Friday, July 22, 2011


                                                                                                                           The love of my life.                                                                                                                     

the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion  to the  welfare of others      ( opposed to  egoism ).
Animal Behavior, behavior by an animal that may be to its  disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as  warning cry that reveals the location  of the caller to  predator.

Altruism is one of those words that I have read and heard in the past, but never really had a definition for in my mind. One of those words you just kind of take for granted that you know. Most times, this process serves me well, but every so often I find that I really don't understand a word - or as is quite often the case, my husband gently informs me that I've got it wrong completely. So I looked this one up to be sure. 

I decided to look up the definition this week after reading a quote by the Dalai Lama. It's a one liner, but it's a fairly unambiguous statement and one that I wanted to understand. This was his comment - "The ultimate source of happiness is altruism." 


Pema Chödrön has written a book entitled The Places That Scare You - A Guide To Fearlessness In Difficult Times. I have talked about and quoted this book before. It's a small book, but one of those that is so tightly packed full of wisdom that I can barely read a half chapter without having to sit and digest for a day or two. It's a good book. As I have mentioned before, she talks a lot about how to manage through difficult times. One of the suggestions she makes quite often is to allow yourself to feel the energy of a difficult emotion, but drop the story-line that we tell ourselves. My best example of this is when I am in debilitating pain and unable to get out of bed. If I can just lay there and concentrate on the pain without turning on the tapes in my mind that say things like "I can't do this any more" or "This is never going to end" or "I have been doing this for over two years now, I can't stand this" - then my pain and the whole situation is manageable. I've tried it before and it makes just as significant of a change in my ability to cope as medication can. In fact, at times, I have avoided medication all together. 
She makes another very interesting point about our experiences with suffering. She states that we learn just as much from our failures (or suffering in general) as we do from our successes. Specifically, this is the quote:
"In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience - our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the past weeks have been very difficult. The frustration of a disease that is relentless in it's interference with my every waking moment - relentless in it's unpredictable-ness - relentless in it's affect on almost every bodily system - relentless in it's one constant voice of pain - has taken it's combined toll on me. 
The past weeks have also been filled with all that comes with caring for and being with my mother who has recently suffered a stroke. Her health has been slowly failing for a couple of years now, but at the age of 69, the sudden onset of this condition has been extremely difficult for her, for my father and for our family. As an only daughter, and the only child living near my parents (my brother and his family live in Louisiana) I find my desire to care for my parents quite often becomes preeminent to most everything else. It's a difficult balance. For those of you who have struggled with ill or aging parents, you are well aware of the physical as well as the emotional toll this can take. It's a sadness that aches from the deepest of spaces within for the people you love beyond words. 


I've thought a lot about the things that I have read these last days. I've thought about the things that I have written in the past. I've thought about the quips and quotes and do's and don't's that have so easily dripped off my finger tips and onto this white space. I've thought about the peaceful, bird filled mornings that lent themselves to my creativeness. The cups of coffee, the walks in the woods, the moments of stillness... But here is where the rubber meets the road. Here is where the opportunity exists to put my money where my mouth is. Here, in these moments, it is - chaotic, emotional, frightening, exhausting and unfair - far from still. In the blur of tragedy, life moves so swiftly that even remembering to breath becomes somehow lost in the current. As I lay in bed, devoured by the days events, I wept, "Why? Why me, why them, why now? Isn't enough, enough? Can't we at least get through one devastating event before we fall headfirst into the next?..."

And so goes the story-line. And so plays the tape.

As I lay there, I remember thinking to myself - how do I do this? How do I separate "the energy of the emotion" from the "story-line" that I know that I am telling myself. I can hear it. But what does all that mean? So I just started telling myself - be sad. BE sad. BE angry. BE lonely. These are difficult days and sadness is very real. I allowed myself to feel my suffering. Do you know what sadness feels like? What loneliness feels like? What fear feels like? Your stomach hurts. The center of your chest aches. Your body shakes. Your throat tightens. You feel the stick of sweat accumulate beneath your clothes and the tears fill up your eyes and run into your ears. You want to curl up into a ball and then you want to punch your pillow. You want to scream and then in the very next breath, you have no voice at all

Sadness hurts. It hurts so desperately that we will do almost anything to make it stop. But if we do - if we find an alternative to feeling - running away, taking a drink, popping a pill, eating, losing ourselves in the television, hurting someone we love - then our sadness only deepens and grows stronger for another day. But if we feel - if we stay with that painful energy long enough, we gain something very beautiful - and that is compassion. Compassion for ourselves and compassion for those we love. For it is in our very own darkness that we recognize our shared humanity. The comfort of the whole of all creation gathered with us in that very moment - sharing in our suffering, cultivating compassion and leading us to "ultimate happiness". 

This is peace. 


Deb aka murphthesurf said...

My heart goes out to you. There is a precious balance that one must walk at this time. A precarious dance, one shaky foot in front of the other. And in our efforts to guide our loved ones, to be there for them, we must also be careful that we ourselves do not loose our footing. I lost my Mom after a two year battle. The journey you have started can be long and hard but it will be filled with moments of joy and laughter. Hold onto those moments, hold onto the memories and be careful you do not loose your own footing along the way.

Theresa said...

Deb, your words mean so much to me. They are filled with care - and with hope - and I will tuck them away safely in my heart. Thank you, thank you.
It IS a blessed journey, indeed.