The practice of compassion has to first originate with ourselves, to ourselves. I used to be terrible at giving this to myself and was my own worst critic, although I’ve allowed some characters in my life over the years from which supplied me with material. No more. Unknowingly, I was my biggest antagonist in the past, but in recovering from a brain injury, resulting from a pill-popping suicide attempt, I learned to extend myself and others grace.
Right after the suicide attempt, I used a lot of my limited energy trying damn hard to not act brain injured. Didn’t work. With barely understandable speech and impaired mental functioning, this proved to be an exhausting effort which didn’t fool anyone although I wasn’t cognizant enough to know it. Soon, I decided that I couldn’t keep up this taxing charade and allowed myself to just be my brain injured self. Extending myself compassion and acceptance was the start of dismantling the wall that I’d hid behind all my life and beginning to be authentic with myself and those around me.
I had to be very forgiving of myself when I drove around the neighborhood beside mine, lost and in a panic for thirty minutes, not knowing the way home. I had to be kind to myself when I threw my credit card at the cashier at the grocery store because my fine motor skills were lacking. When I sent the IRS a check from a closed checking account, I had to extend understanding to myself. Mistakes happen… and not just to brain injured people. During my recovery, when goofing up was an everyday occurrence, I learned to be gentle with myself and even laugh at my faux pas.
Thank goodness, I don’t make anywhere near a number of blunders I used to, but, just this past week, I had a major brain blip. I’m doing intensive therapy, training the brainwaves, called Brain Wave Optimization, and did two sessions a day for a week. When I went back for my afternoon appointment one day, I found the door locked with no one around. Figuring the practitioner had gone to lunch, I sat outside the door reading a book for 30 minutes until they called on my cell phone asking, “Did you forget about your afternoon appointment?” When returning from lunch, I’d turned in a different entrance and was at the building across the parking lot. Oops! (In my defense, all the buildings were cookie-cutter identical.)
In the past, something like this would have mortified me and ruined the rest of my day as I replayed the event over and over in my head kicking myself and calling myself not-so-nice names. With a shrug, I, can now chalk it up not only to the brain injury but to being human and let it go.
In the early days post brain injury, I often wished that I had a big bandage on my head because, despite the injury, I looked “normal,” but my speech was severely impaired. While at a social gathering one evening, a person actually asked my girlfriend, “How much has she had to drink?”
At the airport alone one time, I beeped when going through the metal detector and had no idea why or what to do. After a long pause, the agent barked detailed directions at me to take off my belt and put it in the tray to go through the scanner.
The experiences I encountered during my recovery that taught me to have understanding for myself also allowed me to extend the same compassion to others. We cannot begin to know what challenges someone faces by their outward appearance. You just never know. I’ve learned to step back and look at any scene through a filter of kindness, and in doing so, it’s amazing how the view changes. Practicing compassion has also made me aware of the presumptions I make about people and situations when I really have no idea.
Give yourself and the others in your life a break today. This simple practice will change your world. We see things not as they are. We see them as we are.
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