A few weeks ago many of our staff and volunteers participated in a weekend program from the Upaya Zen Center called “G.R.A.C.E.: Training in Cultivating Compassion-based Interactions.” A great fit for a compassion-based organization such as ours, and a program I have personally participated in on several occasions.
The first letter of G.R.A.C.E. stands for “grounding.” Before entering an interaction, feel your feet on the earth, remember who you are and what is important to you. As I get grounded now in our community, I feel the deep commitment our staff has to caring for our families living with ALS. I also feel the ground of ALS almost like a tremor, unsettled and shifting and unpredictable. I feel and recognize how challenging it can be for all of us, especially those living with the disease and their closest caregivers.
Grounding into this reality I recognize how important it is to bring compassionate service into the circumstance, whatever it may be. From here, in the G.R.A.C.E. model, we move into “R,” that is to “recall your intention.” Why are we here? What is it that we want to bring, offer or contribute? And how do we want to do so?
One of my big intentions with CCALS is to simply show up. Continue to bring our unique relational model of care to this relentless disease, while keeping an open mind and heart, and hold space for not-knowing, not fixing, simply being. In order to continue showing up, we have to continue hosting events like our Gala, happening June 3. Without events like our Gala—and the many other smaller yet hugely important fundraisers that happen throughout the year—we would be unable to “recall the intention” to keep showing up for those in need.
The “A” of G.R.A.C.E. is “attunement,” first to self, then to others. This is that embodied wisdom that is so honest, if only we take a moment to quiet and become curious. What am I feeling? Where is it in my body? What is the person I wish to serve feeling? Can I feel with them with balanced empathy?
As I attune to our work and our community, what I feel is something akin to a strong tide or a stream with a steady current. This flow comes from the mystery of life and death, the unanswerable question of why some people get a terminal disease while others do not. When I soften and tune in to this reality, my heart opens to the flow, and to the calling that CCALS has…to be there as best we can for those who find themselves one day leaving a neurologist’s office with a diagnosis they did not want to receive. Where do you go with that trauma?
We are here to provide calm guidance and awareness when that news comes your way. We are here to explore possibilities with you in the spirit of mutuality and encouragement. The river of need keeps flowing, and that is why we’re opening an office in Colorado, expanding our presence in Pennsylvania, and hiring additional care liaisons to provide online connections throughout the country. We’re tuned in to the need, and acutely aware of what is often missing for those faced with a terminal illness like ALS.
The next letter of G.R.A.C.E. is “C,” i.e. “consider.” Consider what will truly serve. This step involves a pause, a creating of space and inviting possibilities that didn’t at first come to mind. What that is will vary, case by case, moment by moment, and often requires an act of faith. I don’t know what is needed right now, but I will pause, open my heart, really tune in and see what emerges.
What feels like it will serve our community is our Cultivating Compassion Education Series, including our Speaker Series. These gatherings and programs provide places of belonging, circles held in the council way in which all voices count, and listening is more important than analyzing and fixing. If you have not participated in one of our gatherings, or heard one of our speakers, I highly recommend that you do.
The final letter of G.R.A.C.E. is “E,” standing for “engage and end.” After considering what will serve, to engage in compassion is to take action. The essence of compassion is the sincere desire to reduce suffering. There is a bit of a paradox in this, however, because engaging may appear to be active, and yet at other times it appears passive and inactive. When we attune and consider what will truly serve, we may realize that bearing witness is the most compassionate thing we can do. By simply being with another, fully present, clear and attuned with an open heart can be incredibly healing.
Related to ending, it’s important to recognize the time to end, when enough is enough. I call this “stealth showing up,” a way of sensing what is needed, giving just enough, and quietly moving on when our work is done. Ending is equally sacred as anything else that happens in the encounter. Let go and move on, because there’s somebody down the line who needs your full and clear attention.
I want to acknowledge our staff, who I see giving of themselves in difficult circumstances every day. They do this knowing that those in their care are on the path of ALS, and that they can’t do anything about that, except to bring kindness, calm and awareness, and walk alongside where others, at times, fear to go. Let us continue walking together along this road of life that, for all of us, one day transitions, in some mysterious way, into something else.