Compassion and Patience Go Hand in Hand

Pictures of Italy '11 031          If you have ever walked with very young children, toddlers perhaps or even one just learning to walk, you have had to practice extremes of patience. How well I remember, as a mother of five, the small hand in mine as we went for a walk. I’d have one of my hands on the handle of the stroller to be ready when little legs tired, the other clutching the hand of the child. They all wanted to walk, of course, at least as soon and as far as they could. The snail’s pace we traveled was a wonderful test of patience. Especially if I were in a hurry.  Little children can be very insistent.

Patience and perfection don’t go together well. As a small child I wanted my hair ribbons to match my socks. It seems I have always been addicted to seeking perfection. There is a story by Edgar Allen Poe called, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl. It tells of a man who was apprehended for his crime because he had worked so diligently to make sure he left no fingerprints at the scene. My insistence on having all my ducks in a row is frustrating to me as well as a bad habit. I am trying to eliminate it, and I could be doing better.

Take tidying–it’s endless if I let it be. There is another favorite story of mine: A nice couple attracted the attention of P.T.Barnum, so the story goes, and he gifted them with a brand new sofa. Sadly, the rest of their living room furniture looked shabby by comparison, so they scrimped and saved and bought new. Then they had to paint the living room, and so it went until everything in their home was new except—you guessed it the no longer new, now shabby sofa. Tidying becomes an endless process because whatever isn’t tidied shows up more vividly and urges me to continue.

So then I feel compelled to do so. The trick is to know when to stop, call it a day, and resume later. However my fear is that I won’t get back to the work at hand because other things will crop up that demand my attention. Trying to be patient with what needs doing is an important focus for me. The chief hindrance? Without wishing to, I have slowed down. I just cannot move as fast as I once did. Part of this is because being somewhat clumsy I am trying to be careful not to make mistakes, and part is because age and arthritis have affected my agility.

Patience with myself is my task now, and it’s not easy. I once had a elderly counseling client who constantly lamented that he could not move the way he wanted to. He wanted to have a young body again. I can understand his frustration. Now I am in the same boat, What I have learned, sometimes the hard way, is that the secret to having patience is to have compassion. Over the years I have taught myself to feel compassion for others who struggle. Now I need to apply it to myself. When I view my struggles with compassion, it is easier to be patient. I have realized that being kind to myself is as important as being kind to others. I am patiently working on it.

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Grow Your Heart Bigger

Peace Village 3 Heart.jpgVery young children share quite naturally. Who hasn’t been the recipient of a toddler’s offering of a cookie or a treasured toy? Later, children become more self-centered, and parents have to teach them to share. Then we outgrow our parents’ teaching and begin to form our own ways of behavior. At this point we may often emulate peers who may or may not be good examples of heartfelt behavior. Some, like me, inherit critical attitudes from parents or teachers, and so unwittingly continue them. This can shrink the heart.

Most of us are familiar with a character of Dr. Seuss’s called the Grinch. His heart was shrunken–too small by far. This resulted in his acting meanly toward others and because it annoyed him, trying to take away their joy. When he couldn’t, his heart grew. Most of us believe we would never try to steal another’s joy, however perhaps we could be ignoring opportunities to grow our hearts bigger. This is something I’ve had to learn and I worked hard to learn it. It’s not easy to do so; the first step in he process is to observe one’s very own smallness of heart.

For example, when I look at someone or even myself with a critical eye, observe with distaste mine or another’s extra pounds or unkempt clothing, or think negatively of my or another’s behavior and don’t catch myself doing it, I am missing an opportunity to grow my heart. I could change my thinking and reflect that they could be on medication, indigent, ill or feeling uncomfortable and instead feel compassion for them or myself. I’m aware that when I am tired or someone annoys or irritates me, it takes restraint not to snap back. Yet when I can manage to see them in a different light, it will grow my heart.

Another way to grow my heart is to not act selfishly and take the biggest, the best or the most for myself. Being generous to others is a simple way for me to grow my heart. As children we have often been taught this by well meaning parents, yet depending on how I might be feeling, it is easy to do the opposite. Then too, if I do it grudgingly or without a genuine desire to give, it may not be as effective for heart enlargement, however it can still work to my benefit. The most effective attitude is to put others ahead of oneself with joyful willingness as opposed to grudging obligation.

While it is sometimes painful to observe myself behaving in ways other than how I want to see myself, it is also worth doing. I’ve learned that if I catch myself in the act often enough, I will stop whatever negative behavior I observe. Selfish behavior, a judgmental attitude, an outlook automatically critical of others can lead to shrinkage of the heart. Generosity, compassion, and loving giving can lead to the growth of the heart. Plus there is often a return on one’s investment. What goes around really does come around. Those who practice these virtues may well reap good fortune in some way in return. While this is not a reason to be doing it, it is a nice side benefit.

Tasha Halpert

 

Acceptance of What Is Can Be Learned

Cabbage with holes           I began at an early age to learn my role as a would be peacemaker. My parents were both very special and wonderful people, yet they had a lot of differences and often had trouble bridging them. As the eldest and only child by a number of years I had a good deal of practice as a kind of go between for them when there were difficulties to be dealt with. In addition I often found myself with my hands over my ears while my parents attempted to resolve their differences at the top of their lungs. Loving both of them dearly, I was often at a loss as to how to make things better. Most of all I had to deal with my desire for things to be different, and my inability to make this happen.

Fast forward to the present. I recently found myself in the midst of a situation that was very uncomfortable, yet that I could nothing to change. Like all the other times in my life going back to when I was a small child and this was the case, it felt very similar. So in addition I had to deal with these echoes from the past as well as the experience of the present. My nature as a peacemaker, has always made it difficult for me to deal with conflict. This time, as I often do, instead of facing the situation that I was confronted with squarely, I kept wishing things were different.

To be sure that is a natural reaction. Few among us are willing to face a difficult situation without feeling regret as well as the desire to change it in some way to make things easier on everyone. Yet sometimes even with the best of intentions from all concerned, whatever is going on will continue. If I could have accepted this, I would have been better able to come to terms with what was happening. As it was, I had to work hard just to stay calm and keep from trying to help. I have been reflecting on this ever since.

The best that anyone can gain from dealing with a situation where one can do nothing is to allow for a greater sense of compassion to emerge in the heart. A wise woman once quoted me this ancient Hebrew saying: “If there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy?” As I have grown older and experienced more grief as well as regret, which is a precursor to grief, I have recognized that there is a treasure to be gained from it. Yet the treasure must be dug out from beneath the stubborn, unyielding crust of denial.

The denial can only be dealt with by my conscious acceptance of my inability to make anything different. As I accept what is and interweave it with threads of compassion, I can come to terms with my own sense of powerlessness, as well as with the pride that weeps over that, and the need to simply let go. The road cannot always be smooth. If there is no grit under the wheals, they will slip and slide without progress. The sandpaper that smooths the rough wood brings out the beauty of the grain. As I allow it to my heart can surely learn to grow.

Celebrating Birthdays by Tasha Halpert

Celebrating Birthdays

When I was little I looked forward to my birthday. Rarely there was a party with friends, more often it was celebrated quietly within the family. This was probably just as well. I clearly remember the embarrassment I suffered at my twelfth birthday party. There were two small nude statues displayed on our living room bookcase. They were by my mother who was an artist and sculptor. These created a small sensation among my invited classmates who pointed and giggled, looking at me strangely. To me they were simply statues.

My dear parents were more sophisticated than my friends’ parents. My mother played in a civic symphony; my father was in a local theater group. They didn’t talk about sports, discuss politics, or participate in the kinds of activities my classmates’ parents did. My days were spent either by myself or with adults. I welcomed the idea of growing up. Every birthday was a step in that direction.

My husband Stephen celebrates his birthday the day before the 4th of July, and we celebrate our anniversary the day afterward. This makes for a grand celebration for us, taking place over all three days. We will have enjoyed doing this now for thirty five years of marriage. Born so close to the birthday of the USA, and being an independent person himself, Stephen feels connected to the celebration of independence that it signifies.

For myself I enjoy celebrations of all kinds. Birthdays are a wonderful opportunity for this. Over the years making up for all the parties I never had, we have enjoyed commemorating both his and my birthdays with friends. I also enjoy sending cards and even making telephone calls to sing happy birthday to special people on their day. The internet provides wonderful animated cards that cost little or nothing. Sadly some people either can’t or do not wish to open them. It always makes me happy when they do.

The birthday of our country is an important one to celebrate. Despite our faults we have been generous and supportive to many. While our growing pains have sometimes been severe, we have in the long run achieved much as we have grown. By European standards we are a very young country. There are churches all over Europe that are over a thousand years old. Nothing in this country even comes close to that. Being a young country, like any other gawky adolescent we could perhaps be excused for some of our clumsiest actions.

Whether one is a person or a country, it is impossible to grow without making mistakes. The important things is to learn from one’s mistakes, and also to be forgiving of whatever stumbles have been made in the process. The acknowledgement of oneself as a person who lives and thrives makes a statement concerning oneself. To have a birthday is to have survived another year of ups and downs, of trials and triumphs, and of defeats and victories. This alone is a cause for celebration.

Sydney's Party Blowing out the candles

Dealing With Anger

There seems to be a great deal of anger circulating these days, whether in the form of “road rage,” destructive actions involving armed individuals, bullying that makes the news, and more. The majority of video games and even the comics and illustrated books for young people are very violent in nature. Furthermore, this country has been at war with some nation, group or another for a very long time. Anger is all around us, yet it is also a band aid over grief.

I am reminded of the fifties, a time for bleak news, back yard bomb shelters, and dark tales on TV and in the movies. The climate then was one of fear and to some extent, existential responses to dire circumstances. “Die young and make a good looking corpse,” was a popular saying. Although people were more polite on the surface, anger and fighting were also a common reaction. Bullying was almost acceptable–considered normal, many thought it would toughen someone up for the “real world.”

When I was in grade school I was often the object of bullying. One of the reasons may have been because I was slow to anger, yet when I did finally respond, I would explode into a fit of rage. Toward this end my classmates would taunt me, snatch my hat or my eyeglasses and do whatever they could to get me to that breaking point. Most likely they enjoyed the show. When my parents complained they were always told I had started it.

My father and mother were both rather fiery and temperamental, which might be why I disliked getting angry. I was uncomfortable with their arguments, which frightened me. Although they loved each other dearly, they disagreed about a lot of things. Being as young as I was I didn’t really understand much about this, I only knew I felt uneasy and afraid when their voices rose. This in turn made me want to avoid that kind of behavior.

Often it has been my job to try to get people who disagree to come to some kind of understanding. Yet each person has a point of view based on his or her experience and perhaps his or her beliefs. It is almost impossible to argue with someone’s beliefs. By their nature these are not based on logic but have an emotional base. What we feel generates and supports our beliefs. Perhaps the best that can be done may be to agree to disagree.

However, anger is a conditioned response that can be controlled and then changed to a different one. With practice, a compassionate response can be substituted. To me anger seems a waste of energy. When I encounter senseless violence or cruelty, I have taught myself to feel my sadness, and then to say a prayer for the afflicted. For my part, to counter the disturbing news items I read in the papers or see on TV I make an effort to be kind when and where I am given the opportunity. It might be only a drop in the ocean, however, it’s something I can do.

Photo and Text by Tasha Halpert

.Gargoyle

Love Begins With Me

Love Begins With Me

While little children learn to love by observing the behavior of those around them, they also, as any parent of a toddler knows come with a built in ability to love. The human heart has an inborn tendency to emotional cherishing. From what I have seen both on television and in the movies, this is true of other mammals as well. Perhaps it is chemistry, or maybe it is a gift from the Creator, however it is certainly evident, especially in small children.

Furthermore, the emotional heart that dwells within us is infinitely expandable. However, in order to keep expanding it needs to stay elastic. This elasticity requires a certain amount of maintenance. When individuals harden their hearts–even if they do it because they feel they must in order to survive, they reduce the heart’s elasticity, and possibly begin a process that will eventually result in the heart’s inability to expand at all. The way the heart becomes hard is through the resistance to and denial of pain.

That is not say it is easy to admit pain into the heart. There is so much of it around. The media confronts us with pain at every turn. Each day when I open my computer I am confronted with samples of disaster or tragedy, sometimes many of them. In our personal lives there is much opportunity for pain of all sorts even in the best of lives. Major trauma can strike at any time, and on any given day there are many small deaths or sadnesses to be dealt with.

When I am willing to allow my emotional pain into my heart, I also take an important step toward compassion for myself and for others as well. Compassion is a natural response to pain. Even very small children will try to comfort you if you are sad or hurt. It seems to be a built in reaction. There are animals that will do the same. I remember a day long ago when I was feeling sad and began to cry. At the time we had three cats and all three came over and tried to climb into my lap.

It can be difficult for me to open my heart to emotional pain. I was brought up not to cry, to be tough and to ignore hurt. Yet that meant ignoring rather than acknowledging it. I had to learn to open my heart enough to take in the pain in order for compassion to find its way in as well. I had to be taught to love myself enough to admit that I felt pain, and that I needed to address that pain. In this I had the help of a fine therapist. I will always be grateful to her.

By loving myself enough to be honest with myself and others, I keep my heart flexible and elastic. By comforting myself with that love, I acknowledge what I feel, and then I can do what is necessary to address that pain. Being emotionally honest is being loving to myself. When I am loving to myself in this way I expand my heart. This makes it possible for me to love others even more. The more I love myself, the more I am able to love others, and that makes me happy in my heart.

Tasha and Sunflower, best

Photo by Marcia Ruth Text by Tasha Halpert

Elegy for a Friend

Into the All

Into the All

Memory serves to preserve

the likeness, the beingness of you:

not bound by boundaries

nor circumscribed by circles,

tethered only by thought

 

you have entered

the timelessness of ever after

you have filled

your allotted space

in our time.

 

Deeds, gifts, words,

these remain’

to remind us of dear ones

no longer within

the warm circle of our arms.

 

They are now part of us

part of the heart of us

ever present

in the moment of memory,

of loving thought.

 

Expanded to the timelessness

that is part of the All,

you have joined

all that is infinite,

that is unlimited by flesh.

 

Mortal remains dissolve with time.

Memory thins, fades, shrinks.

Our dear ones live on in our hearts

until we too join them

and all our hearts are one.