Elder Kindness

During this pandemic with such a focus on ‘distancing’, how do we connect?  How do we build relationships when society tells us, do not touch, do not sing, and most of all do not hug? Although at times it feels as though the world is falling apart, my experience has shown me that in the midst of chaos, compassion still flows. 

In these stressful times, it is easy to become trapped by our own judgments. When looking for our expectations, we can miss Compassion when it arrives in strange and wondrous forms. A technique for stepping outside the spiral of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ thinking is curiosity. Being curious helps keep the heart open. It is in those moments of an exploring mind-heart that  Compassion sneaks in. Although it may not be in the form or shape we expect, it arrives. It can do so even in everyday interactions as it did for me recently.

Wanting to visit relatives dealing with terminal conditions despite the pandemic, I booked flights and a rental car with some trepidation. The day before departure I realized that a midsized car was not going to provide the room needed for us to drive two elders with their health aide, a wheelchair,  and a walker. The blow to me was the matter-of-fact voice of the car rental agent explaining to me that because I had paid through a travel service, I would have to go back online, cancel and reserve a new vehicle as well as pay change fees. 

As I dejectedly said, “OK”,  the agent asked why I needed to switch vehicles. His question led to a discussion about the sadness that goes with the appreciation of being able to make one last in-person visit to a loved one. We connected as he said, “I know what you are going through because I’m experiencing it too.”  He ended our call by telling me not to make any calls or go online. He told me to show up and expect a minivan waiting for us. Compassion had arrived in the form of a young man working at a rental car agency. Being open with my sadness had led to a connection with kindness.

Staying open is a way to receive and share kindness. Take a moment to step outside and breathe. Notice the trees or some plants. Thank them for breathing out oxygen for you. When at the grocery store, you might stand in the florist department. For a moment experience the array of colors shared by the flowers. Thank the clerks for setting out beauty for shoppers to enjoy. Notice their smiling eyes. We can sense smiles and share gratitude even with masks.

As David Reynolds explains in his Playing Ball on Running Water, “We have nothing but now. That moment and this reality are all that is presented to us for action.” What many Moritist and Gestalt therapists explain is that our actions influence our world. I relearned at recent courses at the Boulder Psychotherapy Institute, how to notice our crazy thoughts and fears instead of acting on them. Making conscious choices we move with purpose to create constructive change in our lives. With open hears we can set aside fears and welcome in the kindness of strangers. We can breathe in the beauty of living beings surrounding us. By doing so, we connect with Compassion.

Zen stones with flower

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, M.Div., CAS, Psychotherapist and Spiritual Counselor
Certified Mindfulness Instructor
Prajna Healing Arts, Inc.
720-244-2299 
www.prajnahealingarts.com

rose with thorns

Longchenpa, a Tibetan teacher holds up for us a challenging path for living in his poem, Meditation on Afflictions. He captures how the challenges we face are truly gifts that guide us to liberation and happiness. His poem asks us to connect with Wisdom-Compassion flowing constantly in our lives, even in strange and wondrous ways.  I hope you enjoy his poem and the translation for ‘Dharma is ‘Truth’.  – Carol

 

Assailed by afflictions, we discover Dharma and find the way to liberation.  

    Thank you, evil forces!

When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma and find lasting happiness.

    Thank you sorrows!

Through harm caused by spirits, we discover Dharma and find fearlessness. 

    Thank you ghosts and demons!

Through people’s hate, we discover Dharma and find benefits and happiness. 

    Thank you, those who hate us! 

Through cruel adversity, we discover Truth and find the unchanging way. 

    Thank you, adversity! 

Through being impelled to by others, we discover Dharma and find the essential meaning. 

    Thank you, all who drive us on! 

We dedicate our merit to you all, to repay your kindness. 

  – Longchen Rabjampa

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Watching the protests on the news carried me back in time to my protest days in the 70s and the inspiration I gained from Martin Luther King. His teaching, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” is so relevant for these heartbreaking times.

In times of extreme stress, we feel lost and do not know what to do. Although counter-intuitive, when under such pressure is when we need to practice compassion for self and others. Breathing sustains life, but we feel threatened by a killer virus lurking in the air, and the fear of suffocation by those tasked with protecting us. Take a deep breath.

Now is the time to care for self and others. Doing so, we will not fall victim to the anger and violence that hatred spews.

Now is the time to remember we are all human beings doing the best we can, and that includes you and me. As Nelson Mandela so beautifully explained, “No one is born hating another.”  In the memory of George Floyd, we cannot allow hatred and fear to drive our actions. We cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to the kind of cruel behavior that killed him. Instead, we can practice opening open our hearts by welcoming others without labeling or judging.

Oddly enough, it is not a matter of looking for goodness. Goodness can be a judgment that drives our anxiety up when we don’t find it. An alternative is to focus on the question, “what will do no harm?” In stressful situations, that is not an easy task. Yet, as horrific as the killing of George Floyd is, we can honor his life by taking up the challenge to generate solutions instead of more anxiety and fear. We need to look for ways to help, not harm. The problem is that solutions are found by working with those we label as different from us.

As a young war protestor in the early ’70s serving in student government, I got to know many in law enforcement who were truly good people. Several student groups backed by national organizations organized a large rally at our university. I was surprised to learn that many campus security officers feared the potential for violence, as were many of the students. As a student government representative, I helped campus security negotiate a deal with local and state police. If the protestors stayed on campus property and marched on only half of the public street next to the campus, the police would let the event proceed. After negotiating with protest organizers, the march was allowed to continue.

The time was the 70’s, the place was the South, and I was a short white woman 20 years of age. That meant I was just a girl. Yet, I was the one who organized some young men in student government and a few in the criminal justice department who had plans to go into law enforcement. We spaced ourselves out and walked down the centerline of the street as the marching occurred. We yelled at, pleaded with, and pulled on protestors to keep them on the ‘campus’ side. When police officers saw something that caused them to want to approach the protestors, we held up our hands with a firm, “Wait!” and then handled the matter for them. Despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, I remember the march as a lonely one. I and the few men I had gathered to help, walked alone. We walked in an open expanse of the street between protestors who held signs and shouted words of anger on one side and police officers lined up with batons in hand, guns on hips, and hints of fear in their eyes.

As the march ended, dusk had arrived, and student protestors were walking back to their quarters to celebrate getting their speeches in the press. The police began strolling back to cars and vans. Having thanked my crew of march organizers, I turned to walk back to the dorm. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by the head of campus security and several local police officers. Looking up into the faces of these tall and big men, the campus security officer said to me, “Miss, these men would like to speak with you.” All I could think was, “Oh no. What now?” One of the officers stepped out in front of the others, took his cap off, and put in under his arm. As he stated in a firm voice, “Thank you.” the other officers began nodding their heads at me as well. I was truly touched. 

After telling them I was glad I could help, I added a comment about how together we had made sure no one was hurt. Everyone broke into big smiles. During that brief moment, no one was a girl, no one was a cop, and no one was campus security. Instead, we all were grateful human beings happy that we had done no harm.

We all can contribute to peace by not adding to the anger and hatred. Each of us can take responsibility for sharing compassion, and being responsible means being able to respond. We can use a few moments to play with a grandchild, send loving-kindness to all involved in a problematic situation, share a card or take a break from the news to enjoy the sunshine on our face. We all can respond with an open heart. We can reduce our anxiety by shifting our focus to doing no harm. Then might even enjoy a moment by engaging in a random act of kindness on an unsuspecting stranger.