Monthly Archives: March 2012

a lesson in compassion


A few weeks ago I learnt an important lesson whilst working at the Sustainable Living festival here in Melbourne.

I was working for the husband of a woman I met at a writers’ group. Yes, I had decided to consider myself a writer and meet other like-minded souls to get some inspiration. I should have blogged about it, as the majority of the evening was spent wishing I hadn’t asked “So what do you write about?” as people went into the most indescribable detail that was of no interest to me at all and simply made me wish I hadn’t been so polite…

Anyway, someone who was interesting, offered me a couple of days work serving ice cream at her husband’s stall, which I jumped at as it seemed like an opportunity to do something different.

If you didn’t already know, the Aussies are pretty eco-mad. There is a lot of emphasis here on recycling and saving energy and the whole festival was packed with ideas and energy gurus and a few wacky characters.

During a round of handing out ice cream samples (I could add a note here about the number of fat f**Ks who didn’t understand the concept of sampling the ice cream and tried to walk away with my pot… but I won’t, as this is a lesson in compassion…) I met a woman who I got chatting to about ice cream naturally, and once my duty was done I turned to walk away. “Wait!” She said “I’d like to give you something”. Heavens, I thought, I can’t accept anything for an ice cream sample. No, silly me, she wanted to share why she was at the festival.

“What do you know about Compassion?” She asked me. I paused for a moment, wondering where this conversation might go. “I know that there isn’t enough in the world”, I said, feeling quite wise and warming to this woman. She then asked me if I felt I had enough compassion in my life. I said I tried to be compassionate, but it’s not always easy. She seemed to sense my thoughts and then asked me if there was someone who had upset me recently that probably needed some compassion. This triggered a thought I hadn’t expected and I immediately said yes. She then asked if I would be willing to spend a few minutes with her to do an exercise in compassion that might make me feel better about this person. Never one to say no to a free lesson in life I obliged.

She read 5 basic steps to me, which I would like to share, as a lesson for us all. I hope I don’t get done for plagiarism…

Step 1: With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: “Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in his/her life”

Step 2: With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life”

Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair”

Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfil his/her needs”

Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life”

She hesitated before asking me if I felt any better about that person. I lied of course (must stop doing that) and she saw straight through it, so asked if I would mind running the exercise again as she felt I was still holding onto something.

We did it again and I kid you not, I felt an amazing sense of relief. I did feel more compassion towards this person and I did feel that this total stranger had taught me to feel less anger towards that person.

She handed me a card, with the 5 instructions on it and told me to run this exercise whenever I felt that someone deserved a little more compassion.

I have to say, as a language teacher, Compassion is something we all need to practise and in life you are going to meet people who will piss you off, upset you, hurt you or simply just puzzle you. I am not saying that all negative feelings can be eradicated by a simple 2 minute compassion visualisation, but I do feel it is something we could all learn to use more often.

Try it today and a see how it feels!



Grace on wheels

One sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, after lunch with a friend, I had a sudden urge to do some exercise. You will know that this is quite a rare occurrence, so without hesitation, or let’s be honest: much thought – I decided to jump on my bike and cycle from my flat to the centre for my private class that afternoon.

I skipped down the stairs feeling very sprightly, so sprightly in fact that I forgot my helmet, and so had to “skip” back up the stairs for it.

I got to my bike and found that some idiot had attached their bike to the bike parking in such a way that it was nearly impossible for me to untangle three bikes and locks to get to mine. This involved several minutes of “Shits” “Bollocks” and dropping a bike on my foot and scratching my leg with another. Not a great start.

Undeterred, I got on my bike, whizzed down the drive and out onto Toorak Road. Nice and easy as the first part was downhill. Off I went, feeling pretty pleased with myself and marvelling at how easy it was and wondering why this thought had not occurred to me before. Until I tried to slow down to a stop that is, and quickly realised I only have one working brake. Shit.

I joined St Kilda Road, a fairly large one that involves trams, got something very wrong and ended up in the wrong lane. Opps. Nevermind, I thought to myself, people are kind here, there are loads of cyclists in this city, I am fine. Next problem was some traffic lights, where the “bike lane” put me in the middle of the road, and with no curb to my aid, I remembered the second reason I hadn’t done this before: I can’t touch the floor without the pavement. Double shit.

Undeterred still, I continued and arrived in the centre, quite sweaty for my class and with some fabulous helmet hair. Good job Grace.

The ride home reminded me of another reason why I hadn’t done this before. My bottom hurt. A lot.

Still, a nice long bath and glowing sense of exercise done helped, and I got up the next morning with the INGENIOUS idea of cycling to work!

How wrong could I be????

As I got on the bike, with a full backpack of lunch, students’ work and a change of clothes, I remembered the slightly uncomfortable seat. Anyway, the first part of the journey is downhill, and apart from the dodgy brakes, I had no real problems until I started the incline. This morning it seemed impossible. Had someone made it steeper? I joined St Kilda road, trying my best to closely follow another cyclist and the route through the cars he took, but goodness, these people are fast! Had a little wobble at the traffic lights again, with no curb side balance help and then proceeded along the bike path into the city. I felt a little embarrassed when simply every single cyclist whizzed past me. Every single cyclist seemed to also be making almost no effort to travel at such speed, which for me was flat out. Every single cyclist also seemed to be male and wearing cycling clothes. I mean these were serious cyclists!

I got to school and it took me 20 minutes to stop sweating. And even then I didn’t quite manage it. My students were very amused when I informed them of how I had arrived at school and even more so when I pointed out just how difficult it was for me to sit. Well, it was pretty hard to hide.

Cycling home that day was as funny as it was painful. My legs decided not to work anymore and my bottom was so sore, my bag felt twice as heavy and I honestly cycled so slowly I was pretty much going backwards.

It just didn’t appeal to me to get back on it the next morning, and funnily enough hasn’t appealed to me since…