Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. – Nelson Mandela
I spent this past week learning and practicing adaptive yoga with the remarkable Matthew Sanford and the great instructors at Mind Body Solutions, in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Their deep knowledge of yoga and creative genius in making yoga accessible for every body was humbling, to the say least. But, I have confidence that I can implement the techniques and practices they taught me. What I was most inspired and challenged by, that is not as easily reproducible, was their incredible gift of compassion.
In order to open yoga to every body, regardless of injury, ability, chronic pain, grief, disability, the instructors at Mind Body Solutions have to get okay being uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, because they aren’t going to fix or do something for anyone. Uncomfortable, because it is sometimes just plain old hard to be with someone who is in pain, very sad, or very angry; someone who we desperately want to help and make everything better, but simply can’t.
So generally, we (myself included) avoid the people and the situations that make us uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say to the person whose child committed suicide, so we don’t say anything at all. We don’t know how to communicate with the person who has had a stroke or has Alzheimers, so we don’t visit them. We are afraid to ask about a persons disability, so we avoid meaningful conversation or just avoid them in general.
Matthew Sanford has that Mother Teresa-like quality of being able to sit and simply BE with someone suffering in mind, body, spirit, without trying to fix or change them. And in that act of compassion the heaviness seems to lift, and the light changes. Nothing has been fixed or cured, yet something miraculous and brilliant happens.
Over the last few days the internet has been full of posts about what white people can do to dismantle racism, to advocate and be an ally, in response to the horrific act of violence in Charleston. While I understand the desire to make meaningful change and do something, I think the most significant thing I can DO is to get okay being uncomfortable, so that I can actually be with people who are suffering and offer compassion. I need to get okay with my own feelings of grief, guilt, anger, shame, fear, and confusion in conversations about racism. Get okay with my own discomfort so that I can hear the anger, grief, and rage of others, without rushing to help or fix. After witnessing the embodiment of compassion in Matthew Sanford, I am sold on that as the most important thing I can DO at this point. Do Compassion. And doing compassion calls me to not avoid feeling uncomfortable, but instead show up and stay put with those near and far who are suffering, isolated, hurting.
That’s all I got. Compassion. Lean in, not out. Don’t avert your eyes. Show up and stay put. And for the love of all things, breathe.
Peace on your head,