Compassionate Self-Observation

DSC_0497 copyA recent text exchange with a friend got me thinking about bridging the difference between how I behave and how I want to behave. What types of behavior are malleable? What traits and responses represent temperament coming to the fore?

It’s tricky to find the balance between addressing areas that need work and embracing who we actually are and where we actually are. Being present and expressing gratitude for all we already have sometimes feels impossible, particularly if we are simultaneously continuing to move toward our dreams.

This is when I fall back on the 80/20 rule. Nutritionists tell us to strive for an optimal diet 80 percent of the time. What does that mean, exactly? If you want to eat a cupcake or French fries now and then, go right ahead. Savor every single bite of your treats, as long as you are eating well for most meals and snacks.

Why is it so hard to apply a similar concept to our emotional behavior? I don’t have to be the mom I want to be 100 percent of the time, because I am human. Sometimes I am overwhelmed and I react, rather than respond. In fact, sometimes my intensity appears in the form of overreacting to seemingly small setbacks. (In the moment, though, they can feel enormous.) While I can usually recognize these big feelings and respond with compassion when Ruby has one of these moments, I am not as compassionate with myself.

To be perfectly honest, I am not always compassionate with Ruby when her intensities collide with mine. Right now, I am feeling a bit frayed around the edges after a month of caregiving. I spent more than five hours driving in rush-hour DC traffic yesterday, ferrying Fred to and from work in Dupont Circle and Ruby to her various activities. This morning, when I foolishly told Ruby about a long-awaited event being canceled as we were getting ready to head out the door to fetch Fred from physical therapy, I was not super-sympathetic when she burst into tears.

The best I can do in these moments is take deep breaths, apologize for my mistakes, and remember to employ a different approach when the next similar moment comes. I can do better. Maybe I will even make it to 90 percent. However, I also can be compassionate with myself when I don’t live up to my own standards.

In the immortal words of Ze Frank: “Let me think about the people who I care about the most, and how when they fail or disappoint me, I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.”

Ze Frank, An Invocation for Beginnings

[All words and images copyright Paula J. Kelly, unless otherwise credited.]

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