Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
OK – so I’ve just revealed that I can quote classic Star Trek. Please don’t hold that against me. But I’ve been having difficulty choosing what to share. Every time, I think I’ve formulated our next blog post, something new emerges in the news and I start a post on that, only to get side-tracked by an important phone call at work, the need to leave for a meeting across town on another justice issue, Medicaid expansion, human trafficking, immigration, record suicide rates among military personnel, human rights abuses in the local jails. Or once at home the minute-by-minute revelations of an active 5-year-old, the need of one of the barking dogs, a load of laundry or the fish sticks that are burning because I forgot them – again!
I started to write about the wonderful article that highlighted the ability of a teacher in California to talk the student out of shooting more classmates. The power of communication! Forbes featured two local siblings who have developed a website called VolunteenNation! I have a file that has about 20 false starts in it, just waiting to be flushed out and hopefully something of value to be shared later here. And just now as I’m writing this, a co-worker walked in to let me know that at a private college in downtown a shooter has killed two people and we don’t know all the details. It’s overwhelming to say the least.
How do we balance everyday life with all this new awareness, a consciousness that is ever evolving and expanding? Sunday, in between making PBJ’s and getting ready for church, I had the chance to listen to Krista Tippet’s show On Being. It’s worth listening to, if you get a chance. This week she spoke with Joan Halifax on Compassion’s Edge. Early in the interview Ms. Halifax says, “It’s like Teilhard de Chardin writes about. You know, the more aware we become, the more responsible we recognize we are for what is and what will be.” Well ain’t that the truth. And when you are already a Type A, mother hen what are you to do?
She says, “I don’t really agree with the term ‘compassion fatigue.’ I think what we’re seeing actually is not compassion fatigue, but empathic distress where there’s a resonance, but we’re not able to stabilize ourselves when we’re exposed to this kind of suffering. When we are more stabilized then we can face the world with more buoyancy, we have more resilience. You know, we’ve got more capacity to actually address these very profound social and environmental issues. So that’s why I call these things edge states because they really call us to our edge.”
For me the best part of the interview came from a comment by a woman in the audience, named Asha who said, “I was really struck by what you were saying about compassion fatigue. In my younger days, I was a social worker in domestic violence shelters. I did a lot of leftist political work and, at a certain point, realized that I was surrounded by people who were dedicating their life to no, to fighting against something.
And my husband and I had decided to get married and we sat down and said, “What’s our yes? How are we going to commit to living yes on a daily basis. Because if we stay here and do this, we will spend our whole life just fighting and saying no.” And I wonder sometimes if part of what people refer to as compassion fatigue is the unwillingness or perhaps fear of doing the hard daily personal work to pay attention in one’s intimate relationships and in one’s neighborhood and in one’s community because that’s constant. That never ends.
But if all your thinking about is I need to do something about that thing out there, that thing that I see on that television, the thing that I read in the newspaper instead of what’s happening in this house, what’s happening right here and why don’t I start there? Once that sort of intention and mindfulness becomes almost instinctual, then the tendency to sort of fall into that empathic pit where you feel like you can’t get out in response to what’s going on in the world lessens because you’re building up a capacity to hold complexity?”
And then it struck me, it’s like building up the body, strength and endurance training. So while, I have been feeling like I don’t have enough time to address all that needs to be done, I must know there will never be enough time. If I pay attention to what gives me life and truly beleive that the personal work IS the hard work, – it’s not a cop out, then I will have the strength to meet the greater challenges. It becomes instinct. I won’t need more time, I will be given exactly what I need, when I need it, joy and a willing spirit.
On the path,