“But I just don’t think that’s possible. Are you able to do that? Can you really tell me that it’s something you can do?”
The hope and fear was clearly visible in the eyes of the woman across from me. Is it possible, she asks? More than that, do I have up-close-and-personal experience of it?
I felt that twinge of panic, the hot flash of dread that I was promoting something I didn’t subscribe to. Do I, in fact, practice what I preach?
“Yes. Not all of the time. In fact, I fail a lot of the time. But it is important to me and to my life. I try very, very hard and when I succeed, it’s totally worth it.”
This particular conversation was about humanity, compassion and imperfection. It was about the art of accepting our shortcomings and celebrating the flaws of being a real, live human. Sounds simple, right? Not in my experience. I’m learning that, for me, it’s an ongoing battle of wits. My Able-Self fighting savagely to conquer my Incompetent-Self, and day by day, I struggle to leave room for both.
When I reflect on moments like these, I’m reminded of my first Clinical Supervisor. A man with a background in Narrative Therapy, he’d ask me at the beginning of our supervision times, “What is Inadequacy telling you this week?” Let me tell you, Inadequacy is a real jerk, too. I can already hear the persistent voice in the back of my head telling me I shouldn’t even be writing this piece. I’m a newborn when it comes to clinical experience; what do I know? And I suppose my answer is, “enough.” I know the struggle of learning something new. I know the pain of being limited: in life, in my body and in my work. And, I know that if I do all of it “right,” I won’t ever really get to know much.
I find myself regularly encouraging the idea that compassion is the very best gift we can offer ourselves. Compassion for our limitations. Compassion for our imperfections. Compassion simply for doing the best we can, when we can. Sometimes, taking a step back to accept ourselves, wholly and without desire to be different or improved upon, we can open up our hearts to what makes us special and unique.
So okay, reader, this might be my very own reminder. As someone who has a very tumultuous and intimate relationship with chronic pain, fatigue and uncertainty (when and at what intensity my symptoms will pop up), I often forget to take that step back to care for myself. I see myself in many of the men and women I work with as they push their minds, bodies and spirits to limits, ultimately crawling down a path of destruction and despair. Where is the pit stop to rest?
Where is our reminder to breathe?
Hey you, BREATHE! You’re ok. And more importantly, it’s ok if you’re not.
Etty Hillesum wrote, “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two breaths.” I’d like to embolden you, reader, to take one of those slow, deep breaths, filling your lungs up with air so that it reaches the very top of your head, the tips of your fingers and toes.
As you exhale, say to yourself, “I’m ok.” Take that beautiful moment of rest.
Then, dear reader, take another, deep breath and upon your exhale say, “And it’s ok if I’m not.”
Rinse and repeat, as needed.
It is my belief that we are not meant to function well 100% of the time. Part of the exquisiteness of being human is our experience and understanding of pain, suffering, and the reality that we sometimes need to do less. In theory, I could now talk about forgiveness, but that would imply there is something inherently wrong with doing less. I just can’t get behind that. In those fleeting moments where I’m able to step back, breathe, relax and do less it just feels right…albeit, sometimes after it feels very wrong (and I suppose that’s where we can talk about irrational guilt).
So, in this moment, I will take my deep breaths and allow myself to do less. I will revel in gratitude for the amazing individuals I have the opportunity to work with. I will appreciate that through my work with others, I am reminded of the strength behind surrender, the necessity of compassion and the splendor of being a tragically and gloriously flawed human being.