I am here in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a retreat with Joan Halifax PhD , a Zen priest and anthropologist. We are exploring the practice of compassion for the dying. Joan has worked with the dying and lectured internationally for over forty years. The whole experience is a soulful journey for me into the deeper levels of death, dying and personal reflection.

Prior to my departure for the retreat my cat was diagnosed with Lymphomas in her stomach and GI tract. Tiger (my cat) had stopped eating, drinking and was extremely lethargic. We started her on a regimen of chemotherapy, anti nausea meds, steroids and subcutaneous hydration. I felt like I was back in the acute care hospital setting in the oncology unit. I was not willing to let Tiger go quietly into that long dark night. I was going to fight.

How many times have I dealt with families who were unwilling to remove tubes for nutrition or IV hydration for their loved one that was clearly suffering and dying? Yet there I was, unwilling to do the same with my own cat.

I am discovering a lot about myself during the retreat. I discovered that evoking compassion is not just about having a Big Heart but a fierce one as well. Compassion takes many forms. It can take the form of holding a hand, preparing a meal for a neighbor in distress or allowing a family member to fight to the bitter end for their loved one (human being and/or pet)…without judgment.

Where does your compassion fall short? When does it flow without effort?

Please submit your own stories of compassion.