Marching for Compassion

Marching for Compassion

Last week my daughter came down with chicken pox. Half term, lots planned and now housebound for seven days. Wonderful! Yet, as that familiar inner matron kicked in and I began the inevitable fussing and organising, I realised this was not an excuse to play top mum. It was an opportunity to stop and re asses.

Compassion has been bouncing on and off my radar a lot recently. A few months ago the amazing Shalini, who I met briefly at a conference, invited me to be part of a team setting up a free 28 day programme called Compassionate Me. I was honoured. After nine of us met to brainstorm ideas of the different things we could offer to help build, promote and support a practical and exciting scheme, I have been giving a lot of thought as to how I could make twenty eight days of March more memorable and powerful.

So, in a moment of rare peace and quiet, while my spotty little one sat glued to the high pitched squeal that is the Disney channel, I decided to ask myself a few key questions to help me focus on my thoughts towards compassion and how I would like to be involved with this project.

What do I think compassion means?
To me, compassion is being aware of how you treat others and how kind and caring you are to them and yourself. A while back, a film called Pay It Forward came out, about a boy whose school set a project where each child had to do a good dead. The recipient then had to do a good deed for three other people, rather than paying it back. It was an assignment to put into action a plan to change the world for the better. How rewarding would it be to know that because of one random act of kindness, you were infecting the world with more happiness! Compassion means noticing ourselves and listening to others. It means living life in a society where there is less fear and negativity and a little more selflessness.

Do I think I already show some compassionate? If so, how?
I consider myself a good person. I can’t do enough for friends and family. I am still a fan of snail mail and love sending cards to friends for birthdays as well as anyone going through challenging times. I mentor others who have been through cancer treatment and are struggling to adapt to life afterwards and watching them find the confidence and self esteem to fly again is incredible.


Why do I feel I want to be more compassionate?
I have been reading a lot about compassion and it has dawned on me that if I wanted to practice true compassion towards others it had to start with myself or where was the sustainability? It may sound selfish but from what I have read, I reckon this might actually be a bit of a wake up call on lots of levels, including knowing my limits and learning a bit more about myself. Truth be told, I am very good at caring about others but not always me! I often criticise and judge my actions and the things I say. I excel at putting myself under pressure and compare myself to everyone and everything from Barbie to Mother Teresa! Its time to lighten up!

How have others shown me compassion in the past?
I feel lucky to say I have some amazing experiences of others showing compassion towards me. My most memorable was ten years ago. A stranger came up to me in a restaurant one evening. I was wearing a head scarf while going through cancer treatment. He approached our table and apologised for interrupting but asked how I was doing. He then told me I would be ok, I would fight this and get through it and I looked amazing. He said he had been through it and it was important to show some solidarity. I was blown away and have carried this random act of kindness with me to this day. The girls I was with however, decided the headscarf look was clearly a great one for attracting members of the opposite sex!

Throughout my experiences fighting the big C, I found that the kindness and compassion demonstrated by doctors, nurses, volunteers, patients, friends, family as well as strangers, was incredible but I feel strongly that this sort of care and consideration shouldn’t just be valued when we are unwell or going through a challenging time or dealing with professionals whose job it is to care for others, but in every day life to every day people, for no particular reason at all, except because it could make all the difference to someones day.


What do I think I will find challenging?
Being kind to ourselves need only involve sitting for five minutes with a cup of tea (and drinking the whole thing while its still hot and maybe sneaking in a chocolate cookie too!) or having a long soak in the bath at night (again, while it is still hot and not luke warm! Are you noticing a theme?!) because it is really hard to appreciate any time for ourselves. We are so good at being busy, but never truly nurturing us.

The idea of walking up to a perfect stranger offering to buy him a coffee or helping an OAP pack her shopping will definitely be a push out of my comfort zone. I will have to perfect the skill of anonymously leaving pay it forward cards around Surrey without looking like Im stalking someone but surely that is one of the main reasons I want to do this? To make a small dent in the often insular attitude society seems to display so often.

What do I think will help me stick to this programme?
I have noticed how much more motivated I am if I am in a group environment. Take swimming; I have been recommended to swim once a week but can I get to a pool? I find swimming a very solitary sport and unless it is a class and I know people going, I find it hard to motivate myself. A programme like Compassionate Me could be perfect as it is an active forum of people with similar goals. I love the idea of weekly support tips, daily videos and blogs to help inspire and make me feel part of a network.

Mindfulness and compassion go hand in hand. With the fast paced lives we all live, it is easy to miss things and overlook special moments, the small things about ourselves as well as others. To sit in peace and stillness (is once a day asking too much?) focusing on the intentions for the day will be a really good habit to commit to more affectively.


How can I make my experience a bit different and stay motivated?
For my role in the team, I have offered to vlog daily about all the things I am doing to be more compassionate while following the weekly themes. This will be interesting! Writing is my safety blanket but I have never vlogged before, so in an effort to be compassionate to myself, I want to give myself this opportunity. I like to think that by doing this, I will be demonstrating compassion to others too by sharing and showing what we, as the team, are doing so others can draw support and encouragement from us.

At the end of the day, we are all individuals. We are all unique. Surely compassion encompasses all the elements of uniting our differences and celebrating what amazing people we are through love, kindness, respect and consideration ultimately creating more happiness, but this does take a lot of practice. It isn’t easy. From what I can tell, the first step is awareness. Some days will be harder than others, but if we begin a process like this and we are willing to take the next steps, compassion will naturally grow. If we only do one good deed for someone else this month, imagine the shift in positivity and the wave of smiles on peoples faces from one end of the globe to another. Now how heartwarming is that? x
Facebook; compassionateme
Twitter; @Compassion2016
Instagram; @compassionate_me


Guest Blog; Writing Saved Me

In the first of the Samspaces Guest Blogs I want to introduce Jenny. I met Jenny through the Spero App (more info on that coming soon) and after reading a few of her blogs, so much of her passion for writing resonated with me and I asked her to help illustrate why it can be so healing to write. Over the next few months I will be featuring other guest blogs from other amazing people I have met and know, who have all found a positive focus, either through a creative channel or other types of exercise or other holistic therapies. I will still be blogging about all the things I have tried but by including other peoples experiences, I hope there will be a bigger community of us sharing all the different things that can help us through. 


When I was seven years old, my mother gave me the closet in her study. It was a space just large enough for a few crucial supplies, and my small body. First we moved in a miniature futon, which barely lay flat along the floor. Then some pillows, a small lamp and an even smaller shelf that held my notebooks and paper and pens. There was no door, so we nailed a curtain—dark purple, I believe—that hung from frame to floor. I taped quotes and post cards of inspiring places on the walls. And day upon day, I curled up in that room and wrote myself through elementary school. By the time I outgrew my closet, I also felt like I was outgrowing my life, but I was still painfully stuck in it. And so, I wrote myself through that, as well. Before I left home for college, I packed all of my writing notebooks into an old suitcase and asked my mother to please, please take it with her if by some chance our home ever caught fire.

When I was growing up, I wrote because I had to. Not because someone else told me I had to write, but because my body demanded it of me. When my seven-year old friends banded together to exclude me for the day, I would go home to the closet-converted-into-a-writing room and write poem after bad poem about friendship, loneliness, betrayal. When my parents filled up the house with all their silent anger at one another, I crawled into my refuge and wrote. When I had a scary dream, or an exciting crush, or an angry fight, I pulled out my notebook and wrote. Because if I didn’t, I felt I would crumble, or explode, or drown.

Writing got me through childhood, and more recently, it got me through breast cancer.

When I was diagnosed one month before my 40th birthday, my life stopped for a couple of days, and then for the next few weeks, it sped up with that breathless schedule of doctor’s appointments and tests and second opinions and fights with insurance companies and conversations with family and planning for what was to come. I felt a fear I’d never known before—the fear that I wouldn’t get to see my children grow up. I felt a gratitude I never would have expected in such times: what an outpouring of support from all corners of my life! I felt a strength that I didn’t know I had. And I felt a desperate need to write.

For days, because of the breathless schedule, I seemed unable to secure even ten minutes for myself. When I finally did, I snuck off to my bedroom much the same way I used to sneak off to my closet, and I poured the swirls of questions and emotion and logistics onto the page; and for the first time in almost two weeks, I felt like I could breath. It was like I turned myself inside out, hosed out the chaos, and then settled back into my bones for the first time since my diagnosis.


When I think about what helped carry me through the last year of grueling breast cancer treatment, I think about my amazing community of family and friends, and I think about my writing. (Okay, I also think about my couch and Netflix and anti-nausea meds, but mostly I think about my family, my friends and my writing.)

Cancer has been a transformative experience for me. Cancer turned my life upside down and turned me inside out in terrifying-exhilarating-inspiring ways. (Terrifying, of course, but yes, also exhilarating and inspiring.)

I know many people with a cancer diagnosis resent the notion that cancer could ever be a gift, and so I am self-conscious at times about talking and writing about my own experience in this way. Would I ever ask for breast cancer? No. Would I ever wish breast cancer on another? No. But neither can I say I would wish it all away at this point, because in many ways, my diagnosis propelled me forward. (That said, at least for the time being, it looks like cancer is not going to take me from my children before they are grown, which of course is not the case for far too many women with a breast cancer diagnosis. So in different shoes, I imagine I would wish it all away.)

In her beautifully inspiring book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

…surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you.

The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.

When I talk about “creative living” here, please understand that I am not necessarily talking about pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts… I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

I am three months out of treatment and deeply immersed in exploring who I really am, who I want to be and what kind of life I want to live now that I have faced death in a way that many people don’t until they are much older than I am. Writing allows me to do this work—it allows me to do this terrifying-exhilarating-inspiring exploration. (So do many other things, like: privilege; a wise therapist and equally wise friends; an off-the-charts supportive husband; parents who encourage me to find and follow my passion; children who make me want to unearth and model my very best self.) Writing is how I make sense of my insides. Writing is how I make sense of the world around me. Writing is how I come home to myself and also how I put myself out into the world.

Writing is how I find my buried treasure, and since my breast cancer diagnosis, I am more committed and curious than ever in the dig.

© Jenny Binh Bender, 2015

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