Self-compassion is as vital as it is difficult. Talk to any one of my friends, and “compassionate” will quickly fall out of their mouths when they are describing me. Compassion for others comes naturally to me. However, when talking to myself I say things I would NEVER say to another human being! I am learning, if you are not able to be compassionate with yourself, you are not going to be able to hear and receive compassion from others. In fact, you might miss it altogether.
I am facing a major surgery next week and eagerly anticipating the potential it has to change the way I move and negotiate my body in the world. I am also anxious and humanly ambivalent about it. I had a life-changing experience of compassion with my doctor, that I almost missed.
After introducing himself and chatting about my surgery, Dr. Smith went to his computer and started reading through my surgical history out loud. About halfway through the list, he paused and said “Wow, that’s a lot”. I instantly jumped in to brush it off with “That’s ok, I’ve responded well to all of the corrective surgeries I have had”. He looked at me right in my eyes as he walked over with his stethoscope and listened to my heart. He paused for a moment and my mind started to race thinking… Uh oh, I said something wrong…I am not going to be able to have the surgery…I knew I shouldn’t have added that last one to the list. Now he thinks I am not strong enough to handle this, and I am going to lose my chance for surgery.
“You look dubious”, I said. “Dubious?” he said, with his hand on my chest…” No, I’m not dubious…I’m SORRY. I’m sorry for YOU that YOU’VE had to go through all that!”
In that moment, something burst in me, and I felt like I could sob. The genuine warmth in his touch combined with the warmth of his words just melted away all the coldness of hospitals and nameless, faceless surgeries. I wasn’t just a spine, I was a whole, complete human being. Caught up in my own racing mind, I almost missed this expression of compassion toward me. This single compassionate moment showed me with permanence that I am a whole person…not just a body part…not just a spine. I am Shawna Grace Hall who has feelings and fears and dreams. It healed a legacy of coldness and detachment that I had experienced having had multiple surgeries throughout my life…and I almost missed it.