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Sitting with Compassion in The Guest House

I am staying with my friend Oxana in her apartment in Antalya, Turkey.


Oxana's 84-year-old mom Tatiana and fifteen-year-old son Efe live here too. Their apartment is very close to the sea shore of the Mediterranean.


Every morning when it is still dark, Oxana and I walk to the beach...

...and swim in the Mediterranean Sea as the sun rises.


While in the sea one morning, Oxana said, "I love to greet the sun waking up."


There are a few dedicated sunrise swimmers. Oxana is the center of our Universe.


Our little group of sunrise swimmers are not the only ones awake and on the beach at sunrise. There are dogs (as you saw above) - lots of dogs.


I have watched a swimming class who meet regularly near where we swim...


...and there are of course, the non-humans... the sea water, the clouds... the sun waking up...


I have witnessed morning skies and morning mountains that look like Maxfield Parish live paintings...


After swimming, we exercise for an hour, on the rock-sandy beach, in a circle, with a group of what I believe to be mostly retired people. People popcorn in to lead. Since I have arrived, I have often been asked to lead the second half of our hour. This is an honor.


"Turkish people do not usually like Americans," one group member told me, "But they like you."


Everyone in the group, though they are originally from a wide variety of countries, all live in Antalya now. They all speak Turkish. Except me.


The first time I saw the exercise group they were doing their first half-hour warm-up routine (below)...


From the next day on, I became part of the group...



After our exercise group ends, Oxana and I walk home and, most days, make breakfast. Oxana makes Tatiana a separate meal and serves it to her in Tatiana's room or on the balcony where Tatiana often sits. Efe usually joins Oxana and me at the kitchen table.


Meals are rich. The table is always full...


Conversations are rich, too. Some days, the conversations (and food) last for hours.


Efe is fifteen-years-old and speaks Turkish. He has more English under his belt than does Oxana. Oxana speaks Russian and Turkish. When Efe is present, Oxana uses Efe as a translator when she wants to talk with me. I am coming to learn that Efe sometimes makes up what one of us has said because he does not know how to translate it.


Oxana wanted Efe to translate to me that the fabric (at work) came in and they (her workers) want her to come look at it. I could hear that Oxana was speaking for an extended period of time. When she was done, Efe sat in silence, sighed, and said to me: "My mom says that she loves you very much." I looked at him expectantly. "That is all," he said.


I looked at him and said, "That's all?" He said, "Yes. That's all." I used the Google Translator on my phone to ask Oxana what she said. When she wrote back about the fabric, I looked at Efe, tilted my head, and shrugged with an expression that asked: Why? He looked a bit sheepish and said, "I did not know how to translate."


"You can tell us you do not know how to translate that," I said. "We can use the Google Translate on the phone," I said. "I like my way," said Efe.


I try to keep Efe's reaction to not knowing and resulting behavior of falsification in mind. I try to remember to check in with Efe when he is translating.


Oxana and I were discussing racism. The word "compassion" came up in my part of the discussion. I thought, maybe the word compassion is not easily translated. After all, both the word and the concept of compassion are not common.


"Do you know that word, compassion," I asked Efe. "No," he said, honestly.


I had not explained "compassion" in my own words before. I usually use someone else's definition. In her book "Atlas of the Heart" Brené Brown shares a definition of compassion that I like and have used. It is this:

Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving kindness AND we take action in the face of suffering.

If you would like to hear Brené Brown read the section of Atlas of the Heart about compassion, open up the book in YouTube HERE and start at 3:49:35. If you have not read the book at all, you may want to start from the beginning. I highly recommend this book.


With Efe, I wanted to define compassion simply, for the sake of translation. At that moment, I did not think about what to say. The definition naturally rolled off my tongue. It was this:

Compassion is when your heart is tender, and you know that other people's hearts have that tenderness too.

Sitting with my own words, I am realizing that this definition arose straight from my recent experiences around Michelle.


Recently, when I think of Micelle being present, I simultaneously feel her and feel love, and miss her and feel sad. Immediately, it seems, a rippling effect occurs. I start to soften. I feel tender. Then I feel connected with the tenderness of others. Then I feel connected, to everything. I feel at one and at peace. No matter how stressed and inwardly focused I had been, when I even think about Michelle being present and this rippling experience happens, I am (pretty instantly) inside the living room of my Guest House, sitting side-by-side with compassion.


Have you read The Guest House by Rumi? I have read this poem many times, to myself and out loud to others. Still, reading it now, something in me begins to understand more.


The Guest House


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.


Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


Translated by Coleman Barks

From The Illuminated Rumi


I am sitting with compassion in the guest house. Oxana is compassion. I am living as a guest in her home. This home feels safe, loving, and nurturing. Here, I am able to process through what recently happened with Mujdat.


I am realizing that Rumi was right: each "guest," whether it is a person or emotion (that enters my life) offers me a gift. Right now, I am able to see that the gift is brilliant. I have not always seen the Light.


Choosing to be in a relationship and then leaving it were opportunities to receive the gift. The gift is trusting that my boundaries are intact, and that I will listen to and follow them in order to stay safe. The gift is trusting myself to stay safe while taking chances.


Often, these kinds of opportunities do not feel loving. They do not feel like something I want or need. In the past, these painful challenges have felt like AFGOs (Another F...ing Growth Opportunity), stressing the "F."


I could have called this post: "The AFGO Life Lessons and Roller-Coaster Adventures of Ami Ji in Turkey (part two)." I did set myself up for that title by naming the last post "(part one)." Yet, the title I am choosing now, for this post: "Sitting with Compassion in The Guest House" seems to be resonating for me on many levels.


This time, when something went very wrong, my internal Witness was able to keep me safe and give me perspective.


Right now, I do not view what happened as a "bad" event. I am feeling (not just thinking) that the event was an opportunity. I am feeling how the opportunity delivered a gift. This perspective is new for me.


The gift is that I am realizing I can be in a relationship if I want to be. I know now that I have the ability to (quickly) realize when a relationship is not working, and step away. Not only can I step away, I can step away with compassion.


This time, I did not immediately step away with compassion. There was definitely a lag time. The lag time was relatively short though. It took less than a week for me to move from stepping away traumatized to stepping away with compassion. This is new for me.


After a few days of feeling deeply disturbed when I thought about "us," I realized I did not want our parting to leave a painful scar.


I had inadvertently moved Mujdat's WhatsApp contact with our communication thread to "archive." I thought I had deleted our conversation thread. I had not.


By inadvertently moving his contact to "archive" I did not see him on my WhatsApp chat page. If I had deleted the thread (as I thought I had) I would see a new text pop up when he was ready to send one. Whenever I opened my WhatsApp chat page and did not see him pop up there, I thought he was not messaging me. I was surprised, disappointed, and relieved.


Actually, he was messaging me. His messages went undetected by me until, I suppose, I was ready to be in contact. A week later, I realized his messages were in "archive." When I saw this, I opened his thread to find his messages. I messaged back.


I asked if we could talk. I explained that it was not to get back together, but for closure, to end things in a better way.


When we talked, Mujdat shared that he had prayed for me every day. Maybe his prayers helped me move more quickly from feeling traumatized to being open to compassion.


Just in case you are concerned right now, I am not saying I want back into the relationship. I do not.


When we went on (what Captain Mike used to call) a "walkie-talkie," I talked about how it is not ok to take stress out on others. Mujdat heard me, pulled me in, held me tightly, and said that he did not want me to get hurt. That included me getting hurt by him. He disclosed that he has a quick temper.


I am happy to report that I listened to what he said. In the past, I have heard men tell me: "I have a lot of baggage... I have cheated on my partners... I have hurt people... I can be cold and calloused..." I would think aw, he trusts me enough to tell me that. I saw disclosure as a sign to step in to the relationship. It was not. It is not. It was and is a sign to step away.


I am presently sitting in the guest house with compassion. I am ever processing and learning.


Mujdat has said a couple of interesting things to me. He shared his thoughts about how, when two people become a couple, they become one: they think alike and act as one. He shared his expectation that knowing him meant I would know how to speak and act, as a couple. I listened. I could even relate with that way of thinking. I used to think that way too. It must be an old male-dominant cultural thing.


I am happy to say, I do not think that way now. Not at all. Now, I might even label that way of thinking "co-dependent" and see it as unhealthy and problematic.


I said, "I do not see it that way," and waited to give Mujdat time to adjust to this. Then I said, "I see it as... when two people come together, they are still two people."


"When two people come together, they are still two people," Mujdat repeated. It felt like he was taking that in. I was reminded of when The Little Prince repeated the fox's wise lesson about The Little Prince's rose: "We become responsible for the things we love."


I think that Mujdat felt responsible for me, because he felt love for me and for other reasons too. He told me he is aware I am not from Turkey, do not know the Turkish culture, do not speak Turkish, and can not navigate getting around. He told me he feels responsible for me. I am trying to assure him that, though I appreciate his concern and help, there are a lot of things I can and have been doing. Although I like the company, I think it is good, for a number of reasons, for me to take a lot of time to be on my own.


The first day we talked, Mujdat apologized up and down and in and out for (emotionally) hurting me and for his bad behavior. The second time we talked, he wondered if I wanted to apologize to him, too. He explained that I had brought stress with me, and that added to his stress level. I apologized for my stress affecting him. I also explained my thinking that it is not about having stress, it is about how we deal with it. I asked if I had taken my stress out on him. At that moment, he was not able to switch gears. He was thinking my stress added to our problems. Period.


It is true I brought stress into the camper when he first picked me up. While Mujdat was prepping the camper for our road trip, I met with the hotel owner where I was hoping to lead a Retreat. It was a very stressful meeting.


In the camper, I said that it was a frustrating meeting and I felt stressed. I sat quietly with my process while Mujdat drove. I used my bongers, offering one to Mujdat. I stuck my head out the camper window and let the wind blow the stress out of my hair. I think I understand why dogs stick their heads out car windows. It worked. I was back.


Mujdat remembers that as stressful for him. I suggested it is important to allow each person to deal with their own stress and not take it on. Again, I might label the tendency to take on another person's feelings as co-dependent. It is unhealthy and problematic.


I do think that wisdom is a path, and that people are on different places along the path. I do think that some are further ahead and some are further behind. I think that, within the theme of interdependence vs codependence, I am further along on the path than Mujdat is.

I realize that I can not make someone understand where I am on the path. I can only have compassion for both of us, for where we each are, on the path. I also understand that I do not need to walk side-by-side with someone who is at a different place on the path... a place that feels unhealthy and problematic.


Brené Brown talks about how the most highly compassionate people have strong boundaries. I am beginning to understand this more.


I am sitting with compassion in the guest house.



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3 комментария


Ami! I look forward to your homecoming. Meanwhile, I want to say, it feels like a privilege for me... for all of us... that you have invited us to share in your journey. Be safe, my friend, and be well, 'til we saw you some more!

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Nimi Reddy
Nimi Reddy
16 февр.

U write so well Amy. ji......felt like u were talking to me ,face to face in the ..... Guest room...... Nimi

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Welcome, welcome to my house; here my 1st guest is compassion...💜

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