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Waking up to Wisdom
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Lessons From An Accident

--by Grace Dammann (Jul 22, 2013)


For the last forty years, I have been a somewhat compulsive caregiver. However, I found an appropriate niche in medical school, and have happily practiced medicine for the last twenty-five years. For the last year, however, I have been on the opposite side of the caregiver/caretaker divide. For eleven months, I have been totally dependent on others for everything: for brushing teeth, being fed, helping me in and out of the chair. What I initially thought was that compassion ought to be aligned with warmth and empathy. Now I feel that it must be aligned with wisdom.

Compassion comes from the Latin word pati, which means to suffer. So compassion means to be fully present with pain and suffering. When I say that compassion ought to be aligned with wisdom what do I mean? What I mean is that when I am served by other people who are driven by their own standards of excellence, and not by the demands of my 'whiny self', then I am best served by them. I have learned that the most compassionate behavior is that which appropriately encourages my independence from either depressive states of mind or dependence on another being. The least compassionate behavior, conversely, is that which enslaves me, making me dependent on the person performing the behavior.

When I first woke after two months of being unconscious, my motto was: Just do it now.  

Lying on my back, I realized that I needed to clean up my own act. I knew there was a way that I had not gone through 'the eye of the needle' that we can only go through with 100% committed behavior. I had all the time in the world to finish my thoughts and so many of those thoughts were driven by, not so much regret, as understanding that I hadn’t completely shown up in life. Those few times that I had shown up had given me complete happiness. I also noticed that those who are dear to me were a great deal happier not to be seeing my back all the time—not to be competing with a pager or a cell phone. I was encouraging commitment because, for the first time, I had nothing to do but look at my life, love the sunshine and people as they presented themselves, and just be.

I hit my head in the accident, and strangely enough my old thought processes no longer engaged me that much, thank God. What the therapists might have called inattention or processing problems actually enabled me to be completely in the moment. For example, pain came and went, nausea came and went, constipation came and went, but for whatever blessed reason, they didn’t hold my attention for long. I spent a great deal of time enjoying the total pleasure of a shower, the way the water felt on my head or the sensation of someone’s nails as they were shampooing my hair. I spent little time thinking about the future, what I would do, what had happened to small me. Instead, I was totally fixated on my immediate environment. Waking up, I saw that I was completely held and embraced by the very Earth itself as well as by my wonderful family and community of support.

I realize now that my greatest happiness in life has been in my service to people, particularly the joy that comes from being totally present with my own and their suffering. My new emphasis in service is to remind myself of this motto, 'Do it now, just do it now, and be more responsive.' If you want to know how you are doing, just ask the people around you. They will be happy to tell you. Your job is to just listen and absorb it. Take it in. Really try to understand your impact on other people. If you want to know how you are doing at work, just ask your colleagues. Finally, if you want to know how you’re doing in the world, just ask the trees and wind, and watch the sun.

--Dr. Grace Dammann


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18 Previous Reflections:

 
On Aug 18, 2013 tarsem paul wrote:

delayed justice is no justice. hence whenever we come in touch with some problem we should  face it with facts and do our full efforts to sort it out there and then only.



1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
On Jul 29, 2013 Justin wrote:

 I guess when you are able to see the difference between 'needs' and 'wants', and yet, not differentiate them, is when you begin to celebrate life. When you do not take a liking to your 'needs', they start weighing you down but you still have to do it (dragging your feet). When they become your 'want', you would 'do it now'. You then start appreciating the finer things in life. Easy to preach, hard to practice. As a quadriplegic, that seems to be the way of life! I look forward to live and not just exist.



2 replies: A, Joyce | Post Your Reply
On Jul 24, 2013 Will wrote:

 Of course it proves the obvious: there are no accidents. We create, promote, and/or allow all that happens to us.  Out god-given directive to us all (especially with our capacity for thought and feeling and perception although augmented by our self-created equipment like microscopes, etc.) is to learn! And more: to actualize the learning bringing us ever closer to The Creator. Not dwelling unproductively on yesterday or fantasizing unrealistically on the future. I must be now.



2 replies: Nat, A | Post Your Reply
On Jul 23, 2013 Joyce Kaiser wrote:

I believe this is down-to-earth thoughts and advice. What better way then to get to it. If you wait hon..you may miss the boat. You can either be a duck that quacks a lot and doesn't get too much particular things done  thus it is better to be an eagle that soars around looking for something to eat, and then attacks it right away. When you are an eagle I believe you can be that "special person" who searches for the "common sense and learns more and more what to do in life- positively too.



2 replies: Joyce, A | Post Your Reply
On Jul 23, 2013 Bruce wrote:

 I too had an accident.  Laying in the road and pondering if I would live or die was a beautiful experience and I was at peace either way it went.  From that point on it was a journey of a heightened awareness of what and who mattered in my life.  Setting goals that were small but measurable was key to progress and a feeling of achievement.  Being stubborn can be a real weakness but can also be a strength when faced with situations like these.  Innovation is driven by need and a drive to be independent and I was able to invent things that caused me not to be dependent on others.  Lastly I met people who God gave gifts to that were amazing.  From doctors to therapists to nurses and most of all family and friends.  We have instincts that tell us the moment we meet them if the are genuine and compassionate or simply doing a job and playing a roll.  As I recovered in a room with the simplest of needs I realized how simple life really  See full.

 I too had an accident.  Laying in the road and pondering if I would live or die was a beautiful experience and I was at peace either way it went.  From that point on it was a journey of a heightened awareness of what and who mattered in my life.  Setting goals that were small but measurable was key to progress and a feeling of achievement.  Being stubborn can be a real weakness but can also be a strength when faced with situations like these.  Innovation is driven by need and a drive to be independent and I was able to invent things that caused me not to be dependent on others.  Lastly I met people who God gave gifts to that were amazing.  From doctors to therapists to nurses and most of all family and friends.  We have instincts that tell us the moment we meet them if the are genuine and compassionate or simply doing a job and playing a roll.  As I recovered in a room with the simplest of needs I realized how simple life really is and how little we really "need" to survive and be happy.

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On Jul 23, 2013 Cindy wrote:

 This is a beautiful piece, must appreciated by those of us who need to stop and ask how we are doing in this world.  I send thoughts of love and compassion and healing.  This accident serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things but it takes a special person to recognize and acknowledge it.  Be well, be healed.



On Jul 23, 2013 hilary wrote:

 I'm intrigued by the idea that there is an objective good that needs to be done - presumably some sort of painful therapy or even routines that need effort - which is good for the receiver while being unwelcome. Perhaps wisdom is figuring out a compassionate way to deliver necessary truth. Whatever form that truth needs to take.. Hadn't thought of it in this way, yet  the potential for application is very wide.



On Jul 20, 2013 david doane wrote:

 My understanding is that aligning compassion with wisdom is to be compassionate purely, that is, be fully present with the person suffering and give what I give out of care for that person and responsiveness to that person and not for any ulterior agenda such as future reward.  Compassion with wisdom is a care about the person out of identification with that person, realizing that we are one, that he or she is I and I am he or she.  Compassion with wisdom allows and maintains freedom -- it encourages independence rather than dependence, as the author states.  It is a love that sets one free, as Scripture speaks of, and not a love that binds by fostering dependence, debt, or guilt.  Compassion with wisdom is open and free give and take, and if the compassion is with wisdom there is give and take on both sides.  As for my 'doing it now,' what comes to mind is little acts of kindness that I have done such as to spontaneously pick up something for someone th  See full.

 My understanding is that aligning compassion with wisdom is to be compassionate purely, that is, be fully present with the person suffering and give what I give out of care for that person and responsiveness to that person and not for any ulterior agenda such as future reward.  Compassion with wisdom is a care about the person out of identification with that person, realizing that we are one, that he or she is I and I am he or she.  Compassion with wisdom allows and maintains freedom -- it encourages independence rather than dependence, as the author states.  It is a love that sets one free, as Scripture speaks of, and not a love that binds by fostering dependence, debt, or guilt.  Compassion with wisdom is open and free give and take, and if the compassion is with wisdom there is give and take on both sides.  As for my 'doing it now,' what comes to mind is little acts of kindness that I have done such as to spontaneously pick up something for someone that he or she has dropped, when just a second or two of postponing would have been to lose the opportunity.  Regarding the business of asking the trees and the wind, and watching the sun, to find out how I'm doing, my understanding is that all that is is one, and as such the trees are my lungs, the wind is my breath, the sun is my warmth, and if I live in that consciousness I can "find out" from them.  The fact that that makes sense to me indicates for me my growth, but I'm not there, I don't live that way, and doubt I'll ever get there, but I can appreciate it and be touched by it.  I wish well to Grace Damman and hope she will continue to gather and share lessons and wisdom from her accident, and I hope other doctors and the rest of us will learn those same important lessons. 

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On Jul 19, 2013 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

Very interesting.  I believe in being spontaneous and not postponing  acts of service. I don't very often act on it however.  Just watching the sun set  helps me simply just be. When I know I am being present in an integrated manner,  I am peaceful. When I am  following moderation in all things  I move toward peacefulness. Being in the present is doing it now. When one is paying attention to what is happening as it is happening in and around one, one is probably compassionate, patient, and wise. Thank you for the opportunity to respond. Warm and kind regards to everyone



2 replies: JoAnn, A | Post Your Reply