On November 4, 2014, I started a new health regimen. I started another medication meant to keep my moods reigned in. I started a meditation practice. I spent time every single day looking for love stories in the world around me. I named my friend V my “Compassion Sponsor” to keep me accountable for compassion. And I had faith: in myself, in the system, in the meds, in the path. Then I let myself fall into it, with limited expectations, and I gave it 6 months.
Six months of trying.
Six months of falling in love with the world.
Six months of remembering to take my meds.
Six months of intentionally giving myself compassion.
Every week, I checked in with V. I rated myself on compassion – shown to myself, shown to others, felt.
We had phone calls. I wept with anger over yet another rejection by someone I love (regardless of the outcome). I laughed with joy when i found answers I hadn’t been looking for. I rested quietly in the morning hours waiting for inspiration. It didn’t come quickly: like all lasting things, it came to me slowly, with first rays speaking to my soul, drawing me out, asking me to believe in it, beseeching me for one step in the direction of compassion.
I took a step.
I listened to myself, even when I was afraid to, even when I wasn’t sure if my Self was lying to me.
Things I learned:
1) Compassion isn’t an action verb. Practicing compassion doesn’t mean just actively loving people. Compassion is more like remembering who you are, remembering I am a tiny, significant part of the whole. It is simply seeing myself in the people around me, whether those people are “my people” or not. It is recognizing the connection I have to the world around me.
2) There’s no perfect meditation practice. You can’t do it wrong. The first few times I meditated, I was preoccupied about whether I was doing it right, whether it was working, whether this was just another woo-woo thing on my list. Over time and with practice I learned that the point is not to silence the thoughts. The point is to come back to right now. The point is to be fully present in the now. (Bonus: Presence is enormously important in being compassionate. Connections are now. They are not in the past, they are not in the future, they are present.)
3) Love stories are everywhere, if you just look. And here’s a secret: love wins. Every time. Looking for the love story changed my perspective enormously. Looking for grace instead of judgement, looking for love instead of apathy or fear. My favorite love stories are the unexpected ones. The lady on the plane next to me who sits perfectly still for 2 hours so that the older woman who has fallen asleep on her shoulder is undisturbed. The hundreds of strangers that turned out to help search for a man they didn’t know. The motorists who pulled over to help a motorcyclist who wrecked. The shy smile from a child, holding out his hand to me to join his game. I suspected it before I began, but now I am convinced of this: Love stories are everywhere. See them.
4) Medication doesn’t fix you. Tears still stream down your face. Pain still erupts from your soul. It doesn’t eliminate all of the fear. It doesn’t make you happy. But it helps me. Even though it keeps me away from the sea, the waves’ call is less a siren song and more a distant memory now.
Today I woke up dissociated, PTSD gripping my chest in a vice, unsure of why or what triggered it. Today is more than a step back. Panic is barely at bay. Anxiety is rising and I fight my fear of succumbing. My face pushed up against the glass box I’m surrounded with slowly filling with water, I gasp for air and try to remember this isn’t real. Sometimes it feels like a landslide, my body crashing through brush and into the rushing river below, losing all my hard won ground, swept away with the current. Sometimes you have to lean into being swept into a current, remind your body to relax and float. Sometimes it’s 2 steps forward, 7 miles back.
But today I’m grateful for my lessons. Today I’m a survivor. Today I’m a victor. And a dip in the river washes off some of the dirt and grime, gives me time to feel the real, gives me a chance to start again. Today I start again.