I have recently come to the harsh awareness that over the summer, despite my diligent efforts in some areas (meditation, yoga, being accountable), I managed to become no less than a full-blown jerk.
I despise jerks.
At first, I met this revelation with denial.
Surely this isn’t me, a jerk? A cranky a**hole? How is this possible?
Next came avoidance.
Further jerkish behavior inevitably ensued. My partner pointing out how unpleasant I was being brought the sad truth home.
This summer I had evolved into a snarky, cranky, rude, overtired and frazzled version of myself.
Upon this realization, and acceptance, I set about figuring out how to change this awful reality. Obviously there are worse things to be than a jerk—but treating my loved ones like I don’t have time for them, being generally unpleasant and rushed and failing to quiet my monkey-mind makes for a fairly nasty person.
I believe absolutely (the kind of belief that I’ll raise my voice about, raise my arms about, make signs about) that compassion will save us as a species. That the love we show to one another, despite all the hatred, anger, war, strife of every kind, and bigotry is probably the most important thing we can offer the world on a day to day basis. How did I fall so far from my intended path?
I forgot to show myself compassion.
I forgot to take care of my most basic needs. I lost track of my essential heart-song, my day to day spirit, the Keeley-ness that is at the core of my being. I stopped sleeping. I forgot to eat. I was so busy doing, I forgot how important it was to just be sometimes. To be present. To be grateful.
We are reminded regularly that we need to take care of ourselves before others, that we cannot offer anyone anything if we burn ourselves out, but it was shockingly easy to trick myself into thinking I could take on more and more tasks, more endeavors, without my life suffering. So I was a little tired? So I felt a little run-down? I’d catch up later, I told myself.
Later never comes, when we get stuck in a busy-cycle. That nap I planned to take, in my case, got postponed for months.
It wasn’t until my relationships were being negatively affected in a powerful way that I finally recognized I needed to get a grip on things. Scale back, rest, eat, sleep. Take care of myself first.
It hurts, recognizing that one has really made quite a mistake. It was humbling, and painful, to be told by others that my behaviour was getting in the way of my relationship with them, that I wasn’t fun to be around anymore, that I had changed.
Somewhere in this process, I emailed a long diatribe to a friend of mine, writing out my exasperations and stresses and failures. She gently reminded me of the key thing that was missing from my situation—compassion—and as we said goodbye she left me with some simple words that I’ve held onto since that moment.
“We are all just learning.”
What a reminder. After all, in this vast Universe, with all its complexities and inexplicable wonders, least of all the subtleties and intricacies of human nature and relationships, what else can we be but humble students? Mistakes will inevitably be made, and the best choice, the right move, the next best thing, must be to simply move forward, one simple lesson and step at a time.
With those words, that mantra—I am just learning—I was able to show compassion to myself, and start to improve my behaviour. I looked at my scattered, chaotic schedule and pared down to what is important. I am trying to demonstrate to those I love that hurricane-woman (at least for now) has exited the building. I wake up each morning and remind myself that there is nothing so important that it is worth angry haste, or losing out on time with those I love.
Such a simple lesson, yet I know I will be applying it again and again to my life as I, ever so humanly, make mistakes, re-evaluate, try to improve.
Compassion first, for ourself and others.
We are all just learning.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Nicholas Alejandro/Flickr