I had the honor of being included in TedX Fountain Hills this week, along with 19 other inspirational and amazing speakers. I will tell you, it was a tremendous experience. I am not given to sharing personal stories on this blog, but inspired by the Ted way of doing things, I feel compelled to share a bit of my story about this incredible learning experience with you…
The topic of the TedX Fountain Hills conference was Community. I immediately knew, upon hearing this, that I wanted to talk about creating compassionate communities. As I mentioned in my talk, our communities have grown so exponentially, that we are on information overload and our ability to be compassionate is eroding in response. Our brains can only handle so much before we start to short-circuit with the enormous flow of information, often negative, that is coming at us. I wanted to help break that down…help make things seem manageable for us again. I focused on how we can be compassionate in our every day lives, just by taking charge of saying kind words and thinking kind thoughts every day. By remembering not to take things too personally. By honoring the differences in ourselves and others. By knowing that we are the stories we tell our selves, and that we can change our stories. By realizing that our compassion ignites compassion in others. By remembering that compassion is a choice that is always available to us.
I had a blast putting the talk together. I wrote and I wrote…and then I wrote some more. Unfortunately, then I remembered that I had an 18 minute time constraint! So then I edited and edited…and then I edited some more! Right up until the morning of the talk, I practiced, I rehearsed, I felt in my heart what I wanted to share, and I set my intention to connect with compassion and clarity to the audience.
But that’s only part of the story I really want to share with you. I want to share with you what putting this talk together did for me… In researching, writing, and thinking about compassion, I began to notice the places in my life where I lacked compassion. It was like putting a giant spot-light on my choices. It reminded me on a daily basis that compassion is a choice. It helped me remember that when I approached a situation where I might normally get irritated, that I had the choice to respond compassionately to the person in front of me. Some days I did better at making compassionate choices than others, but almost every day since starting to write my talk I have had the heightened awareness that compassion is a choice.
..and that’s not all. Not only was I aware of my compassionate behavior towards others. I began to become aware of how compassionately, or sadly, uncompassionately I treated myself. When you are faced with the exciting task of taking on a dream, in this case it was my dream to give a Ted talk, it’s amazing how many once hidden self-sabotoging thoughts can all of a sudden rise to the surface. The good news is, when they rise to the surface, you can see them and skim them off, right?? Ha! Luckily, as a psychologist, I am used to the interesting task of both simultaneously experiencing an emotion while observing myself experience the emotion. It’s an interesting trick…but one that is really helpful for learning and growth…and also helps you keep from getting too attached to the emotion. I was really curious about what was happening to me as I was slowly being overtaken by fear. I discovered that I had this tendency to stand right in my own way with my fear and self-limiting thoughts. “What makes you think you have something new to say?” “What makes you special enough to do this?” “What if you get up there and look like a fool?” …and then I began to employ one of my most powerful coping strategies…sharing and exposing my fears to my friends. Not so they could pump me up, but so they could help me have the strength, courage and wisdom to learn how to manage and talk back to these self-defeating thoughts. Each day I worked on being aware of the fear voice inside me and talking back to it with simple compassion and encouragement. “Everybody has a worthy voice.” “This is something you love to talk and teach about.” “If you just let yourself enjoy the experience you will be fine.” “Of course this is something you can do.” I will tell you, it took an amazing amount of effort. It even helped me increase compassion for my friends, family and patients who have all become overwhelmed by the dark voice inside of them from time to time.
Why did I feel compelled to share this all with you? Because I realized, yet again, that we are all in this together. What I tell my patients every day is true. It is not until you go through the pain and the struggle and the self doubt that you can grow and learn and prosper. We don’t get to the good stuff without walking through the tough stuff first. Everybody has to do this from time to time…many times over…none of us our immune. I will tell you, when I got to the other side of it…when I walked off of that stage…I felt exhilarated. It hadn’t gone perfectly…there was a slide mess up and a little word bobble…but none of that mattered. I had gotten up there and said what I wanted to say with a smile in my heart and on my face. I was present for every moment of it. I had faced my fearful inner voice and I had triumphed. The voice inside me was excitedly shouting, “You did it!”
We are the stories we tell ourselves, my friends. What story are you telling yourself today? Sometimes you just have to let yourself acknowledge and hear and learn from the angry or scary words before you can turn them around to compassionate words for others or for yourself. Ultimately, we all need to remember…compassion is a choice that is ALWAYS available to us…and all we have to do…is remember to choose it…
Take a look and see what you think…
Be happy and well,
Sari Roth-Roemer, Ph.D.