Compassionate Self-Awareness

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I have recently been struggling with terrible fatigue. I have gone to my doctor twice, had blood drawn, subjected myself to a battery of medical tests, all of which tell me that I am fine . . . that I am healthy and that there is nothing wrong with me physically . . . yet I am still fatigued . . . so tired that it is hard to walk up the stairs in my house . . . so tired that my mind races with anxious thoughts about what this all means . . . Is this simply aging (as my doctor remarked) . . . will this be the way it is for the rest of my life . . . do I have to look forward to thirty years of feeling overwhelmed by the smallest exertion or the thought of the smallest exertion? I have actively taken steps to manage the fatigue including taking naps, trying to improve my sleep, changing my diet . . . And yet, nothing I have done has significantly changed the fatigue itself.

I realized that my efforts to “fix” what I perceived to be “wrong” with me, were making me even more tired, so I became still and began to practice mindful awareness of the moment-to-moment unfolding of the experience of what I was calling fatigue. I became acutely aware of the heaviness in my chest and the constant stream of thoughts and the feeling of resistance to the discomfort of the heaviness. I imagined a white cloud of gentle, compassionate awareness in the middle of my chest. I gently invited the sensation of fatigue, the anxious thoughts, and the feeling of resistance to the fatigue to be held in the cloud . . . floating gently . . . in this cloud of compassionate awareness. My breathing opened and deepened. I began to notice a subtle change in my experience. The heaviness was still there, the thoughts continued to arise in my mind, but there was a softening of the resistance to feeling fatigued. I began to notice that the thoughts simply unhinged themselves from my effort to “fix” the fatigue and lost their power. They were no longer anxious thoughts . . . they were just thoughts. The heaviness was held lightly in this compassionate awareness and while I still felt it, I developed a different relationship to it. I could, for those brief moments of compassionate self-awareness, experience the fatigue without resisting it . . . the thoughts of fixing it tumbled into a void of spacious awareness . . . I entered into the moment and the story about what the sensation meant and what I had to do about it floated gently on the cloud. Relief.

This practice of compassionate self-awareness allowed me to enter into a conscious space of non-judging. In this space, the suffering that goes along with the resistance to what is and the effort of mind to fix what is “wrong” falls away. I will continue to pursue my exploration of medical (both allopathic and alternative) interventions that might ease the physical discomfort, but I will do that with a lighter heart and more compassion for my suffering.

Copyright 2013, Patricia A Burke

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