Hurricane Harvey approaches Texas. The weather forecast calls for 35 mph winds in Austin. I feel scared.
I look at the trees that are marked by Austin Energy. They are to be trimmed, because they endanger electric power lines. One tree in particular worries me. It leans heavily against the power lines next to our bedroom. I imagine that the storm winds might swing it back and forth so strongly that it will break the lines and cut power to our house and our neighbor’s.
It’s early Friday morning and my husband is still asleep. I decide to act with vigor and determination and keep our neighborhood safe. I’ll cut down the tree.
I get a saw and start sawing. Not too bad. I cut through quite easily and the tree falls in the planned direction. I feel satisfied.
Until I look up.
The tree is not leaning against the lines anymore. It’s hanging on them. With it’s full weight.
OMG! That’s not good. That’s not good at all. That’s horrible! The weight will certainly tear down the electric lines, and we are only hours before Harvey hits the Texan coast. No electricity for days and Austin Energy will probably have something more important to do than restore the power to our little house.
Unless it ignites a fire! Oh my goodness! I start to panic … Okay, breathe in, breathe out … I tell myself: “Pick up the trunk and move it off the lines …”
Despite all my weightlifting practice, I can’t move it an inch. Worse yet, with my moving it, the tree gets more entangled.
I breathe in, I breathe out …
I remember Thich Nhat Hanh saying “If you’re in a hurry, slow down”. Okay. “Elly, don’t act — think.”
I know I can’t stay for hours holding a trunk that’s way too heavy for me. And I don’t see or hear anyone who is within ear distance to call out for help. I conclude it’s up to me to solve this, for better or worse.
I succeed at pushing the trunk into the ground far enough that I think it won’t slide away and the tree will stay upright rather than dragging down the power lines. I run to the shed to get a ladder to get closer to the higher branches. It takes me half an hour and a lot of mindful breathing to fix the problem and get the tree out of the way of the power line. Nothing is broken. We are still safe.
That’s when a tornado of self-critical thoughts engulf in my head: “You absolute, stupid, idiotic moron! You could have killed yourself, you stupid, idiotic moron.” Some of them in Dutch. All of them extremely painful to hear.
I feel super grateful that we just offered our Self-Compassion workshop. I remember that self-compassion is not reserved for those situations, where our suffering is triggered by others. Self-compassion is especially needed when our suffering results from our own mistakes.
Yes, I was unconscious of my incompetence in tree cutting. I feel ashamed and embarrassed for the potential harm I created. That doesn’t make me a person undeserving of compassion, love, and belonging. On the contrary, I need it now more than ever. With some extra attention to my breaths, and some kind words in my head, I start to feel relieved, and even a bit amused by the whole situation. After all: this is the stuff newsletters are made of.
When do you need self-compassion the most? Let me know, I would love to read from you.