“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness
The other night I dreamt I was on a long hike with my sweet pooch up bare rock that reminded me of Zion National Park’s Checkerboard Mesa. At first, it’s just me and my pooch enjoying the adventure, but then a man comes out of nowhere and is clearly trying to harm me. I fight back and get away, but I am separated from Albus, my 150-pound Great Pyrenees. I can see him following us on a parallel path about 50 yards away.
In the dream, I’m escaping the attacker, fighting him every so often as he recovers from my hits and catches up with me over and over. I choose not to harm him so badly that he can’t walk but enough that I can continue to escape. The landscape has changed to rolling green hills. And Albus watches from a distance. I know he’ll step in and end the fight if he thinks I’m unsafe or can’t handle it. He’s aware and ready to protect me if I need it.
The situation doesn’t feel scary; it just feels like something I have to go through, and I’m so grateful to know I’m safe no matter what.
I posted this dream on my personal Facebook page and a friend wrote something about how compassionate I was in the dream – never doing real harm to the attacker just fighting back enough to stay safe and keep moving toward a better situation.
As I reflected on his comment, it occurred to me that it is easy to show compassion when I feel safe. I wasn’t afraid of this man – I knew my dog would help me if I needed it. I wasn’t alone in fighting for my life. The Great Pyrenees are bred to protect sheep and other animals from wolves and coyotes. And they are very good at their jobs! In families like mine that don’t have farm animals, these magnificent dogs protect us – their human family members. They are very attuned to our emotions and know when we are truly afraid and will assist us as needed (and be super loving dogs when we don’t need their protective skills). Even though it was a dream, I knew he was there to keep me safe thus I could be fearless, and that freed me up to be compassionate toward someone who was trying to harm me.
So what does this have to do with divorce? Why would you want to be compassionate in my divorce? There are many reasons, but I think the most important reason is that it is in your best interest and the best interest of your child/ren to be compassionate: in other words, being compassionate is actually the selfish thing to do!
You might wonder what if your former partner has harmed you? Why would you want to be compassionate to them? Don’t they deserve as bad of treatment as they gave you? Wouldn’t that be true justice? I agree that it sure seems that way!
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.”
― Albert Einstein
Unfortunately, our bodies have different perspectives. Your brain (and therefore your whole body that is controlled by your brain) applies what you think about other people to yourself. So if you think about revenge – perhaps harming this other person as much as they harmed you (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.) – your brain thinks you want to harm yourself and you will have a physiological response to those thoughts.
Try it and see. Think of a “bad” thought about someone else. How do you feel? Joyful? Hopeful? Light and free? Or do you get a knot in your stomach or do your shoulders hunch up or your teeth clench? If you pay attention and actually feel it in your body, you will know that what I say is true. There are also many studies that show this response by measuring stress hormones and muscle movements (tensing, etc.) as people think harmful thoughts about other people.
If it weren’t so frustrating, it would be kind of cool what our bodies do! But man, it sure takes the satisfaction out of revenge!
The good news is that it works the other way, too. If we think compassionate thoughts or kind thoughts about other people, our bodies react in lovely, life-supporting ways.
But maybe you’ve been harmed and you’re angry! And likely your anger is quite justified. So go ahead and feel that anger and express/release it in safe ways (stomp, scream, write in your journal – whatever your coping strategy might be). Just do your best not to direct it at the other person (and thus at your own body); it is possible (and perhaps ideal) to focus on relieving the pain inside of yourself without directing it at another being.
When you have let go of enough anger and pain and you’re ready to shift into your own power, the first step is to find a feeling of safety.
To do this, I would propose that you find a way to feel safe in the current moment –not focusing on the past or the future. Ask: Are you in a safe location now? Do you have food and shelter and other basic necessities? Are you taking the necessary steps to legally and safely separate from the one who harmed you (and/or your children)? If so, then take some time and some deep breaths to feel that immediate safety.
Keep doing the work of feeling safe (practicing it daily or multiple times daily) and you will begin to actually believe it’s possible in more situations and your brain will also start showing you new and better options to remain safe. With this practice, your stress hormones subside, your thinking clears, and your creativity increases.
As you begin to live with a deeper, more consistent sense of safety, you can start to lean into compassion first toward yourself, then toward others, and eventually toward your former spouse (if you so choose!). In this compassionate state, it is easier to find a path to a positive outcome in your divorce, helping you lay the foundation for a happier life of your own creation. Read our testimonials and then contact us if you need support through your divorce.