Archive for the ‘Reiki’ category

Potent Words: Pity Versus Compassion

November 7, 2008

Language is powerful. It is the trait that sets us apart from other animals, although there are other species who you could say have some form of “language” (dolphins and whales, for instance). The distinction between those other species and us, though, is that we humans seem to have countless ways of expressing abstract concepts, and often, gradations within those concepts.

It’s been widely portrayed that the native peoples of Alaska have hundreds of words for snow. Actually, they have varying forms of similar linguistic bases that describe different snow-and-ice characteristics, something like our “slush,” “sleet,” “snow”.

Language is a potent communicator between people, but it’s just as powerful within the mind of an individual. We talk to ourselves constantly, from the moment we awaken each morning to the moment we fall asleep at the end of the day—even after that, if you count dreams, and I do.

We can never leave our inner voice, and the messages it conveys to us do more to shape our lives than any other influence.

The words we use, whether we’re thinking to ourselves or speaking out loud, carry layers of context. A single word brings with it a whole set of underlying perceptions, often dictated by the particular culture and community we are part of.

All this is simply a foundation for the point of these next few posts, namely, that words we often think of as having the same or very similar meanings, that we use interchangeably, are really vastly different when considered from the perspective of their underlying contextual layers. These layers are frequently based on emotional reactions, and whether we realize it or not, the word we use in a particular situation can deeply color how we respond to others in that situation.

This series is certainly not complete, but I’ve tried to focus on a few instances that I feel are particularly important, especially in light of healing.

That’s why I begin the discussion with “compassion” versus “pity”.

When we are confronted with circumstances in our own lives or the lives of others that highlight the challenges we all face as human beings, particularly in responding to pain (emotional, physical, etc.), we are given the choice to engage in many ways, depending on how we relate to those circumstances. Often, these circumstances produce a deep resonance within us. We can relate to having similar experiences, or we simply see the need for some sort of response from us.

In these instances, people often talk about feeling compassion or pity. The words are often used without regard to what each implies, simply to denote a desire to have a helpful or comforting interaction with the person involved in the situation. For example, someone’s house burns down, and we might say, “What a pity,” or comment that a particular gesture was “compassionate”.

Or, in another example, if you happen to meet someone who can’t see, can’t walk well, or has great difficulty speaking clearly enough to make themselves understood, you’re faced with an illustration of someone who is trying to go through life without the benefit of a trait (seeing, walking, speaking) that you usually take for granted.

Compassion and pity are, I believe, on opposite ends of a spectrum of responses to these types of situations. I think that, if you look at the word itself, how it’s spelled, it’s easy to keep the two straight.

“Pity” is an emotional response based on fear and misunderstanding. We “look down into a pit” and see someone in a condition very different from ourselves. From our vantage point far above them, we can enumerate all the things that separate “us” from “them”. We work to keep “them” at arm’s length, throwing things into the proverbial pit that we think will alleviate the misery down there, but not considering how we might help the person get out. We focus so much on the current condition they’re in that we don’t look at the potential of where they might be. We become so consumed by fear (“Oh, what if that were me—thank God that’s not me—I couldn’t imagine living like that!” that it restricts our response to actions that will preserve our position of power. We think that, if we can maintain that “higher ground,” we’ll somehow insulate ourselves from the possibility of future challenges for ourselves.

“Compassion,” by contrast, is “coming alongside another human being”. The “passion” at the end of the word implies that, somehow, the heart has to be deeply engaged. From this perspective, we see someone eye to eye, even when that’s uncomfortable for us. We don’t let ourselves get bogged down or overwhelmed by the other’s circumstances, but we don’t shy away from “getting our hands dirty” in order to help them help themselves. We relate to and interact with them on the basis of our shared humanity, always working to preserve their dignity and maintaining a respect for them. This respect and love for a fellow human being are the roots of compassion.

In a healing situation, the pity response is when we simply give pills or patches for pain management, increasing the dosage as the pain gets worse, without any deeper consideration of the other, non-physical components of pain as well as the non-clinical aspects of drugs (i.e., how they affect the mind and how those effects feed into a person’s self-concept and interactions with the world). Pity says, “It’s not my problem” once the meds have been given, and caps off any change in prescription with, “There, that should take care of it”.

The compassionate response involves actually listening to someone talk about pain, even if they’ve already gotten a pill for it. Why isn’t the pill working as well as it’s supposed to? How does the patch make them feel on an emotional level, and does the person believe they have adequate opportunities for dealing with these emotional and psychological parts of their treatment? Are there other, non-pharmaceutical, alternatives that could be tried? Is the person receptive to those? Am I, as a healer, open to the fact that I may not be the one who can best provide help to a particular person, and if not, how do I respond to that?

Compassion is a process, not a single action. It’s a series of questions that engages two people in response to a situation, not a desire to simply have all the answers so you can tie up all the loose ends and move on to the next project. Pity is easy and doesn’t require self-examination or thought, but compassion challenges us to discover what we think and then often further encourages us to expand our perspective to include ideas we never would have considered before.

When we “have pity on” another person, we rob them of their essential humanity. Putting anything “on” someone else implies that we are the ones in control. “Having compassion for” someone is completely different. It preserves the common ground between us and them. To me at least, “for” is more active, more interactive, than “on” when other people are involved. You, as the person responding in compassion, must decide how involved “for” is going to be, and you also must accept that the other person’s response to “for them” might not be what you expect.

One of the most wonderful consequences of a compassionate response is the opportunity it provides for us to see others grow. I have seen this over and over in my own experiences. Once, I was working with someone who was in severe pain, facing death sooner than planned. Fear, hopelessness, anger, mistrust and loneliness were all making things even more unbearable. The individual wasn’t sure if reiki would help, didn’t put much faith in “weird” stuff like that, and didn’t even know if they wanted to have to interact with yet another person.

Sometimes, the best sessions occur when we simply let things take their own natural course. I spent a majority of the time I had with this client talking—no, let me change that, it was mostly listening, seeing where the conversation was headed, and asking a question that would keep it moving. Anyone who was observing, thinking about reiki in the “traditional” sense would have thought I’d just wasted over an hour and called something a session that was no such thing.

When this client did, in fact, die, the comments I received from those close to them at the end and who had seen the session all focused on a few things—disappearance of pain that had been unresponsive to any other treatment, laughter, and peace.

When I’m coming to the end of my own journey here on earth, I hope there is someone who won’t just pity me and hand me a pill and say, “Call me in the morning”. I’ve got to get through the night, and so do those around me!

No, I want a compassionate response, someone who isn’t afraid of my crying, who will talk about anything or nothing, even laugh, as I make my peace and take my leave.

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“Pain” is a Four-Letter Word

October 27, 2008

I thought I was done with “four-letter words”. But …

Emotional and physical pain are part of being human. Not that we should expect them, but they do occur, and no one is exempt.

Western medicine has developed a vast array of drugs to combat pain, both psychological and physical. Even so, it’s the elephant in the living room—definitely there, but too often, not discussed.

People on both sides of the patient/physician spectrum have deep-seated notions about what’s “acceptable” as far as expressing pain. We all, at some level, think that it’s “better” to simply endure silently or with as little fuss as possible. “Complaining,” “demanding,” “difficult”—all these words are the last labels we want attached to us as patients.

We’re taught to “quantify” pain to try and understand it better. We say, “On a scale of 1 to 10 …” On this scale, 1 is barely a nuisance, while 10 is so excruciating it is unbearable.

If I’ve learned one thing, both as a healer and as a recipient of healing, it’s that people’s scales are all different. One person’s 3 is another’s 9.

Many people have also absorbed the “no pain, no gain” lesson a little too deeply. (I know I have—and then I wonder, “How am I supposed to relax and receive if it hurts so much?”.)

Medical students spend a lot of time learning how to fix the body, diagnose symptoms, and prescribe drugs that will produce specific results. With so many drug choices, pain can become just another symptom to assign a chemical solution to. We hear, “Tell me where it hurts,” or “Describe your pain,” but seldom are given much more than a few minutes to try and respond. Yet too often, pain robs us of our ability to communicate clearly, both with ourselves and with those trying to provide healing.

Pain is one of the biggest obstacles to effective healing. You can’t “just relax” if you’re in such severe pain. You can’t “just take some deep breaths”. Pain clouds our ability to process information, take suggestions, or sort through the emotions that get kicked up when we’re hurting.

Drugs often only add to this cloudiness, and many people either use too much of them to sink into oblivion, or avoid using them altogether in order to maintain mental clarity.

It might not make any difference at the general level whether the pain being experienced is psychological or physical. But how we, as healers or caregivers, approach our calling with respect to pain management has to flow from compassion and understanding, not simply a practical desire to “make it stop” or “get rid of it”.

The first step on this road is to acknowledge that, as healers, we are not going to be able to alleviate all pain. To think that we have this kind of power is arrogant and can be deeply harmful to us and our clients.

Second, we must go beyond simply having people rate their pain on a 1-to-10 scale, or describe it as “hot,” “cold,” “aching,” or “stabbing”. We can, and should, ask all these questions, but don’t just stop when you’ve gotten the answers you want.

Pain is a companion. Long after the appointment has ended and the prescription has been filled, people will still be living with it.

The approaches to managing it are as varied as the kinds of people we encounter as healers. What brings relief to one person with a particular condition may have no effect on a second person with the same condition. Pharmaceutical companies produce drugs that work on a broad range. If we are providing truly compassionate healing, we must target the specific ways that each of our clients can find and experience pain relief.

Sometimes, when there is no way to change the actual situation, simply being heard and acknowledged is enough to bring tremendous relief.

Pain manifests itself in innumerable outward responses. People lash out or withdraw. They cry. They stop speaking. They scream. They pass out. Pain increases the severity and duration of asthma attacks. It raises heart and breathing rates, heightens muscle tension, exacerbates inflammation, causes insomnia and anxiety, depression. It has such a capacity to stir up every realm of life—physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual—that it is no wonder that so much “treatment” is aimed at eliminating it.

I have talked with many, many people, both as a healer and just as another human being, and heard many stories about the pain of loss, disease, disappointment, grief, loneliness, separation, disability, depression, injury, aging. Some conversations have been less than five minutes long, while others have been dialogs that span years, decades.

I don’t stand above these encounters, looking down on them and thinking, “Oh, here’s what you should do”. I try to see the circumstances from the perspective of the one I’m listening to. How would I feel, for instance, if my daughter dropped out of school, or my brother got angry and refused to speak to me for the rest of my life, or my employer let me go with lame excuses after I’d worked for ten years? What is it like to feel powerless to control myself when presented with a particular chemical? What must it be like to lose a husband after thirty years of marriage, or learn that I have a disease that will gradually rob me of my ability to think coherently? How would I respond if, on an ordinary drive, my car was hit head-on and I woke up three days later unable to walk?

The answer I have is, “I don’t know”. But I can ask questions, listen to the responses, and learn. By learning, perhaps I can pass something along to someone else in a future conversation that will help them.

And, if there is no “concrete” suggestions to be made, just the asking and the listening are a gift that goes too often overlooked.

We can find “concrete” aids to pain management—medication, meditation, music, massage, just to name a few. But there is no substitute for compassion and no prescription or dosage instructions for understanding. These must spring from the heart, without regard to how the other person will receive them, repay them, or respond to them.

Mind Over Matters

October 25, 2008

I know, that title looks like a misprint. Should be “Mind over matter”, right?

Not really. As a healer, I am being reminded time and again that, while the physical aspects of what I do are important–pain relief, improvements in sleep, relaxation–there’s a huge component that is “behind the scenes”.

The mind-body connection is no news to anyone with even a mild interest in how we go through life. Whether you’re coming to it as a healer or as a recipient of healing (and we all fit in both categories at some point in our lives), that connection, and the interactions between the mental and physical spheres, can’t be ignored.

Symptoms that manifest in the physical realm can certainly be treated with varying degrees of effectiveness purely on the basis of their physical traits. For example, how many times have you taken aspirin for a headache, or antacids for heartburn, or cold medicine to get rid of congestion? We do a lot of those things without even thinking about it, content to just get rid of whatever physical problem is bothering us.

But because the mind and body are so closely bound up together, it’s prudent to consider what it is that underlies those physical symptoms on a psychological/emotional level. Is the headache caused by tension related to a hostile work environment? Are problems in the family so severe that they are literally making your stomach churn?

I’m not suggesting that every physical ailment springs from our minds. After all, viruses and bacteria are abroad in the land, and you can’t think or feel your way into or out of infections by them.

But the mind, and its potential to both help and harm, is a powerful force. We have plenty of new technology to take stunning pictures of the brain at work, and vast strides are being made in understanding what parts are active at various different times. We have developed a huge array of chemicals to alter how the brain works, and we continue to progress in our grasp of how people learn, acquire behaviors based on cultural influences, and process information.

But we have no way of knowing if we have reached a figurative wall in our understanding. We don’t know, for instance, what the limit is to how much information a mind can recall. We can’t quantify most of what goes on in people’s heads.

The mind is deeply mysterious, and its role in healing can be tremendous. For instance, painkillers for the most part don’t actually do anything to the nerves that are transmitting that scream of “I hurt! I hurt! I hurt!” They suppress the area of the brain that handles those transmissions. Talk to anyone who has had to rely on painkillers for a long period of time and you’ll often hear that, while they do help, they often cause mental fogginess that’s an unwelcome side effect.

Is there a way, then, continuing with pain as an example, to harness that potential in the mind to produce a painkilling effect or enhance what can be achieved using narcotics?

In a word, yes.

Not everyone’s mind is exactly alike, and while there are some general guidelines that can be useful when trying to work from a psychological starting point, the best thing one can do is listen to each client and discover what will be most effective to him or her. Someone with a highly active mind may struggle to do meditations independently, yet they may have a high degree of success with guided meditation in which the healer reads aloud. Why is this so? Because for a person whose mind is always in motion, filtering all those inner distractions–not following every train of thought–can be supremely difficult. Consequently, they feel that, if they can’t do it on the first or second try, or if they can’t do it for even three minutes, they can’t do it at all. Hearing someone else’s voice and having images described so that the mind has something to fix on can actually be very freeing for this type of client.

You won’t figure these things out by having clients fill out forms. You also won’t see this on the “front lines” of Western medicine–in emergency rooms, operating rooms, or in the ICU during serious illness.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the illusion that, as a healer, if you aren’t actually changing bandages, stopping the bleeding, or doing hands-on medicine, you’re not effective or important. Personally, I struggled with this, and still often do.

But recently, I have been reminded that there are many types of healing and, consequently, there must be many kinds of healer. To heal the body is a priceless gift. But a body without a healthy mind, spirit, or heart is no more than a complex biological machine.

I am discovering that, while I have some skill in the physical aspects of healing, my true calling seems to be more along the mental/emotional/spiritual lines. This kind of healing work doesn’t get noticed much–fine with me. It can get lost in the hustle and bustle that is modern medicine.

It’s not a one-off job, either. If you want to help someone understand their own mind and see them realize their own potential to capitalize on the vast power that is latent within them, you can’t do it in one session. Often, it can feel as if you’re going in circles, reworking the same lesson for the six hundredth time.

Yet with each pass, something is getting in, going deeper, being absorbed and incorporated, until change occurs and the person is living in a new way because they wanted to change and grow.

Listening to people, accepting their decisions without judgment, and, when you’re granted the privilege, witnessing this growth are the rich rewards we can look forward to as healers. I don’t force people to come looking for me so I can “fix” them or demand that they change. They find me, begin a conversation, and, sometimes, get something out of our interactions.

This is what matters–that we treat everyone with compassion, whether we heal with our hands or listen to another’s heart. We must all “take matters into our own hands,” think for ourselves, choose for ourselves, act for ourselves. Giver or receiver, we can only control our own self.

But, as I am discovering over and over, in ways large and small, when we embrace our true calling with joy instead of trying to be all things to all people, our effectiveness in healing skyrockets.

“Fear” is a Four-Letter Word

October 14, 2008

Fear.

It’s an ugly word that brings up a host of unpleasant thoughts.

It’s also a fact of life, and no matter what anyone tells you, we all have experienced it at some level.

Not only that, but it’s necessary for survival.

Problem is, for some people, what should be one component of the psychological response to the world becomes the dominant feature of their mindset, and it pervades every aspect of life, from decision-making right down to action.

It’s not enough to tell people, “Oh, you have nothing to be afraid of”. Unfortunately, our culture has become saturated with fear—inspiring it through “big” news stories, encouraging it by highlighting “research” or statistics that, looked at out of context, leave us all completely confused as to the real probability of risk. We’ve become so conditioned by this culture of fear that it’s caused fundamental changes in how we teach and raise our children, how we care for our aging parents, and how we organize our own lives around avoidance and protection.

Most of us are unaware we do these things most of the time. But consider this: When was the last time you went on a trip and didn’t take a cell phone? In the last year, have you let your kids stay out a whole day without knowing exactly where they’d be, who they were playing with, or when they’d be home? How often do you read or watch something and get a queasy, uneasy feeling and think to yourself, “Oh, I’d better do something just in case that happens to me”?

Face it. Probably every one of us has uncomfortable answers to those questions. After all, the questions themselves are uncomfortable. We don’t like to admit we’re scared, much less that we’ve been scared into being scared without even realizing it was happening. It makes us feel like we’re not in control of our own mind. Scary, huh?

Most people, most of the time, manage to keep their fear pretty balanced. But sometimes, it can get a little out of hand.

What’s fear? There are many answers, as many as there are different people faced with a myriad of situations that evoke emotional and psychological responses.

But at its most basic level, fear is “FOCUSED EFFORTS TO AVOID REALITY”.

Even if the “reality” is only in the person’s mind and is highly unlikely to actually occur, it doesn’t matter. “Reality” is what we all perceive when we look out at the world from our own unique perspective. If we see something in a particular way, we’ll keep seeing that way until something shifts our perspective.

So, we spend energy coming up with strategies to avoid or alter the reality we perceive. These are also as varied as we are. For some, the response is to do nothing and hope things will change. For others, it’s more natural to take action and put things in motion that will cause change. And by “change” I don’t necessarily mean that things become different. “Change” can also mean that the “reality” that was causing the fear subsides because of inaction.

It’s kind of like if you leave an ice cube out on a counter, first it will melt (becoming liquid instead of solid), and then the water will evaporate (the liquide becoming gas), so that eventually, there is no visible record that the ice cube was ever there at all, even though its components are still present in different form.

How we respond to fear within ourselves is only one aspect of this puzzle. But since we’re always interacting with other people, how we respond to their fear is an important part of life.

As a healer, I’ve seen plenty of people who are so consumed by fear that they become stuck where they are. No matter how hard they struggle, they can’t seem to get out from under their own psychological influence. Fear elevates all kinds of physical conditions, increases pain and tension, prevents people from finding true, deep rest even if they’re asleep, and can make all kinds of decisions, both large and small, seem like impossible obstacles that are impossible to surmount.

If I set a timetable in my mind for when I expect people to work through their fear and get on with the business at hand, I’d be very unhappy with the results and wouldn’t be at all effective. Of course, there are certainly time-sensitve situations in which there is absolutely no choice but to act immediately, regardless of fear. But at some point, that fear will have to be acknowledged dealt with, even after the action was taken.

No matter how much compassion I have, I can’t know completely what another person’s experience and “reality” are. So, I can’t dictate to them how to respond to that reality. I can only listen, make suggestions if these are asked for, and, based on the other person’s response, continue to interact with them accordingly.

For me, as a healer, the proper response to fear is “FINDING THE EMPATHY TO APPROACH WITH RESPECT”.

Even if I see that a particular action is best for someone, I can’t force them to take that action. I also can’t force them to think in a certain way or see things the same way I do. Whether it’s a life-threatening illness, a mental-health issue, approaching death, or routine surgery, the details don’t matter so much as the commitment to treat each individual with respect regardless of my opinions about their decisions, actions, or lack thereof.

What often happens, if we respond to others’ fear with this underlying respect and a willingness to listen, is that they begin to open to themselves and look at their own responses to reality, including fear. No matter what they do, simply feeling “heard” and, at some level, “understood” and “accepted” are strong medicine. In today’s time-crunched, cost-based health care environment, these are precious commodities.

Acceptance from outside often encourages acceptance within the self. “Acceptance” doesn’t translate as: “Everything about me is wonderful!”. No, it’s true meaning is something more along the lines of: “Here is everything about me, and it is all who I am”.

At some point, a person dealing with fear yet presented with a non-judgmental response, will come to another response—still fear, but now, instead of avoiding reality, “FEELING ENCOURAGED TO ACT WITH RESOLVE”.

“Resolve” is not a constant, unwavering thing. Often, we can “decide” to do something Sunday night, only to be back in indecision and inaction Monday afternoon. Some people have the capacity to “choose, then act” with very little time in between. Others need to “choose … reconsider … choose … question … choose … act”. The decision-making process might be longer, but the end results for both people are the same.

Seeing all the different paths to decision and action and viewing each with respect and as an example that can teach us valuable lessons for our own lives or give us insights into our healing work—this is the ideal response to fear. I may not understand why something frightens you, but I want to hear your explanation of it. At those moments, you become my teacher.

Breathing is Fundamental

September 3, 2008

Breathing is something most people take for granted because we’re always doing it. But for anyone who has experienced difficulties with it, that blissful disregard is gone.

It is often involuntary—we don’t have to consciously think about doing it. But because we can control its rhythm and tempo, it can become a powerful element in the healing process.

Yoga, transcendental meditation, and many other disciplines teach the idea of mindful breathing. There are plenty of technical terms in these practices to describe various aspects of breath or types of breathing. But “mindful breathing” can be as simple as concentrating on slowing down, going deeper, and interrupting whatever thoughts, emotions or sensations are spurring us toward stress.

When we are faced with psychological distress, physical pain, fear, or any number of other traumatic experiences, a flood of chemicals gets released in our bodies so we are primed to fight whatever onslaught, real or imagined, is facing us. There’s certainly no doubt that this response has benefits, especially if quick action is needed to protect oneself or another person from harm.

But when the stress is more prolonged, or if it has reached a chronic level, then harnessing the mind and the breath can have powerful results. While there are many things I could enumerate here as examples, I’ll stick to one which is fairly simple.

When faced with pain, the body’s natural tendency is to create tension in order to try and protect itself. Like any other function in response to tension, breathing rates increase and, as a rule, each breath is shallower.

Simply saying to someone, “Breathe slower,” or “Now take three deep breaths” isn’t always helpful. Too often, the defenses against pain have been raised so high for so long that it is as if we are trying to paddle a canoe up a river using a teaspoon.

Each person’s mind is engaged in different ways. For some, the pathway into the mind is auditory, so music or speech is highly effective for encouraging relaxation. For others, it is visual, so imagery, either real or imagined, can be used. Still others are reached via fragrances or textures. It doesn’t matter what key you use to unlock the door as long as you open it.

The most effective healing occurs when the healer removes any specific agenda or quest for power or control and allows the other person to accomplish the healing for him- or herself. I personally don’t need to open the door with the key I’ve found. I give the key to the recipient, either by reading aloud, playing music, or describing visual images that lead them on their own path toward peace.

Whatever path is being followed, my role is simply to accompany them on the journey. In some instances, occasional reminders about breathing can be given. But each situation is unique, and I tend to allow the experience to unfold as it will, trusting that whatever is needed will be provided at the right time.

No matter how things progress, I am always paying attention to the unspoken ways in which people respond to the healing experience. With regard to pain, I have found that once the mind is engaged, a person has tremendous potential to create change within themselves. By taking the focus of the mind off the pain and giving it something else to hold on to, energy can be redirected to other areas that need attention.

Often, the first change is a return to a more natural and relaxed way of breathing. This is followed by a reduction in heart rate and a gradual lessening of muscle tension throughout the body.

All these things are pretty obvious. But we can easily overlook them if we are too worried about having our healing “work”. Any time you have the intent to heal, that is where the intent should begin and end. I don’t approach anyone with the assumption that what I do will help them. That’s arrogant and selfish. Healing isn’t about me. It’s about the other person. A person’s reactions to healing, whether positive or negative, aren’t meant to be taken personally, either. I’m no miracle worker. I’m not an angel. I’m also not a quack, a phony, or just a nobody with no skill. It’s a delicate balance between honoring myself but at the same time staying out of the way so the other person’s full potential and capacity for healing can flourish.

I have witnessed far too many seemingly small things that took on great significance for individuals and families to doubt the power that we unleash when we take the time to stop, listen to the heart of a fellow human being, and respond with compassion.

The 7 Ingredients of Caring

August 30, 2008

Humans are social creatures. We spend our lives interacting with others, giving and receiving. We were not designed to be alone, yet too often, when presented with the opportunity to reach out to another, we find ourselves holding back because we are unsure how to move forward. Whether we are caring for family or friends or complete strangers, we can act with assurance by breaking the concept of caring down into its essential parts.

• COMPASSION. The first step is having compassion for someone other than yourself. Too often, compassion is confused with pity, but they have completely different starting points. Pity is a fear-based response when we look down on someone else (as if into a pit) and treat that person as less than ourselves. We are so focused on the differences between us and them that we separate ourselves from them, holding them at arm’s length. Compassion, on the other hand, stems from the realization that we are all members of the same humanity and, therefore, equally merit love and concern. We are able to reach out to others (coming alongside them), look them in the eyes, and open ourselves to the opportunity to share life with another in all its joy or sorrow.

• ACCEPTANCE. We can only care for others if we accept them for the whole of who they are. We can’t pick and choose the parts we’ll help and disregard the rest. Acceptance doesn’t mean we compromise our beliefs. It gives us the responsibility to see without judging, to give without expecting repayment. When we can show every person we encounter the same acceptance, it is a reflection of the unconditional love we receive from God, who celebrates every one of us even when we’re not perfect.

• RESPECT. To treat another person with respect is to preserve dignity and nobility even when those things seem to be impossible. Every person is precious and unique, whether they are male or female, rich or poor, young or old. We have so much to learn from the people who share our lives, and yet we often crowd them out because we are too busy looking for someone other than the person sitting next to us. When we stop to listen, to ask someone about themselves, we have the chance to glimpse God’s glory reflected in a singular and beautiful way that would be unavailable to us if we simply walked by.

• INSPIRATION. Because we are all connected, we are always drawing inspiration from some people and giving it to others. It is not something we consciously set out to do, and it is approached with humility. We often have no idea we are serving as someone’s source of strength or encouragement, and just as often, we don’t take the time to let others know that they are sources of these things for us. Inspiration can be a catalyst for change and self-improvement, since we are never a finished product. Just as importantly, inspiration by its very nature reminds us that, though we are the center of our own perceptions, we are by no means the center of everything.

• NEED. Often, it seems easier to give than to receive care. But if we never allow ourselves to be the recipient of others’ caring, we shortchange everyone involved. People use gestures of caring to express things that are difficult to put into words, such as how much they treasure our friendship, how we provide them with a sense of purpose greater than simple existence, or thankfulness for our own caring toward them in the past. We are not invincible, and being on the receiving end of care reminds us to be humble. If we are always giving and never receiving, we also shut out opportunities to witness miracles.

• GRATITUDE. Being grateful for whatever we have in each moment, whether we are giving or receiving care, is one of the most liberating aspects of caring. When we are the provider, we should be thankful for the chance we are being given to show God’s love in a concrete way to someone who might not be aware of it. As a recipient, we can rejoice in the knowledge that we are not alone. Gratitude springs from joy and is rooted in our conscious decision to live in each moment completely, without holding onto the past or worrying about the future.

When we can reach out with love and compassion, accepting each person exactly as they are; when we respect each other to maintain dignity and nobility and to listen to what we are saying, even if no words are spoken; when we serve as the inspiration for one another to grow beyond what we ourselves believed was possible; when we acknowledge our need both to give and to receive; and when we live filled with gratitude for every moment we are given breath, then we can begin caring for ourselves and, by extension, caring for one another.

After a Long Silence

May 12, 2007

I’ve spent a “long” time away from writing here, but the break was worth it.

Spring is about renewal, and that’s what I’ve been doing: finishing long-term projects, starting new ones, and growing.

I started this blog partly as in intellectual exercise: could I keep one and maintain it? Yes and yes. Would people read it and benefit from it (although that was a secondary goal)? Yes and yes again.

After my last post about difficulties with the WordPress site as a blind user, I even got suggestions from a reader in Japan who took the trouble to translate what I wrote, then make suggestions about how to solve the problem.

I doubt I will write here daily. But it seems that, if one person was taking that much trouble to figure out what I was saying, the least I can do is continue occasional posts for anyone who wants to read them.

So, after a long silence, I am writing again.