(Or how to survive the holidays with your Self intact)
Last week was Thanksgiving – the official start of the holiday season. My social media feeds were flooded with musings on gratitude and pictures of family gatherings. It was, for the most part, a week of blessings and joy. But it didn’t start out that way, not for me.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving I got sick. Really sick. It was a 48-hour stomach bug that took me down for the count for the better part of the week. (Fatigue) It was not an ideal start to a week typically highlighted by food and festivities.
Two days later, on Tuesday, I started dog sitting for a friend who was going out of town with her family for five days. Her dog, Brutus, is almost 17-years old, and is totally deaf and partially blind. He’s lively and perky most of the time, which is great, and the plan was for me to stay at her house with my dog. Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan.
On Tuesday night it became clear that my dog and Brutus weren’t exactly keen on sharing space. I had to send my dog home and work out a new plan with my friend, which resulted in my coming and going throughout the next 5 days to take care of Brutus and keep him company, while also being home enough to take care of my dog and life. (Frustration and Fatigue)
That would be enough to make me feel overextended during a holiday week that started out with illness, but it didn’t end there.
Brutus started coughing the day before my friend left town, but it seemed fairly benign…nothing to worry about. By Wednesday night, I was concerned. By Thursday morning, it seemed clear to me that there was a problem. (Fear)
Brutus was hacking stuff up, and it seemed like it was getting worse. By Friday we were at the vet so they could watch him and give him antibiotics. Brutus had the beginning of pneumonia, but we caught it early. He seemed better that evening, but got worse overnight when he vomited the little food he managed on Friday, including his antibiotic. So, on Saturday morning we went back to the vet, and my friend flew home a day early… just in case.
Throughout the six days from Sunday to Saturday, I struggled to find compassion. I was frustrated, fearful, and fatigued. My mind was on overdrive:
What if my dog got sick from that one night with Brutus? (Frustration)
What if Brutus died on my watch? (Fear)
What if I am making myself worse, having started the week out so sick? (Fatigue)
Did you see all the “what if” statements in there? Yeah, that’s where I was. My head was wreaking havoc with my emotions, exactly because I was so tired and overextended. I joked with my friend that my parasympathetic nervous system was overwhelmed, but it was no joke. I had no more bandwidth for anything, physical or emotional, to be added to my plate. My frustration levels had peaked, my fatigue had maxed out, and I was living with fear.
Somewhere in the process, though, I had a thought as I looked at the helpless little dog in front of me:
Where has my compassion gone?
I knew that all my buttons had been pushed and that compassion was clearly absent, for myself and for Brutus. I knew it. And I knew I had to do something about it, but what?
As I cycled in and out of conscious thought on the subject, alternating my presence with my overwrought absence, I allowed ideas to percolate to the surface. It was then that I asked myself the question: How would I want my dog to be treated?
I stepped outside myself and thought of another, someone I love dearly, and asked a simple question. I took perspective.
I pulled Brutus next to me, covered him with a blanket and rubbed his back. When he coughed, I gently patted his back and pet his head softly so that he knew I was there. When he curled up on his bed, I sat next to him on the cold floor. I even hand-fed him some food so he could take his medicine.
I did all of this, even though I was tired, scared, and annoyed at how the week unfolded, because it was the compassionate thing to do. It was the kind thing to do. I did all of this, because I was tired, scared, and annoyed.
I talk a lot about being in authentic alignment with who we are as a path to wholeness, peace, and joy. Fear has no place in my authentic alignment, nor do frustration and fatigue. They simply are not expressions of who I am at my core, but kindness is. Compassion is. And yet, I’m human.
When fear, frustration, and fatigue took over it was very easy for me to lose connection to myself, to who I am at my core.
Taking perspective allowed me to find compassion through these challenges. It may seem like compassion is all about someone else, but compassion is also a guaranteed path back to your heart, to yourself. It returned me to me.
The important lesson I received last week was not in being “good enough” while managing a stressful situation, but in knowing that even when I am pushed beyond my capacity, barely managing, and overextended to the point of feeling wholly out of alignment, there is always a path back. What mattered most was that I was willing to acknowledge it and, subsequently, do something about it. For me, that meant asking a perspective-taking question. And I think that’s true for most of us, actually.
Brutus was just a dog, and the situation was certainly not extraordinary, but what if…
What if you took the same idea and applied it to family gatherings this holiday season? Or work situations?
Or… What if we applied the same premise to the refugee crisis? To homelessness? etc.
Fear, Frustration, and Fatigue are guaranteed to take us away from our best Self, from who we know ourselves to be at our core, in our hearts. When we pause and allow ourselves to take a different perspective – to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, if you will – we swing open the door to compassion and kindness. Compassion is the first step to returning to alignment when we’ve lost our way, both personally and globally.