This is true even now, when life has taken a turn we never expected. My husband’s intellectual prowess was one of the first things that drew me to him. And he was the one who saw my potential and encouraged me to develop my own particular brand of wisdom. So, facing the diagnosis of his dementia was an incredible shock. But, even in the face of its relentless progresses, he skillfully finds many alternate coping strategies.
I think we have a good life – a relatively happy life. And surely we have been blessed. We love each other and I have a great deal of compassion for what my husband is dealing with. I also know that, most of the time, I support him in a manner that reflects the depth of that compassion. And yet, sometimes I feel as if I am failing.
There are times when I feel I am not compassionate enough. How can that be? Surely love is the basis for compassion, and I love him and want things to go as well as possible for him. I know he needs loving support – maybe more than anything else.
So what’s going on? I began to meditate on my understanding of love which brought me back to my roots. As a young child I had a strong loving relationship with my maternal grandmother. She spent a great deal of time with me and loved me unconditionally. And so, as I struggled with my feelings I found myself remembering and re-feeling how it was to be with her. Just being in that place and letting her love envelope and flow through me, I felt comfort.
As I sat there it was as if love was flowing into my body and expanding my heart. I just basked in this wonderful experience, and then, as I felt this love begin to overflow, I included thoughts of my husband in the feelings of love and acceptance. And as I did so, a surprising thing happened.
Although I had begun this contemplation feeling I needed to be more compassionate towards my husband, what I felt first was more compassion for myself! I hadn’t expected this. But compassion simply welled up as I recognized the challenges we face in our life together. Ensuring that things flow smoothly, dealing with the day-to-day details, and keeping our life as creative and interesting as possible is not easy. The pressure of getting things done in a timely fashion, having to re-do things, and responding to new issues as they present themselves, all of these prompted an outpouring of compassion for myself as I realized just how difficult this really is.
As surprised as I was by the love and compassion I felt for myself, what surprised me even more was that I felt compassion for myself for the times that I wasn’t as supportive and compassionate as I intended. Not that I thought it was okay. But I began to see how the way I’d been berating myself was something other than simply a desire to be compassionate. It was my perfectionist tendency beating me up every time I thought I’d missed the mark. And I felt compassion for myself yet again. From this place of loving presence, I found love and compassion for myself even when I was less than perfect – when I wasn’t perfectly compassionate. And something just relaxed inside. It was okay! I was doing my best. And I found I could accept the times when I tried and failed – and move on to try again. I could treat myself with the same kindness, caring, and compassion I would show a good friend. This was a wonderful revelation, but there was more.
As I remained in this place of deep loving presence with my husband I began to sense his struggles afresh. The awareness of the challenges he faces, the frustrations he lives with, and the grace with which he handles it all, allowed a sense of his heart’s struggles to vibrate in a new way in mine. Could tuning in to this vibration become my anchor? Could it help me in my intention?
This gentle connection with my husband became the door to greater presence and awareness of the times when my compassion was threatened. Usually – when I was trying to get something done by a certain time. Yes, you’ve guessed it; it was that very familiar “perfectionist” part raising its head yet again.
It was incredibly healing to discover that, in my personal situation, compassion was sometimes being hijacked by perfectionism. I even felt compassion for my old familiar perfectionist part – that desire to get things right has served me well. It helped me to succeed in my studies, my work, and even in organizing and running our home and social life. But, quite clearly, in this case it had become too powerful. In this particular situation, perfection had begun to think it was in charge. And I had let it!
But, now that I realized what was happening, it was up to me to provide some leadership. Do I continue to follow my perfectionist tendencies, or do I recognize that no one is perfect, and nurture my newly found compassion for myself and my loved one? Will I be the critic or offer compassion? In theory there is no contest. But in reality it requires considerable effort and constant vigilance. It is not easy!
It is my choice to determine what I will attend to as we move forward. And I intend to be more attuned to that flutter of compassion for myself when I fail and for my husband when he struggles. It is my role to tell that familiar and insistent perfectionist part when it needs to be quiet. Things don’t always have to be done in a particular way, and some things don’t have to be done at all. Being on time is an ideal, but some days things may take more time than I expect.
It is up to me to become more aware, to recognize the moments of opportunity and deepen my attention; to take a deep breath, and to connect with my heart as well as his. It is up to me to calm my perfectionism and to tune into my compassion. It is my choice, and I have chosen to fan the flame of my newly-expanded compassion.