Tag Archives | Compassion

Never Forget – That We Are One


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After a two-night rest at a relatively quiet hotel/casino in Elko, NV, far from the glitz and glamour of Vegas or Reno but still with all the amenities, we were ready to start driving the last leg of our move from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

We had gotten up, had our coffee, and were showering and preparing for the rest of the trip. Bruce was in the bathroom, and I was in the bedroom watching the news and packing.

I must have gasped or said something, because from the bathroom Bruce said, “What?”

“They’re saying a small plane just flew into the World Trade Center,” I told him.

“That’s not possible,” he said. “They don’t allow airplanes in that airspace.”

“Well, somebody hit one of the towers,” I told him.

We spent the next couple of hours watching in horror as the events of the morning unfolded. I will never forget watching Aaron Brown on CNN holding it together as he reported live throughout the morning. I will never forget sitting on the bench at the foot of the bed, glued to the TV, my packing forgotten.

It was horrible enough by itself, but the uncertainty compounded the horror. We had friends in New York, were they ok? What was happening, were the tallest buildings in every major city under attack? I had friends working in the tallest building in Minneapolis, were they targeted? Would they be ok?

Finally we could watch no more, and we had to hit the road. We had to be in San Francisco to start my new job on a certain day, and it didn’t make sense to stay where we were. Our next stop was to be Reno, and then on to San Francisco. I went to the front desk to check out and asked them to help me make a reservation at a sister-hotel in Reno. I couldn’t get a reservation anywhere, though, because all flights out of Reno were grounded. No one was checking out.

We debated, what should we do? Ultimately we decided to take our chances and drive across Nevada to Reno and hope we would be able to get a room when we arrived.

I will never forget the surreal nature of that day, driving across the Nevada desert with my husband and our cat, listening to Peter Jennings on the radio. That was a fitting sign of how the world had turned upside down – Peter Jennings on the radio. We set out not knowing for sure what was happening, and what shape the world would be in when we got to San Francisco. And I remember thinking at that moment that we were probably in one of the safest places on earth, in the middle of the desert. And there was nowhere on earth I would rather be at that moment than in the middle of the Nevada desert with my little family.

We arrived in Reno and had no trouble getting a room. We went out to a sumptuous dinner at one of the casinos, and it seemed anti-climactic: Everything had changed forever, yet nothing looked different.

We drove on the next day, our last day on the road. I took a picture of the row of newspaper stands in front of our hotel, all filled with headlines and pictures of the horror of the day before.

The next weeks were unlike any we had ever spent. I started my new job, and co-workers who were in the military reserves were called in for briefings about their status. For several weeks they were unsure whether they would be called up for active duty, and we made contingency plans. I was used to living in places where we had Disaster Kits for tornadoes and blizzards, but for the first time we worried about the safety of our water supply. Bruce gave me an American flag lapel pin, which I wore to work – and my coworkers were jealous because those pins were in high demand but short supply.

I will never forget driving around our little suburb in the evening, seeing people standing on street corners waving American flags, and drivers honking in support as they went by.

I will also never forget how my multi-cultural office pulled together – coworkers who had come to the U.S. were so supportive of the United States, and they were appalled that someone would attack the U.S. in this way. The rest of us pulled together to support and protect our colleagues from abroad who might suffer angry backlash against “foreigners,” especially Muslims.

Everywhere we went people were kind to each other. People were gentler with each other. People were curious about each other and were willing to learn about and support those where were different – especially since we knew this wasn’t the case everywhere. People were united by their awareness of the fragility of life and how we depend on one another.

Slowly things calmed down, and we found a “new normal,” one that included new building security, new airport security, alerts, and wars on two fronts. It includes colleagues’ children going off to join the military, and new coworkers coming out of the military.

I will never forget the horror of that day. More than anything, though, I will never forget the sense of community and connectedness that blossomed during that time. But in many ways we forgot the heightened sensitivity of those days and how, for a time, we all felt closer. Many of us regained that sense of We’re All In This Together as a result of the economic challenges we are facing, and I am motivated by hope that we can maintain that sense of community without a disaster to drive it.

Caregiving, Rhetorical Questions, Compassion, and… Curiosity


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In which the Universe says, “Oh, you’re ready to start talking about Caregiving? Great, here’s another chance…”

My last blog post was about Caregiving, and soon after I published it I found myself plunged into another Caregiving situation.

For one of my cats.

And I was amazed – appalled, actually – at the impact it had on me.

I made decisions, I gave her medicine and did all the things the vet told me to do, and I did the other things that needed doing. And yet…

I was a wreck. I was on the verge of tears much of the time. I had trouble concentrating. I worried – What if I had to put her to sleep? How much was this going to cost? Should I postpone my trip to Seattle? Was I giving her good enough care? Was I neglecting my other cat?

And I wondered…

How did I ever manage to be caregiver to my late husband and work full-time and maintain some semblance of composure and concentration, and professionalism at work?

Maybe, I thought, my composure and concentration at the time weren’t as good as I thought. I remember sobbing in the shower before going to work. I remember praying for help, for strength, for patience, for guidance. I remember feeling like I could never do enough, never do it well enough.

I talked to a friend

I talked to a friend of mine about this, a friend who happens to be a licensed therapist and a coach. She also, it turns out, has done Bereavement Counseling. She asked if she could tell me what she thought.

I said yes. (And I appreciated that she asked.)

She said that when I was caring for Bruce, I was probably in Emergency Mode. I did what had to be done. With Abby, the stakes are different. (I also had time to prepare, in Bruce’s case, like the metaphor about the frog in hot water.)

She also said that there may be an element of Post Traumatic Stress, and that this situation is triggering reactions from when Bruce was sick, reactions I often didn’t let myself feel at the time.

Pretty smart, isn’t she?

I lightened up on myself

So I lightened up on myself. It didn’t change the emotions I was feeling, or the trouble I was having concentrating, but I started allowing myself to feel it without judging myself for it. Not beating myself up for not being perfectly composed and competent.

I remembered something I already knew

And in thinking about the questions I’ve been asking myself and the universe, I realized something. Or remembered something I already knew, but now understand in a different way:

There are productive questions and unproductive questions.

Rhetorical questions like “Why can’t you…” and “How could you…” are whips.

Asking rhetorical questions is not practicing Curiosity, it is whipping.

Asking why something is happening is curiosity if I am really looking for the answer and not beating myself (or someone else) up with a belief.

Rhetorical questions are not born of curiosity.

Rhetorical questions are not really questions at all, as they are not looking for an answer, they provide an excuse to state an answer that is usually a belief – and is frequently a negative one.

Sometimes the wording is important, but more often the intent and the emphasis are key.

For example…

Rhetorical Question: How did I EVER manage to be a competent caregiver to my husband when I am such a wreck about a cat?

Answer: Ha, you only thought you were competent caregiver. You really suck at caregiving – for people and cats.

Curious Question: How DID I ever manage to be a competent caregiver to my husband when I am such a wreck about a cat?

Answer: That’s a good question. You rose to the occasion, and even though you cried and you prayed and you felt like you floundered through uncharted territory, you did what needed to be done. Maybe not perfectly, but well. Well enough. Maybe it only feels worse because it also brings up memories from before.

Hmmm. Curiosity not only honestly seeks an answer, but it holds hands with compassion.

I thought I knew that, but I guess I forgot.

Or maybe some lessons in this (hopefully upward) spiral of life are learned over and over.

And so I offer you this: When the voices in your head are asking you questions, hit the Pause button and ask yourself whether they think they already know the answer, or are they honestly looking for an answer? Are they open to a different answer?

And if you find yourself asking questions of other people, hit the pause button. Do you really want to find an answer? Or are you just trying to make a point?

Applying curiosity to the issue, and to our behavior, can change everything.

Note: Abby is recovering and I am regaining (?) my sanity. She is scheduled to have her stitches removed tomorrow, and hopefully life will return to some semblance of normalcy.


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Curiosity and CareGiving?


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The Backstory

A friend of mine has recently found herself being thrust into the role of Caregiver and, as we have chatted about it, I have been able to share some of what I learned from my own experiences as caregiver to my late husband.

At the end of one of our chats, she suggested I write a blog post about Curiosity and Caregiving.

I didn’t see the connection

Curiosity and Caregiving?

Quite honestly, I didn’t see it at first.

But the more I thought about my experiences, and about what we had been discussing, the more I saw a connection. I had simply been too close to it to notice it before.


She got me curious about the connection between curiosity and caregiving!

A different type of curiosity

Was curiosity involved when I was a Caregiver? Not the lighthearted, childlike quality we usually associate with curiosity. But I certainly did a lot of questioning and wondering, and these are definitely central to curiosity.

Not the railing-at-the-universe kind of questioning (Why me? Why Bruce?); that’s just not part of my vocabulary.

Searching for tools

But as his health began to deteriorate, I began searching for information. Thank Heaven for the internet, which made it possible for me to research Bruce’s condition and possible treatments, and to look for resources for myself. They say “knowledge is power,” and my need for information, my curiosity, drove me to search for knowledge that helped me to not feel powerless in the situation.

Is being desperate for answers curiosity? Yes, I suppose so. One type, anyway.

Searching for causes

As his health began to deteriorate, it also began to affect his personality. And I certainly had lots of questions about that. Why was he becoming so short-tempered (which was totally unlike him)? Was it me? Did he not love me anymore? I didn’t really believe that was the case. But I wondered, I questioned, and I came to several theories.

One theory was that his normally high pain tolerance wasn’t high enough anymore, and his pain level was exceeding his ability to cope with it. And the methods he had learned for coping with chronic pain were no longer working. For example, he told me long ago that he had learned to focus his attention on something exterior to him and send the pain to that; I suspected that melting doorknobs wasn’t working any longer.

Second, I began to suspect that, in addition to the physical pain he was in, part of what I was seeing was possibly related to some form of dementia. The research I had been doing kept turning up articles on coping with angry outbursts in people with dementia, and they described what I had been observing. This helped me to not be surprised when Bruce told me he was concerned about early-onset Alzheimer’s. I was almost relieved when he shared his concerns with me and told me about an episode that had particularly frightened him.

What did surprise me was when he told me he was afraid I would leave him now that I knew. And I realized that this fear was part of what was driving the behaviors that were part of a Bruce I didn’t recognize.

So when my friend came to me in great pain and frustration with the rude behavior of a friend for whom she has become a caregiver, I was able to help her wonder whether fear might be at the base of that behavior – fear of abandonment, fear about her deteriorating condition, fear of, well, everything.

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t make bad behavior acceptable. But it does make it easier to understand, and this can make it easier to deal with.

Searching for new approaches

This is another area where curiosity is important in caregiving: Wondering what is happening with the other person, rather than judging them (“Oh, they’re just ______”) or taking it personally. Being willing to walk in their shoes for a moment.

And this is where curiosity and compassion go hand in hand. Curiosity must be non-judgmental and compassionate so that, as a caregiver, I can wonder, “Is s/he afraid? I probably would be. Maybe it would help set him/her at ease if I tried this.” And sometimes the this is just asking rather than assuming.

Curiosity, Tools and Compassion

Being a caregiver for my husband was both wonderful and horrible. And, in retrospect, curiosity did help me through it. By utilizing my curiosity to find information and resources, I was able to do (at least some of the time) what they tell in you in the airline safety talks: Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help the person next to you.

It also gave me tools to give good care and be a better advocate with the medical professionals we encountered.

Perhaps most importantly, curiosity, coupled with compassion, also helped me to walk in Bruce’s shoes at times and to adjust my words and actions and pay attention to whether that helped or not. It also helped me to be compassionate with myself when I was tired or frustrated or scared or felt unappreciated or didn’t live up to my own expectations.


Funny, but until my friend asked me about it, I had not drawn a connection between curiosity and caregiving. It sheds some new light on my experience, and if you are in a caregiving situation, I hope it sheds some light on yours as well.

Whether you are the caregiver for an aging parent, a spouse, a sibling, child, or friend, be gentle with yourself as well as with them. Look at the situation through the lens of curiosity; it can help you find resources, and it may help you to shift the dynamics of a difficult situation. Looking back on it now, I can say that it did for me.

=>Here is a link to a resource I found tremendously helpful when I was in need of resources: http://www.caregiver.com

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Compassion Is a Pain in the Ass – or – Stop Making Sense, Part Duh


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Compassion has recently been a recurring theme for me. I noticed this after I published a blog post titled Stop Making Sense on the ridiculously stupid decisions that pass for logic sometimes, especially in a bureaucracy. In that post, I told two (true) stories that made me shake my head for years. I had started the post some time ago, but I couldn’t finish it for a long time. Why? Because I couldn’t get past it being a rant. I was left with a big “So What?” by my own post.

I hate it when that happens.

Scene Change

I discovered Pema Chodron several years ago (thanks to Bill Moyers’ PBS series “On Faith and Reason”), and one of the things that appealed to me about her, and about Buddhism in general, was her focus on compassion, or “loving kindness.” Especially toward ourselves. But it wasn’t until recently when I went through a process of coming to terms with a vocal condition that makes it difficult for me to speak, admitting how I truly hated my voice and choosing instead to be compassionate with myself and my voice, that the concept of compassion went from being a “Yeah, that’s nice,” abstract concept to something real.

In other words, it wasn’t until I stopped kicking myself in the shins every time a word wouldn’t come out or I struggled to make myself understood, that it started to get easier to not want to kick other people in the shins.

Case in Point:

That blog post. I couldn’t finish it for the longest time because I still wanted to shake the silly bureaucrats who make decisions like the ones I described. And I didn’t know how to get past that – until it occurred to me that they were (possibly) trying to do a good job – but maybe they were hampered by a variety of unexamined beliefs that led them to their conclusions. (I confess I am still tempted to say, “a variety of mistaken beliefs that led them to their ridiculously stupid and counter-productive conclusions.” I still have work to do.)

Which reminded me of an essay I read a while back, written by Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsico. In her essay, “The Best Advice I Ever Got,” she wrote about how she learned from her father to “assume positive intent.”

That’s when I was able to finish the blog post.

And I was actually pretty proud of that post. I thought it was well written, it had a catchy title, and it wasn’t a rant. It offered something practical about getting past being stuck when dealing with those ridiculously stupid and counter-productive conclusions.

But it got no comments. None. Zero. A big goose-egg. “Waah!” I thought, “I stink as a blogger!” But my posts on “What Spiders Teach Us About Building a Great Team” and “Bobby Fischer Teaches Systems Thinking” got comments. So what happened?

Maybe compassion just isn’t catchy. Maybe I didn’t make it catchy. Maybe I should have admitted how HARD it was for me to get to that point – a little confession might have been catchier. Humility can be very funny, sometimes.

So, I’ll put on a big red clown nose and admit that being a change agent is HARD. (Actually, just being a decent person is hard.) And it’s hard because in order to be any kind of effective, I have to be compassionate, not superior. (That’s one difference between being a Consultant and being an “Insultant.”) I have to be aware of my own stuff and be able to meet people where they are, not where I think they are.

There is a big difference between compassion and pity, between being compassionate with myself and indulging in self-pity, and between having compassion for others and being patronizing. Compassion does not allow us to collude with bureaucracy and mistaken beliefs, nor does it allow us to judge those with whom we disagree. Compassion is a pain in the ass, actually, because it strips away our ability to simply react and take the easy way.

But compassion is also what makes it possible for us to consciously use ourselves, and it gives us room to learn from the differences between us, to ask for the sound and current data that is needed to replace unfounded beliefs, and to play infinite win/win games instead of win/lose power games.

In other words, compassion is one of the things that makes curiosity possible.

Now that makes sense.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

How Curiosity Can Help You Save the World


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The other morning I was watching Quest (a local science show on KQED), and one of the stories was about researchers who study the sun. And my mind went off on a tangent about astronomy, which has always fascinated me, and about the researchers – why are they curious about the sun and not about something else?

Which got me thinking about curiosity. This is a theme that has been popping up a lot for me lately.

I am curious about curiosity. The more I think about curiosity, the more I realize it is connected to many things:

Differences

Although we humans have much in common, we are also very different from one another. What is it that enables us to learn from those from whom we are different, rather than demonize them?

Curiosity.

Creativity

Creativity and innovation are buzzwords of this era, and they are touted as the crucial factors in the strength of enterprises and economies. But what drives them?

Curiosity.

Powerful Questions

The ability to ask questions is an important one. Not just any old questions, but good questions. Powerful questions. What is it that makes the difference between powerful questions and questions of defiance?

Curiosity.

Compassion

Compassion, the ability to feel someone else’s pain, is more correctly defined as the ability to feel something with someone else. (Com + passion = with + feel.) We can instinctively feel with those with whom we share similarities, but we are different from most others as well. How can we feel with people from whom we are different? What makes that possible?

Curiosity.

So, Yes. Curiosity can help you – and me – save the world. I wonder… What role does curiosity play in your life? Do you consider yourself to be curious? To what extent is curiosity part of the environment in which you work? Is it allowed and encouraged? Or is it discouraged and stifled?

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