By Marcee Murray King

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto is nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

-Emily Dickinson

Stumbling through life, tripping and falling again and again, I often felt that I didn’t deserve to get up one more time, although living a life of compassion towards and serving others was as natural as breathing to me. Or so I thought.

Where was my self-compassion, that loving-kindness I tried to show others? Where was my compassion towards those I disliked, or disagreed with? Was I truly living a compassionate life?

Somewhere, somehow, it felt I had lost my path. My self-loathing and negative self-talk was nothing new, but I began to see that I could not be present and live a life of compassion in the world if I could not find it for myself.

It was so easy to choose to volunteer to help others, such as my work with Special Olympics. It was easy to pick jobs that involved service to others, from midwife and herbalist to special education teacher, always adding to my service skill-set. Yet it was impossible to choose the path of compassion for myself…I couldn’t find my way. It was, in fact, my inability do this that led me to stepping out of these roles.

How could I be a healer and teacher to others, guiding them towards lives of kindness and compassion when I couldn’t do that for myself? I felt I had nothing genuine left to offer.

In trying to find my way, I needed to focus on me for a while. I needed to find a way to fix the negative loop I played non-stop in my head, to learn to be vulnerable and take chances again.

To save the world, I had to save myself.

I chose an unusual route. I enrolled in Yoga North’s 200 level yoga teacher training program. Having had a life-long love of yoga, I thought I could find my way out through the study of the philosophy of yoga, and Yoga North’s flier appeared before me within an hour after a morning of deeply-centered asana practice and meditation. After much internal struggle (“You can’t afford this. You don’t deserve this. What’s the point?…nothing is going to change…”) I followed my gut feelings and my heart. I enrolled in their program.

I knew, at my core, that I needed this.

So much has been required of me in these studies, which I have approached with great love and reverence as well as trepidation. My heart has been laid wide open…and I want it to stay this way. The studies have been so life-changing that I decided that I would actually teach yoga (not necessarily part of the original plan) and continued on to their 500 level training. I am now enrolled in their yoga therapy program. I needed to continue the self-work that I began.

I am being re-shaped, like clay, into a new vessel. I would say maybe I was saved by grace.

  • I have quieted the mean voices in my head, and when they get going I can now tell them to hush, by noticing patterns of when and how they arise.
  • I learned to forgive my estranged mother months before I found out she had the cancer that killed her.
  • In our yoga studies in a cadaver lab, I was instantly a vegetarian again…and so much happier!
  • I quickly and easily transitioned to becoming a vegan—something I thought I could never do and (I confess!) I just thought was nuts—because I felt the suffering of animals even to provide cheese was a sin…and it feels so much more congruent with my life.
  • I can honestly say I love myself now—a beautiful way to feel these last two years.

By finding compassion for myself and trying to practice ahimsa (non-violence) in all aspects of my life, I have found it much easier to step back into a life of service and compassion for others.

I have learned a lot about how I lived out my compassion for others. Compassion came easily, when on my terms. What about the co-worker that just gets right up my nose? What about those TRUMP supporters and their craziness? What about all the little ways I block people in life, harden my heart because- well, because I wasn’t able to be compassionate?

“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”  ~ from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

I am learning how to find loving kindness and compassion for those I don’t care for, those I might actively dislike. By doing so, I can find that my heart is more open naturally, and that I actually begin losing those feelings of dislike. I am even changing the words I use to describe these things. By walking head-on into my own shadows, I find that I am more naturally open-hearted towards others. Working with my shadows is making me even kinder to myself and to the world around me.

All of this has led me to…tentatively…take small brave steps back into the world, back into true service to others and learning to live a life of genuine compassion and love. I feel, for the first time, that I am on the path of congruency between my internal and external worlds, making me far more effective in my healing practice, in teaching and in life, bring forth true loving kindness and compassion.

define compassion


Photo: Wikimedia

Editor: Peter Schaller