What ‘Crazy Swimming Mom’ Taught me about Compassion

On another typical Tuesday, I waded in the pool while my toddler splashed around. I looked over to see a woman, baby on hip, screaming with everything she had at a wide-eyed life guard. Arms flailing, eyes burning, legs storming. I rolled my eyes’ and thought, “Good grief. It’s just swimming lessons.”

Working my Zen: What the Crazy Swimming Mom taught me about Compassion

The following week, I watched the lessons from the side while my husband took his turn in the pool. I had the most delightful conversation with this hilarious woman who sat beside me. She told me a knee slapping story about going for a walk and having the wheel break RIGHT off her stroller. We cooed at each other’s babies and complained of being woken at least every two hours each night. She went on to tell me she was new to the province, knew no one and was going through a divorce. (Amazing what people will tell a stranger!) Oh, my heart.

She asked me where she was supposed to drop her son off for lessons and pointed out the pool isn’t well organized for moms who also have a baby with them.  My ears twitched. I turned and looked at this hilarious woman who was on the brink.

It was the crazy, swimming mom.

My chest sank.

For the first time, I got the back ground story to a stranger’s over-the-top and public outburst. We’ve all seen it before, and have been that mom at some point in our lives. Her screaming had nothing to do with the layout of the pool (which is terrible) and everything to do with her reality: a six month old, a four year old, no sleep, a new province, and a divorce.

And I had dismissed her.

But, I’m starting to get it.

You see, this had all happened at the same time I started reading a dusty old book I acquired from a give-away bin years before. I melted into the words Dalai Lama spoke in, “An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life.”  I actually believe I met that crazy mom at the exact perfect time. This situation brought meaning to and helped me fully understand one of the basic concepts of Buddhism: Compassion and the first noble truth that everyone is suffering and we must actively work towards easing this suffering.

Everyone is suffering. You are suffering. I am suffering. The crazy, swimming mom is suffering. And rather than roll my eyes, I should have worked to ease her pain. But, I’m starting to get it.

This idea is simple, yet, huge to me. I now digest and understand every day, and everyone, through this principle. I feel, as I read and reread this book, my heart is beginning to open. Friends call on the phone to gripe about someone and ask for ideas on how to deal with them. They now get a totally different answer than in the past.  After reading An Open Heart and meeting that crazy mom, my response, (which must be getting annoying!) is always the same; ‘How can you ease their suffering?’ Before I judge, before I complain, before I get offended… I think. I think of the child they once were. I think of the things they might have seen. I think of the battles they have fought before even leaving the house. I think of the weight of the world that is on their shoulders’.

I don’t see it as an excuse for poor behaviour, or letting someone get away with treating others poorly. It gives me insight and a different perspective. It helps make people’s reactions make sense to me and not seem so trivial. It makes my reactions to them fit. They don’ t mean harm… they’ve just had a crappy week. And it humbles me to know we are all the same. We are all suffering.

I’m so thankful for meeting that swimming mom. We bump into each other every few months and chat. She reminds me to balance my toddler’s need for a nap and my child’s need for activity. I know she is a good mom and a good person. I can see it in her eyes. She is not that crazy, swimming mom. She is a person.

She reminds me everyone is suffering.

That crazy mom, screaming at the life guard? She has a whole life story we know nothing about it. Listen to that lonely, suffering mom.
That blatantly defiant student in your class? Hug and celebrate that suffering child.
That junky, begging for change? Smile and acknowledge that suffering soul.
That friend who quietly smiles as she holds her babe? Offer your arms to that tired, suffering woman.

Everyone is suffering. Let’s be kind. Let’s be compassionate. Let’s give each other a break and actively work towards easing their pain.

(An Open Heart is an entire book on developing compassion and what that can do for the spirit and well being of others and yourself. I’m just at the beginning of this journey and likely not doing it the justice it deserves in this post. Please, read the book, and open your heart even more.)

~Kristin

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