There is a widely told story that speaks to the value of compassion. It seems that a woman who lived a Tao-centered life came upon a precious stone while sitting by the banks of a running stream in the mountains, and she placed this highly valued item in her bag.
The next day, a hungry traveler approached the woman and asked for something to eat. As she reached into her bag for a crust of bread, the traveler saw the precious stone and imagined how it would provide him with financial security for the remainder of his life. He asked the woman to give the treasure to him, and she did, along with some food. He left, ecstatic over his good fortune and the knowledge that he was now secure.
A few days later the traveler returned and handed back the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he told her. “Although I know how valuable this is, I’m returning it to you in the hopes that you could give me something even more precious.”
“What would that be?” the woman inquired.
“Please give me what you have within yourself that enabled you to give me that stone.”
The woman in this story was living her life from a sacred place of compassion.
I heard this story from Dr. Wayne Dyer, although it was not written by him. It’s brilliant and when he shared it on one of his latest seminars, it overwhelmed me to tears. So often we reach for the things that seem incredibly important during the course of our lives, yet we miss the mark completely.
What does this have to do with recovery? Well, for me it is a great reminder about a day I was in treatment and I couldn’t break free from this incredible pain I was having in my neck. It was a familiar pain. I’d been carrying it, on and off, for at least a decade. The pain was stress, and it was my constant companion, but sometimes it became so uncomfortable, that I could almost cry. One of my counsellors was leading our group that day and she noticed my awkward stance. I was stiff, and bore my unease on my face. “I’m just stressed,” I tell her, and then I continue to list all the things that contributed to my physical discomfort.
She listened as I went on and on about the stuff I was dealing with, which was nothing much (in retrospect). Life had a grip on me, and little things that “normal” people consider “part of life,” overwhelmed me to no avail. Finally, I finished my personal saga, and my counsellor said one thing to me. “You have no compassion for yourself.”
Needless to say, I was a bit stunned. This didn’t quite make sense to me at the time, but I trusted this woman enough to take heed, and to hear what she was truly saying to me. I was searching for the treasure in this statement. After saying this, she added, “You are always in a state of stress. This is what you do to yourself. This is common for you.” Well, duh… But I hadn’t once considered that the stress I carried was a result of the way I filtered things. I was under the impression that life was always stressful. NO, as usual, I was creating my experience, and stress was my “go to” emotion. I understood this loud and clear, and it has taken several years since this moment for me to live without stressing out all the time, but the compassion part… well, that took some deep consideration on my part.
Today, I recall this statement, “You have no compassion for yourself,” on a daily basis. It took me some time to understand what my counsellor was trying to tell me. It’s a very simple thing, yet because she was right on (as usual), what she said was foreign to me. I lived my life punishing myself, you see, and while I was in treatment, I made things harder than they actually were, because I felt like I deserved to go through hell after living such a harrowing existence. I believed that recovery was a road of drudging after many years of self-destruction. I had no idea that I was allowed to treat myself with kindness, and to let go of my past. I was under the assumption that I had to attack all of my demons, rather than allowing them to rise up one at a time and deal with them in a natural process called “healing.” I was scared of myself, but there I was doing everything I could for myself to get better. I should have recognized my willingness, rather than approach myself as a failure.
The treasure the woman had in the story can be anything to anyone. I suppose the treasure for me this year, has been a desire to have a successful, blissful relationship with a man I love, but that simply did not pan out. When I first met him, and everything seemed to fall right into place, I grabbed onto the relationship as if it were a gem. I just believed in it so deeply. And then our year together began, and the year is up today, but we didn’t make it. I feel like an incredible failure, but I’m remembering that statement, “You have no compassion for yourself,” and as I review the year with this man, I am seeking something more here, than what I first thought was important. Besides pulling through an entire year moving to a new town, taking on a new job, taking on the role as a full-time mom again, writing and publishing several manuscripts, and going through a breakup, I have also experienced incredible bouts of stress and anxiety, but I didn’t pick up a drink or a drug to alleviate my troubles. No, I went through this year sober, and most of the time, I didn’t even once think of drinking. This is the treasure in my life that I truly desired. The treasure wasn’t a happy relationship, a perfect life, or being successful as a writer. All these things are important to me, but beyond them, I desire to remain sober. And that’s pretty much it.
I think we all tend to focus on the shimmering lights in life, but beyond the lights, is something greater holding everything together. That something greater, is simply compassion. Compassion is the cosmic thread of life that unites all living things. It seals the sphere of humanity into harmony. If we can practice compassion in our daily endeavors, we will discover a truly profound treasure and the greatest gift of all.