Most Pagans I know are pretty nice people. They will drop everything to help a friend in need. They respond to healing requests that are broadcast by acquaintances over social media and participate in activism in a quest to heal the earth and bring justice to the world. We value that watery ideal of compassion and seek to manifest it in the world.
However, there is one place where we often forget to have compassion. In many ways, it’s the most important place our compassion needs to be. Yet, whether it’s from a cultural socialization that tells us that this kind of compassion is selfish, a Maslovian/Eriksonian need to generate good things for others, or just a true desire to help our friends, we often forget one important recipient of our cup of compassion.
We forget ourselves.
I include myself in this. The last two weeks have been pretty nasty for me. I have had constant headaches for those two weeks. At first it was annoying, then it was exasperating, then it was downright depressing. In the thick of it I began to lose touch with who I am.
In my job it’s often easier to go to work than to miss when you’re sick, so I dragged myself to work every day and gritted it out. I had deadlines and timelines to worry about. I kept up my regular exercise schedule, because damn it I was going to meet my commitments (plus the headaches always went away when I was running). It’s January, the month of “no excuses” when it comes to exercise.
Like many people, I refuse to be the person that doesn’t meet his/her responsibilities. People get headaches all the time, right? They still do their job; they still take care of their kids. They still chop wood and carry water.
Now I think I’m recovering. The answer was simple: Water.
I mean that both physically and esoterically. The headaches seem to have been caused by the combination of an injury and dehydration from exercise. My body needed extra water to heal the injured muscles in my head, and I was sweating all my water out while running.
At the same time, I needed to have more compassion for myself. All that concern with the pressures of work and living up to my self-expectations was only making it worse. I took Friday off and drank a ton of water. Today I woke up feeling exponentially better than I have in weeks.
I don’t think my experience is unique. Trooping through your own problems is a value that I believe is deeply held by our society. Compassion for ourselves is often a neglected virtue. As in my situation, ignoring that compassion really just makes our physical lives worse. When we take the time to drink of that cup ourselves, we create a person who is more able to effectively meet their responsibilities.
A healthy person is a better employee. A healthy person is a better lover. A healthy person is a better friend. Being compassionate to ourselves is not egotistical or selfish. It helps us better serve our jobs, our friends, and the world. In that way, it may be one of the most selfless acts you can perform.
Of course, there are limits to this. Compassion for self does not mean wallowing in your own misfortunes or taking too much from others. It doesn’t mean skipping out on work every time you feel a sniffle in your nose or a tinge of pain in your temple. It means being mindful of your body, its true needs, and your true will.
If you don’t find compassion within, you will never find it without. Our lives are long, but the path is not always straight. There are pit stops and watering holes along the way. There may be long, dry stretches, painful stretches. If you replenish yourself the watering holes, you’ll be better off as you cross the desert.