Sunday, July 26, 2015

Paying Attention

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, an expert on emotional intelligence, wrote, "The act of compassion begins with full attention."

Meditate on that for a moment.

"The act of compassion begins with full attention."

Compassion, which we can define as the empathetic desire to help someone who is troubled, requires us to see what the trouble is, to understand that trouble and how it affects a person, and to act if there's anything helpful we can do about it.

Who around you is suffering? How can you exercise your compassion attentively?

Very often, the answer to that second question is quite simple:

Compassion can be tough in a world that tells us the important things are big...big gestures, big words, big generosity. Silent support seems too little, too ordinary, too unimportant.

Truth is, we all appreciate it when someone really listens to us, pays attention, doesn't try to fix things or offer up suggestions for how we can make the pain go away. I've been struggling with headaches for several years now, more than likely the result of menopause.  It's been fascinating to watch people's response to my pain. Some email me 10-point lists of suggestions, and some tell me how their aunt's sister-in-law's cousin had the same thing and found instant relief by using a combination of aromatherapy and crystals to align her chakras. Others stick to suggesting medications or dietary changes.

Three years ago, I had no idea there were so many options for treating headaches.

I listen to most of the suggestions and weigh them against everything else I've tried, although the aromatherapy-and-crystals idea came from a total stranger who saw me looking at essential oils at the high-end grocery store. Aromatherapy can't hurt and might help, but crystals are against my religion. Otherwise, I appreciate the suggestions. Once you've exhausted medical options with your doctor, you'll try almost anything for relief.

The best thing that has come out of other people sharing their experiences with mid-life headaches has been the comforting assertion that they will go away. They will end. The change will be over. Hope is always useful! And through suggestions for treatment, I have found some things that truly provide relief.  

One friend, however, hasn't suggested a single remedy or treatment. All she's done is listen to me whine and complain about having tried ten different medications and oy vey nothing helps! She asks me always, "How's your head?" And gives me her quiet attention. She's my safe place. Her full and quiet attention helps me get over myself and laugh at the pain, which gives it a lot less power over my moods.

My husband George has been wonderful through all this, too. He doesn't take offense when I get grouchy; he simply ignores my mood and sympathizes with the pain. He's brought ideas for treatment from other people, googled for information, and generally been there in sickness. I appreciate his attentiveness more than I can say.

I am blessed with so many wonderful friends and family!

God blesses us to be a blessing to others. Many of my friends are dealing with far more tragic or difficult situations than headaches. Divorce, loss, cancer, mental illness, and caring for sick or dying loved ones...these people are suffering, and they need attention.

Matthew 25:35-40   For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
The act of compassion begins with full attention. It continues with love.

Who in your life needs your full attention? Do they need advice from you or do they need you to take the quiet, compassionate option of sitting beside them? Pay attention to the situation. Ask the person how you can help. Listen carefully to the answers.

What we do out of love and compassion--no matter how seemingly small or insignificant--we do to the glory of the One who died for us. So let's pay attention!

PS My own headaches are probably the result of muscle tension of "unknown" physiological origin (as opposed to psychological origin). I say it's the hormones, and so do a number of older ladies at my church who have been here, done this, and gotten over it. I'm treating with a combination of things (medications, massage, acupuncture, meditation, and well patches). If you're suffering from mid-life headaches, best wishes for finding relief that works. There certainly are a LOT of options out there.


  1. Hey Susan, I'm normally a follower of Simplicity but popped over to the other blogs just cause I love how you write. Anyway, I am in the same boat. Fingers crossed that modern medicine trips over the magical cure in 2016... cause they sure don't seem to be actively looking for it. You watch, it will end up being some off label treatment for Viagra or something ;-)


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