The Sweltering Heat of Parade Practice
Your left. Your left. Your left, right. Right on left. Your left. Your left, right. As the First Sergeant called the cadence, I could feel the grey wool pants pull at the hair on my calves. It was a little known secret that military school gives you discipline and really smooth calves. As we swung our arms out, I could feel the sweat build up under my black cap, and the weight of my sword as it moved up and then down my shoulder. At least the walking was taking my mind off the heat, but then we stopped on the parade ground, easily a hundred yards of black asphalt.
After coming to a brief attention, our bodies locked up as a sign of respect and anticipation of orders to come, we were called to stand at ease. Our job was to wait for the band to pass by, and this long wait proved grueling given the weather conditions. One of my fellow leaders had not heeded the morning tactical officer’s advice to hydrate. All 200 pounds of him collapsed on to the ground making a small thumping sound; a sound I had not heard since I was in elementary school playing tackle football.
My shoulders began to tense from the previous night’s workout, and the dreaded itchy nose was a foot. The suffering was unavoidable and upon me, and I needed a self-compassionate way out. So, I noticed the heaviness of my limbs, the sweat pooling from my brow, the hot sun bearing down on my wool dress uniform, my red sash, sword, and black shoes. Then, a thought occurred to me. If I am stuck out here, maybe I could use this as a time to talk to someone I love.
Bringing Kindness to Suffering Through Contact
So, I projected myself out of my body into a cooler place in my mind, and began to have a conversation with my older brother, David. I told him about my classes. I told him about my involvement in a horse driven therapy for people with disabilities called Thorncroft, and how much their hugs and high fives of thanks meant to me. I told him about all the schools that I hoped I to transfer into (my military college was only a two year institution), and about my worries of not being accepted.
I told him that I would study in cafes about 20 miles away from campus on the weekend when I could get away, and how I would pretend that I lived a normal life, dressed in normal clothes, with a normal girlfriend, simply enjoying a normal weekend. I told him how great it was to work in the cadet bookstore, and how much I liked the people with whom I worked.
He asked about my responsibilities as a part of the chain of command. I told him that I enjoyed representing the school’s highest ideals. I loved being part of a solid community of guys I trusted, and respected, I but found it difficult to dole out punishment. I also admitted that when all had gone to sleep for the night, and I was still studying, I would take breaks to try to wield my sword as I had seen done in martial arts films and the star wars movies.
I could hear them call us back to attention from outside our conversation, and told him that I had to go. He gave me what we call the brother hug (how we imagine bears would embrace), and we offered each other our love. Marching back to my barracks on that hot Sunday, I felt surprisingly good.
Finding Self-Compassion in Relationship
Normally, Parade practice, especially in the sweltering heat, would suck up all my energy, and lead to rack time (in military school we called beds, racks), but I was not so tired this day. At the time, I thought this well-being came from good time management. I found time to be at parade practice, and talk to my brother. Between military, academic, and public service responsibilities, I had little time.
Now, I realize that after days of tireless work, and in the smoldering sun, I found a way to practice self-compassion. I acknowledged my suffering. Made space for it and accepted it. Let’s be honest. Where was I going to go? I was lined up with hundreds of guys at Parade Practice. Then, I brought kindness to my experience by inviting myself to converse with someone I loved. Not only did it help the time pass, but I felt more connected to my brother, who was hundreds of miles away, and this connection revitalized me.
Using the Self-Compassion Tool of Projection Connection
No matter where you are, you always have access to the people you love in your mind and in your heart. You know them so well. You know their idiosyncratic facial expressions, their body movements, their sighs, their laughs, and the magically unique way in which they engage with all people, including you. With this knowledge, it is not so hard to imagine having a conversation with them.
Try this as an exercise when you are suffering. Notice your suffering (where it comes up in your body or thoughts). Name it. Make space for it. Pick a person with whom you have a positive relationship, and pick a place that makes you feel completely at ease. Then, imagine having a reciprocal conversation with them about your lives. Let the conversation happen. Allow them to hear and support you in ways that only they can. Hear and support them too!
However the conversation ends, make sure you appreciate each other for this time. Although it is a practice that also hurts my heart, at times, I will have these conversations with people I love who have passed. I am not denying the reality that they are gone. I am simply appreciating the blessing that their unique perspective and love has had on my life. Even in death, I continue to thank and love them.
No matter your hardships or current location, you are never alone. The people with whom you sharing loving relationships live in your heart, and in your mind. When they cannot be reached by for whatever reason, use this exercise as a way to solidify this bond. I have used this exercise many times. It has often helped me be more understanding and at ease the next time I see this person. After one or several session of this practice, the people with whom I have practiced almost all remarked on how particularly nice it was to see me, when I am able to finally see them in person. I would like to believe that this practice allows you to fill your tank with love and compassion, and increases your capacity to love and bring compassion to the person with whom you dialogued.
May this practice bring you well-being, strength, and ease, and wherever you are, may it remind you that you are never far from those who understand and love you.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 64. In the Books.