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  • Writer's picturenatalie lembeck

From Shame to Compassion

This year, we have collectively been met with a number of unprecedented challenges. With the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on lives, families, communities, and businesses, we have been met with salient manifestations of fear and shame.

The novel coronavirus seems to have been a wake-up call to the finite and limited capacity of the body, the economy, and the governing powers that exist today. We have observed and directly experienced the temporary nature of what we have known (or assumed) to be our lives. The striking realization of this has resulted in a significant and understandable amount of fear. Fear of gathering, fear of touch, fear of community, fear of vulnerability.

In addition to fear, what I have come to observe is a profound level of shame regarding the body as well as an individual's morals and characters. We are eager to place blame on another's morality or character for contracting or suffering from an illness. This is not specific to COVID: this is true for addiction, lung cancer, and an array of mental health illnesses. And, on the opposite side of the coin, we often glorify or downplay the severity of other illnesses: OCD, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder.

Further, we place blame or project shame onto the body for the way it looks, the way it behaves, its cravings, its desires, and its level of resilience. We incorporate this into our own self-narrative and the stories we write in our heads about others. My own challenge is to dismantle all systems of shame that inhabit and inhibit me. If it resonates with you, I ask you to do the same.

When I am met with shame, I ask myself to extend compassion. Both to others as well as to myself. When I am tempted to place judgment on another, I ask myself to trust there is energy and a plan beyond my control. I am not called to be the Judge - that is for a Power beyond my understanding. I remind myself that I do not know the whole story and likely never will. And - importantly - I remind myself that any projection of shame onto others is a mirror to the shame I hold for myself. With these remembrances, I can more easily return to a place of love and compassion and extend it more genuinely. A beautiful practice of this is called Metta (loving-kindness). It may be helpful to repeat to yourself and for others: "May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from pain." Invite more ease into yourself.

This is not written to dissuade anyone from taking precautions or attempting to prevent undue suffering. It is also not an encouragement to leave self and community accountability behind. I'm hopeful that, in addition to the compassion we extend to others by taking precautions and communicating openly with our communities, that we extend another layer of compassion: doing our part to reduce the suffering of the psyche and the spirit. I know this all can feel exhausting. As the fourth agreement states: "always do your best."


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