What do you need right now?’ we can move closer to finding out what compassion means for some people. How we then go about fulfilling those needs is something else altogether…