Finding What Really Matters: Building Self-Compassion Through the Journey.

Beginning the Journey at a Loss

After a month of about four hours of sleep per night, I found myself driving 10 hours from the far North West to the Far North East of the United States.  It was a 10 hour drive from Erie, Pennsylvania to Boston, MA, and an unforgettable year in which the Boston Red Sox would overcome a three game deficit to the New York Yankees in the American League Championships, and later win the World Series.

Like the Red Sox, I began this trip with deficits.  I had little money, little sleep, and a living situation that was predicated on the ambiguous role of giving a mother and her middle school child a man around the house.  Forty-five minutes into my drive, I stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom.  I was so eager to go, that I did not realize the bathroom floor was covered in urine until I had finished.  I was on a mission, so I quickly disposed of these jeans and returned to the road smelling like antibacterial hand wipes.

Finding Motivation in the Journey’s Inspirations

I absolutely refused to be daunted in my quest.  I had been offered a job as a motivational instructor and an outreach worker helping the underserved in the project housing areas of Boston, and I was passionate about using what I had learned from my own life struggles to lighten the load of others.  Plus, my grandmother lived there, and if you know me, then you know my three greatest heroes are my mother, my Aunt Susan, and my grandmother.  I intended to make all three proud, and drew from that deep well of desire to persist on. 

All three are charming, strong-willed, wise, extraordinarily gifted coping skill developers, with unmatched heart and humor.  My mother raised us (3 frenetic, sometimes very antagonistic boys) by herself hundreds of miles from family while completing her Masters and PhD in psychology.  Bless her soul.  She was never offended, when I would misremember her Masters Degree as finishing school in relating her graduate school endeavors to my cross country coach.  She has long modeled extraordinary graciousness, compassion, and a profound psychological mind that uniquely discovers hope and strength in the obstacles of others.  My Aunt Susan is currently raising her third generation of children.  She has also had significant hand in raising me, when I was a boy.  Amongst her many charms and talents, she is the world’s most formidable hugger.  My grandmother, beautiful enough to be recruited by film studios, chose to pursue education, and helped children with learning disabilities.  Her actions forever changed the roles of women in our family.  She is also one of the funniest people I know.  I spent my childhood fighting to keep my spot next to her at the dinner table just to hear her witty responses to my grandfather, while they fought over how much chicken was reasonable for her to consume at dinner.  At 87 years old, she is still a critical thinking, tough, articulate, well-read Chicago Jew, who writes with the adroitness of a famous author, and protects with the ferocity of a mother bear.

So, where were we.  Ah yes, pee.  Pee did not stop me.  I stopped at the next rest stop, and took a short walk to clear my mind.  I felt the cool October air on my skin, and waited until my breath slowed.  I acknowledged how tough the start of this trip had been, but thought about how nice it would be to live close to my grandmother, and help children who struggled with issues similar to those I had experienced as a child.  Lots of jobs fill your bank account.  Few fill your heart.

So, I picked up 5 cans of red bull, put the AC on full blast, and poured myself a scoop of a pre-workout supplement, all of which I needed to complete my journey.  Upon arriving in Boston, my vision was somewhat blurred, and I was covered in sweat like a marathon runner stretching to reach the finish line.  Before I ended up at my final destination, and basked in the crunchy feeling of rolling in freshly turned leaves, I stopped in Cambridge.  To be precise, I stopped just over the pedestrian walking line on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square.  Some guy actually stuck his head in my window, and shared a few expletives to describe my driving.  I was so tired that I told myself that he was simply a caffeinated close talker, which is almost never good, but compassion worthy.

Counting Up the Hours

The drive was tough.  I wanted to quit at 2 hours.  I wanted to quit at 4 hours.  At 6 hours, I wanted to go to sleep in the car in the hopes that someone else might volunteer to drive.  Hey, you never know!  People hitchhike all the time.  Maybe I could be the inventor of the opposite hitchhike.  I would call it the hitchdrive.  As in, I will give you a ride.  The only hitch is that you have to drive. At 8 hours, I found myself driving on a 3 lane highway in which people seemed to be trying to drive into each other.  It was like a scene out of Fantasia.  Not just because of the movement of cars to the music playing on my car stereo, but also because my fatigued eyes blurred the coloring of the cars.  At 10 hours, I stepped out of the car, and collapsed into the leaves.  It was the kindest thing I could do for myself.  I immediately felt a shift from the exhausting, stressful car environment to the pleasurable, relaxing sensation of leaves crunching under my back and legs.  I even threw some leaves up into the air in celebration.

Self-Compassion and the Journey

There is no good reason that I should have been able to endure a 10 hour drive on a 4 hour sleep schedule for a month.  The journey certainly gave me reasons to turn back.  Like any difficult journey, I used self-compassion, albeit unwittingly, to overcome adversity.

First, I paid attention to, and honored my present experience.  I did not have a breakdown when my pants were ruined.  I simply acknowledged that it was tragic.  Gross, but tragic.  I rid myself of this obstacle, and brought kindness to my experience in the form of antibacterial handwipes.  I won’t lie.  I was clean, but a little dry.

Second, I honored my needs.  I knew that in my present state that I would have to adapt both my internal and external environment to overcome frustration and fatigue, so I added caffeine, a cool car environment (imagine the Tundra but colder), and stimulating music and stand up comedy.  I think self-compassion is the best medicine, but comedy might be a close second.  When I could sing loudly, and celebrate the good parts of the trip, I did so unabashedly with rapture.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I focused on goals and connection that transcended my current suffering.  I do not count physical environments as homes.  I have moved too much for that.  Instead, I consider the people I love most as home.  Journeying to be close to my grandmother was like going home.  Additionally, I had been through much in my life and always felt that I was learning and earning degrees, awards, and experience, so that I could empower myself to help others.  I am a pretty crappy narcissist, so journeying to a job opportunity that would allow me to use those resources to help others in need was a kindness I was affording myself.  The truth is when you have the opportunity to engage in a relationship (professional or personal) that priorities the dignity and well-being of others, you get the gift of living in a world of compassion and love.

May your journeys fill you with hope, resilience, compassion, and well-being.  May they bring you closer to your purpose, and those you love most.  May they prove to you time and time again that you are capable of achieving the improbable, and worthy of receiving the sense of empowerment and profound compassion that comes with pursuing what is in your heart.  May you always honor your present experience, and do what is necessary to process the obstacles that manifest, and work through them with kindness. 

Do not pursue journeys created to gain the approval of others because only your heart knows what the universe needs you to do to live a meaningful life of ease and wonderment.  When you pursue distant goals and find yourself at a loss, remember your greater purpose, the people who believe in you, and access their love to bring compassion, patience, and kindness to your experience.  It is not how you get there or the time it takes, it is who you become that matters most.  If your endeavors are based on good intentions, becoming your best self will always be guaranteed.  When your journey is complete, celebrate it!  You will never regret rewarding yourself for living a life worth meaning despite uncontrollable obstacles.

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion.  Day 65.  In the Books.