Compassionate Detachment

This term is one I wish I'd applied my entire life.  It would have given me a way to care for people without getting emotionally tangled up in their messes.

One of my least favorite expressions has always been, "Don't take things so personally!"  It seemed cold and uncompassionate.  I would think, "How could I not take this personally?"  I did not have proper boundaries separating me from people I loved and even from people I had just met.  

Yet compassionate detachment is one of the most important things to know and practice as a teacher, a parent, or in any job that involves caring for others.

When I was a middle school teacher, a colleague sensed I was burning out after only 2 years of teaching.  She gave me advice that I have only recently come to fully understand.

She said that she saw my enthusiasm and my desire to teach authentically and show genuine care for my students.  She was a woman whom I greatly admired --a little mysterious, a magnificent and graceful presence.  She paused, took my hand in hers and looked me straight in the eyes.

She said, "You need to share your light 
without giving them your oil."

Either I couldn't have comprehended the meaning of that advice or subconsciously, I was protecting myself from realizing that I had been giving away my oil all along, and suffering needlessly because of it.

I left that job at the end of the school year.  It pained me.  It was a wonderful place to work full of people I respected.  I wanted to start a family and knew that if I was already spreading myself too thin, there was no way I could do both and keep my sanity.

I could say that I regret that decision, but truly -- I have spent every moment since I left that job growing up and learning how to be.

For more on learning how to be:

                               Did you know the Dalai Lama has a webpage?

The verses of "Training the Mind" can be found there.  A humble summary follows:

No sentient being is above another. 

Caring for others is a divine source of joy.

"We also have strong love for these people, but often this love or compassion is grounded in self-referential considerations: "So-and-so is my friend," "my spouse," "my child," and so on. What happens with this kind of love or compassion, which may be strong, is that it is tinged with attachment because it involves self-referential considerations. Once there is attachment there is also the potential for anger and hatred to arise. Attachment goes hand in hand with anger and hatred. For example, if one's compassion toward someone is tinged with attachment, it can easily turn into its emotional opposite due to the slightest incident. Then instead of wishing that person to be happy, you might wish that person to be miserable."
                            from the Eight Verses of Training the Mind, and commentary by His Holiness the 
                            Dalai Lama that was given on November 8, 1998 in Washington D.C. 

So, when I run across a caregiver burdened with guilt, sorrow, and anxiety on behalf of others, I can hope that he too will stop giving his oil.  Instead, may he keep his oil to let his light burn even more brightly.

To Heidi:      Thank you for planting that seed.  I will always be grateful.

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