Last Autumn, I attended Building Interpersonal Skills: An Experiential Workshop, organised by Susan Neville, Campbell Frank and a couple of other instructors, at Stanford. After this intensive program, one poem and one word repeatedly come back to me: compassion.
To begin the program, the instructors read us Miller Williams’s poem. Sue was very kind to share the text with me. I quote it below for you.
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
Have compassion for others. Have compassion for oneself.
Compassion is everywhere. The more we practice giving, the more we would receive.
To me, compassion for oneself is the hardest. One objective I had in attending this workshop was to develop more compassion for myself and more self-love. Some of us learn to be critical of ourselves and be generous with others throughout our lives. I am very lavish with encouragement and praise towards others; to say that I am proud that I did X, Y, or Z is more challenging. My inner judge would shout: “There is a lot more you could do. You could have done more excellently on those chosen subjects, or, achieve more broadly, or, with less effort invested. You can only improve if you see the shortcomings of your own.” Before I ever lift my head up for a moment of celebration, I rush to conquer my next shortcoming.
The Lyft driver picked me up. One topic lead to another. She fell into pieces in the marriage that seemed to be wrong in many ways, was bashed further in the divorce process. She became alcoholic. What seemed to be an endlessly painful struggle finally came to an end. She picked herself up. I was profoundly touched by her strength. “I would like to let you know that I truly admire your strength. For all the struggles you left behind, and for such a splendid survival, you and your strength deserve a lot of celebration.” She was surprised by my words. “We, women, really do not celebrate ourselves enough, particularly our merits. Your strength is inspiring. Celebrate that.” The car reached my destination. We said goodbyes.
To practice compassion for myself: I am glad that I enjoyed the Quantum Information Processing (QIP) conference this past week. A new field to me. I am proud that I showed up every day, tough topics or not, I made the effort to learn, to comprehend and to think. Thanks to the compassion that many people gifted me with during the conference, rather than being daunting, it has been a very happy intellectual struggle with many questions marks swirling in my heads.
My special thanks to Urmila Mahadev, Thomas Vidick, Luke Schaeffer, Ashwin Nayak, Antoine Grospellier, John Napp, François Le Gall, Alessandro Luongo, Mark Wilde, Ben Hamlin, Lior Horesh, Evan Anderson, Travis Humble, Evgeny Mozgunov, Graeme Smith and others, in no particular order, for the conversations during QIP.