Practicing Compassion

10 Dec

My spouse took a week of vacation from work when our son was born. When added with a few weekends and the Thanksgiving holiday, the three of us had a decadent twelve straight days together at home. We nested, spending hours staring at each other, learning each other, getting used to new sounds– coos, cries, grunts and mini sneezes– activities– breast-feeding, diaper changing, and rocking– and gear– blankets, bassinets, car seats, and slings. We took turns holding the baby, cooking, showering and napping. We bathed him and changed him together. It was lovely.

Then it was time for my spouse to go back to work. All of a sudden, our shared reality, living so intimately together in the warm womb we had made of our family room, turned into two completely different realities. My days continued to be filled with feeding, cuddling, cooing and diaper changing. His days were filled with meetings, computers, adult conversation, dress clothes and project management. The distance between our realities was vast, and it felt unbalanced. We were each a bit jealous of the other while we were both appreciative of the role the other was playing for our new little family member who is so dependent on us for survival. We were both providing, but it looked so much different.

To help us transition and continue to grow, we decided to borrow a compassion-building trick from a friend. It has helped us continue to be kind and generous with each other despite the distance between our new realities. When Dan is leaving work, he texts me and lets me know he is on his way home. We both spend his commute time imagining how the other’s day may have gone. I picture the good and the bad of an office work day. He imagines the joy and the struggle of a day with a newborn. By the time he walks through the door, we greet each other with warmth, curiosity, and openness. We ask each other about how the day went and are ready to really hear the answer. It has been really good for us to grow in empathy and compassion. We are patient with each other and more in tune with what the other may need in the evening to get up and do it all over again the next day. It is a practice that is simple and profound.

One of my favorite working definitions of compassion is this: Compassion is the ability to withhold judgement long enough to get curious about the story of the other. I’m in love with this simple compassion-building activity Dan and I are practicing. I’m struck by how effective it is. Instead of assuming Dan’s day was easier than mine and shoving the baby at him the second he walks in the door, I withhold judgement and get curious about his experience of the day. It is easy, but important work that works.

As I watch news about protests and racial tension in our country from Staten Island to Ferguson in the comfort of my warm family room, I experience feelings of sadness, confusion, anger and disempowerment. Where do we go from here? What is my role in addressing these two grand jury decisions? Our country is riddled with fragmentation and polarization. I am struck by how badly we all need to practice compassion with each other. We can start at home, and move from there, getting curious about the experience of people whose realities seem miles away. We are living in a season calling for more curiosity, deeper listening, and the commitment to withhold judgement for long enough to build compassion for the other.

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