on compassionate community, septic tanks, and toast & jam with a nice cuppa

It’s a rainy Friday and I’ve successfully managed to navigate through a wild week of the ego roller coaster.  Success, of course, is not defined as achieving anything momentous but rather a capacity to stay with whatever is unfolding.  And this week it ranged from the ego-dizzying peaks of public talks to the crash of discovering our septic system is in need of attention.

You have to admit, reading the snip to the left, that we mindfulness practitioners tend to be a rather strange lot.  Or maybe it was only that I was Twittering with the Oxford Mindfulness Clinic whose Brit humour was quite appreciated in my moment of dire need.  Who else would suggest having a cuppa as we contemplate the exudate of our sack of blood and pus!

Well, the true practice of mindfulness is to find the surprise in the center of turmoil, the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the ordinary in the overblown.

Let me rewind.  The week was originally scattered through with several interviews for police officers wanting to make a transition to our local constabulary.  I tend to enjoy this facet of my life because it is a nice change from the inexhaustible flow of pain and suffering.  I’m being honest here; even we shrinks with all our pistons firing in the empathy engine look for some variety in the object of our concern.  This meant it was a relatively light week to get to the fiscal bottom line (they pay rather well) and when I ran into a schedule conflict for some public talks, I simply re-scheduled all three to the same week.

The first two talks were sweet.  Two hours of sharing the intricacies of mindfulness practice with physicians and other health care professionals on one day (they paid in chocolate) and a delightful lecture to a group undergrads at my alma mater on the second day (their prof paid in a Starbucks gift card).  I love doing this sort of thing.  It’s not just a chance to educate on mindfulness practices; it’s an important opportunity to dispel the myths and other ridiculous ideas we in the profession have about mindfulness.

The third talk was a heart-clencher.  There’s a new Kid in town called Mindfulness Ottawa which hopes to be a community of professionals who do what such groups do.  It’s a brave initiative and I’m 100% behind it.  Who doesn’t need a supportive community for the tough and gruff times?  Besides, they asked me to be the keynote speaker.  Brain-swell like that you can’t turn down (I didn’t know they wouldn’t be paying in chocolate).  The pressure on my rational center was enough that I wore a strapless black dress, high heels, and a red leather jacket.  (I’m assured that my big toes will not need amputation.)

In preparing the talk, I reflected on the many ways in which I have failed in trying to build compassionate community.  At one level, I don’t believe I have the personality that is soft-hearted enough.  And it’s not a contradiction to say I also don’t have a personality that is tough-minded enough.  To build a community that can fold in all manner of personalities does require a softness to flow with and a toughness to deflect all manner of challenges.  And yet… as we all introduced ourselves, it became apparent that two-thirds of the attendees had trained in our clinic and announced themselves having us (Frank and I) as their teachers.  Oh alright… some said “inspiration.”

I cried.

This is not how it’s supposed to go.  There’s supposed to be this slow and steady ramp up to fame and then ignominy in our dotage.  We were supposed to either schmooze our way into the limelight and be adored or work in relative obscurity only to be discovered sipping a shake at a local soda pop shop of mindfulness.   It wasn’t supposed to happen that one day we would show up with heart in throat to deliver a talk on “laying down the path to compassionate community” only to discover it had already happened.

I won’t complain.  These are good people.  And, truth be told, I am proud of what we have unwittingly accomplished and of every one of them as they lay down new paths in saving beings from suffering.  And… and… if they are still deluded in thinking their passion comes from some earthly source, who am I to argue – especially when some of them are frustrated pastry chefs who use me as their guinea piggy.

This is practice – tough, tough practice.  It unfolds deep in the heart of our experience as we, blinded by our self-importance, stumble about tramping down a peripatetic path.

I may never wear high heels again – at least not without having my feet bound.  I may never fit in that strapless black dress or red leather jacket again.  (Perhaps I should make that a metta practice: may I never…)

Certainly I will not as I tramp around trying to figure out what’s gone wrong with my septic system.

9 thoughts on “on compassionate community, septic tanks, and toast & jam with a nice cuppa

  1. Thank you Genju!You are so funny with your words…you had me smiling with ” shrinks with all our pistons firing in the empathy engine look for some variety in the object of our concern.”

    “The ridiculous myths about mindfulness in our practice” is what it really is, ridiculous. Recently I was at a seminar where a senior clinician who chaired the talk on mindfulness concluded that “Mindfulness interventions is basically the easy way out for the therapist, who now dont have to work on cognition (as he would in CBT) so if you dont want to do “the work”, go ahead and ask the client to accept his problems.” I wanted to hurl my shoe at him. Another myth that I would love debuked is that in order to use mindfulness interventions a certain level of psychological mindedness is necessary 😐

    It is amazing to hear about the compassionate community you talk about. I will come and learn from you one of these days 🙂

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