Healing the Poverty Within

Last week, a friend shared this Mother Teresa quote: "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat." Giving someone food is easy. Giving someone compassion and care is hard. When life gets busy, it's easier to write a check. It's harder to volunteer our time, compassion, and willingness to listen. But care and compassion are desperately needed. And small, kind actions make a big impact.

Today I see this quote through a different lens: Consider the unwanted, unloved, uncared-for parts of ourselves. Self-kindness is not our natural habit. But if we ignore our needs, push away difficulties, and speak harshly to ourselves, we create poverty inside our psyche. A poverty that cannot be helped with food or material goods. 

My new perspective on Mother Teresa came while driving. After supporting a friend, I was overwhelmed by emotion. Sobbing, I stopped by the side of the road. I paused to feel. And what I felt was resistance. It was like a 5-year-old tantrum: I want this pain to stop! I want my grief to go away. Grief: the unwanted, uncared-for place in myself. So in the car, on the side of the road, I put my hand on my heart, and spoke aloud, "Oh, dear, sweet, Joy, this grief won't go away, and that's okay. Let's stay here as long as you need." 

Here's an equation: pain x resistance = suffering. Here's a different equation: pain x self-compassion = healing. It's possible to develop self-compassion. It's a practice, which needs patience and commitment, but it really works. And it doesn't require scads of time. Too often we're driven by scarcity of time. ("I don't have time to take care of myself.") Time is a big deal in our culture. So many wholesome practices we don't have time for; so many meaningless activities we make time for. But this is just resistance, and resistance can change. (I didn't always say, "Oh, dear, sweet, Joy" in moments of difficulty. This came gradually, with practice.)

You can start exactly where you are. You can start in this moment.