Lessons in Compassion: #1

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One of the many things that has been good about this experience with fatigue is that it has offered me several  “lessons in compassion,” or as I prefer to call them, “opportunities to grow in compassion.”  🙂  As hard as I have tried over the years, as we all do, to be compassionate, to not judge, to be understanding of others who may do, say, believe, etc., differently than I do, I, of course, have not been able to do that always, in all circumstances, with every person!  I’m quite sure, in fact, that I’m nowhere near as good at it as I’d like to think I am!  Not only has this experience with fatigue proven that to me, but it has, kindly, given me opportunities to improve….  🙂

Lesson #1 had to do with people who have difficulty sleeping.  I had never been one of those people.  Never.  How could someone have trouble going to sleep?  You’re tired, you lie down, you close your eyes, you sleep!  How is that difficult?  Apparently, for some people, it can be, and that group has included both my husband and my children from time to time!  I used to be totally convinced that I was not only being compassionate but helpful when any of them complained of not being able to fall asleep.  With my kids, it was more likely to be when they were trying to go to sleep (and often, in fairness to me, it was within the first five minutes of being in bed!).  “Mommy!” I would hear. “I can’t get to sleep!”  To which I would routinely–albeit not-always-totally-compassionately–reply, “You’ve only been in bed for two minutes!  You’ve got to give yourself a little time to go to sleep!”  When the lament came after thirty or forty-five minutes, however, or even more, I would actually be more understanding and give them what I thought were genuinely helpful suggestions.  This was one of my favorites:  “Try to think of one good thing in your life for every letter of the alphabet….When you wake up tomorrow, I’ll ask you how far you got.”  Without fail, at some point after that, they would go to sleep.  Or at least, I would.  And after that, I could only assume they did, too!  🙂  Sooner than they might have otherwise, of course, because of my ever-so-helpful suggestion….  🙂

With my husband, it was more often a case of him waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep, which–unlike the kids!–he kindly would wait to tell me the next morning!  I felt badly, though, that he wasn’t getting enough sleep–poor guy!–and so I would offer him what I was sure were similarly helpful suggestions to those that I gave the kids.  Yes, my suggestions were unsolicited, but surely they would be helpful!!  On the rare, rare occasions over the course of my life that I had had any trouble sleeping, these had always worked for me; obviously they would work for him, too, if only he would give them a try….  So I suggested, for example, on more than one occasion, that he try meditating to stop his mind from racing, which he said was one of the reasons he couldn’t get back to sleep.  I even got him a CD on meditation to listen to, so convinced I was that it would work, if he would only give it a try….  He tried it.  It didn’t help.  I thought surely he was not doing it right….  Another practice that had worked for me every time (again, in those very infrequent moments that I’d had any trouble sleeping, ever…) was to very intentionally and very slowly relax every muscle in your body, starting from your toes and slowly, slowly, sloooooooowly working your way upward.  I had never gotten all the way up before I’d fallen asleep, totally and deeply relaxed.  Surely that would work for him.  He tried it.  it didn’t work.  He must not have been doing it slowly enough…. Hmm…well, I was out of suggestions, and pretty much out of compassion for him.  Seemed like one of my suggestions could have helped him get back to sleep if he had really tried, if he had believed it would work, if he had really wanted to get back to sleep…. Guess he really just didn’t want to badly enough…. “Guess it’s really just his own fault that he’s not sleeping well…. Guess we can talk about more in the morn–“…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..   Totally compassionate, completely understanding, and wholly nonjudgmental….!!  🙂

Well…it just so happened that there was a period of time during this whole experience with fatigue that, rather ironically, I was not sleeping well!!  Crazy, I know.  But true.  There was a week or so that I was really having a hard time going to sleep at night.  I thought maybe that was a sign that I no longer needed my afternoon nap, so I stopped them, cold turkey, for three days.  It didn’t help.  I just ended up feeling more exhausted during the day.  In the same vein that I had suggested meditation to my husband, I tried praying.  It didn’t help.  I did enjoy having the “extra” prayer time…but it did nothing to help me go to sleep!  I tried my never-fail “relax-every-muscle-in-your-body” technique.  For the first time ever, I got all the way to the top of my head (not even sure what muscles there are at the top of my head!…??)…and then just laid there, still awake, not sure what to do.  It didn’t work.  I even tried working my way through the alphabet, trying to think of good things.  Not only did it not help me go to sleep, I got terribly bored with it before I was halfway through!  Maybe I had just bored my kids to sleep with that little exercise….?!  🙂  Nothing worked.  I remember feeling as though my body had simply forgotten how to go to sleep.  It was a pretty unsettling feeling, and one I was not familiar with at all, and certainly one I would have scoffed at (at least in my head…) had my kids or husband ever uttered those words.  But it was true.  It was real.  It was frustrating!  And there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it, other than just wait it out.

Fortunately, it didn’t last very long.  By the time a week or so had passed, I was back to sleeping well again (even with my afternoon nap).  And not only was I far more appreciative of what truly is the gift of good sleep, but just as importantly (or even more?), I had learned that going to sleep is not necessarily a simple matter!  Nor does the inability to go to sleep have a simple solution.  Neither my husband nor my children (nor anyone else who might be experiencing any difficulty going to sleep near me in the future!  🙂  ) would ever have to deal with my know-it-all, what’s-wrong-with-you-just-go-to-sleep attitude, or simple, pat solutions to their sleep troubles again.  Through my brief experience of having difficulty sleeping, I had been given an opportunity to grow in compassion for those who experience that more often…. Lesson learned!  🙂

Lesson #2 had to do with people who are natural introverts.  Stay tuned!  🙂

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