("Kwan Yin" - Bodhisattva of Compassion - image from pinterest)
(There is a trigger warning for this post, I talk a little about death and cancer - if this is something you can't handle right now I totally get it, and I don't mind at all if you click away from this blog.)
The toughest time in my life ... no, I don't even have the language to fully describe this time in my life, all I can say it was awful, for me and my family, but I am speaking about the time, two years ago, that I lost my mum to cancer. I don't think it is something I can talk about fully yet, or even think about in deepest detail, because when I do think about it my thoughts instantly go to "was mum in pain?" "was mum scared?" "was mum sad?" ... but something that has opened up lately, and that I have spoken to people about regarding that time, has been about the nurses and the compassion that they showed for my mum.
I remember walking up to mum's hospital room - I had just gotten off a 24 hour international flight, I felt numb, and all I remember smelling were those hospital smells, antiseptic, hand wash, stale food, and bleach. But walking into mum's room all I could smell were roses, but there were no roses there, just mum, and a few of her belongings on her bedside table. She lay so still and quiet, I grasped her hand and then I realised, the roses I could smell was her hand cream. Her hands felt so smooth and soft, and after a lifetime of hearing her complain about her cracked and dry hands, it was lovely to know that even in her illness, her hands were at least looked after. My sister then told me that each day a nurse would come in and take some of mum's hand cream, warm it in her hands, and then massage mum's hands and and feet.
To witness compassion is to bear witness to humanity. To see someone acknowledge that another suffers, and within their understanding and power to do what eases said suffering. A simple act (such as the nurse that massaged my mum's hands and feet) that adds dignity, respect, and love, to a person's suffering is the ultimate act of compassion; each moment of your waking day you can show simple compassion, to others, yourself, animals, or plants.
Bearing witness to compassion can be uplifting and it can bring tears to your eyes, as that sense of shared humanity resonates through our very hearts, values, and virtues. It is through bearing witness to compassion that we can be moved to be compassionate ourselves, and so I direct you to this TED talk by Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax - where she talks about compassion within the context of illness and death, and how through seeing (and feeling) the very bitter, beautiful, and sad end of life, we can come to see our own suffering, be present with suffering, and aim to ease suffering.
One pertinent thing that came out of Joan's talk for me was when she says to be truly compassionate "we cannot attach to the outcome." To be compassionate is to be present to suffering right now. The nurses that nursed my mum, that massaged her hands and feet right up until her last few hours, they did what they did from the heart of compassion, they knew that her death was inevitable, but that does not mean her humanity was any less.
What compassionate moment have you witnessed?
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright