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Entries in compassion (2)

Monday
Nov142016

A phrase to change the world...


The most liberating thing I have learned in my life to date is the following phrase…..

Everyone is doing the best they can…if they could do better they would.

-       Matt Kahn

Thinking lightly about that phrase we often find ourselves viewing it with a degree of judgement, ‘I know Bob, and I have seen him do a lot better than he is giving me right now!’ or my personal favorite, the self-deprecating ‘Jeez you would think after so many years I would do that better than I did’.  However, both of these miss the mark of what is being said in that small phrase., so let me repeat it to make it fresh for us all…

Everyone is doing the best they can…if they could do better they would.

That means that in every moment, second to second, everyone is doing their very best, if they could do better they would.  You see, over the last 20 years I have had the opportunity to see a lot of folks, probably in excess of 300,000, and so I have gotten a pretty good look into a lot of lives, and I can categorically tell you that not once, not even once did anyone ever come in and tell me that they had gone out and given their very worst to anything.  In fact, when I would ask, almost to a one, they looked dumfounded as if the thought of giving less than their best was crazy…and it is.

You see, we are always giving our best in every single moment of every single day.  It changes, some moments our best is expansive and fantastic, at others we would prefer no one ever spoke of it again.  It is like that for everyone, I can assure you of that, and everyone has moments when their best made them soar, and moments when their best seemed to leave them feeling worse.  However, it was in each moment their very best, and that is the important part of this whole phrase.

Everyone is doing the best they can…if they could do better they would.

That means as I am writing this now, it is my very best.  That might be great or it might not, hard to see from this perspective, but I can tell you, it is the best I have at this moment in time.  If I had anything better to give, I would be giving it to you right now.  So, let’s take a moment to feel how that feels when we try it on, shall we.

I am doing the best I can…if I could do better I would.

So how did that feel?  Comfortable? Strange? Crazy?  Did it prompt immediate conversation in your head?  Words like ‘oh sure, I have seen you do better’ or maybe ‘that is not all that good you know’ or maybe you are one of the lucky folks who believes and you heard ‘damn right you doing your very best’.  However, none of what is said changes the fact that in this moment you were/are in fact doing your very best and if you could do better you would. 

So why bother?

This phrase is a step toward liberating yourself of all the judgment that comes from beating yourself up about the actions you took, failed to take, thoughts you had or failed to have.  It frees you of the need to judge yourself harshly, and if you use this phrase often, you can find that it heals some of your deepest wounds.  If you use this phrase when you encounter memories from your past you would rather not review, then it can be the first step toward learning to love yourself just as you are.

One my own examples

As I am sitting one day in meditation, simply enjoying the moment of quiet, enjoying the fact that the chatter of my mind seemed a little less loud, a memory arose that was big, in my face, and unpleasant.  It was a realization that for 18 years of medical practice I had been needing the patient to fulfill my need to be loved.  I realized in a flash, that pretty much every encounter I had over those many years had an underlying context of need I had not been aware of, my need to feel wanted, worthy and loved.  I used the examination room, and my encounters with patients to feed that voracious need in my life, and if the person in my room met that need then everything went well, if they did not, well let’s just say I could get a little less friendly in my presentations of the options you could choose for you care.  I was mortified, horrified, and really felt crushed when I realized that for the last 18 years, my provision of medical care was done all in an attempt to get my needs met by the poor souls who landed in my office, and not really about the delivery of good medical care (that was just a lucky by product).  In that moment I felt like I was a complete farce, a fake, someone who had really been living a lie.  Yet in that moment the gold phrase of compassion came through my head again….

Everyone is doing the best they can…if they could do better they would. 

It was true, I knew it deep in my heart, it was indeed true.  I saw that in each of those moments I was doing the very best that I could, and that my best had changed moment to moment.  It changed a lot once I began to understand the unmet needs of my subconscious and it was as that change occurred that I realized exactly how I had been practicing previously.  But in seeing that I had been doing the very bet that I could, I was able to see that version of who I was with compassion, to feel for the struggle that had been present that was unknown to me at those moments in time.  To that version of who I was, what was being given was the very best, and as I looked back upon it, I could see how that best had changed again and again but the act of giving my best had not changed even once.  And as I began to see that for myself, I began to see it more clearly in others, they were giving their best, each moment of each day, and when that best was rough, unkind, uncaring, it broke my heart a little for each of them as I realized that this was the best this person had to offer in this moment. It allowed me to feel into their lives and into their pain and love them despite it.  By acknowledging the best that we each offer, it allows our best to step up and to improve in each moment.  When I recognize the best you are bringing is the best that you have and treat it with respect because it is your best, then funny enough, you best steps up just a little bit more.  So one person at a time, one moment at a time, we bring our best forward, acknowledge it in ourselves and celebrate it in others, and the world starts to change.

 

Friday
Jul012016

Forgiveness...it is the heart-seed of compassion…

It is interesting how life can take you by surprise.  Just when you feel like you have things figured out, and that you are finally moving forward and understanding yourself, life comes along and drops some stuff in your lap to review.  

Bang!

Wow, I thought I had worked through that stuff…..maybe not…..the fact that it is here means it is important to work on…..what is it asking me to do?!?

In my case, it was a lovely series of memories of my anger.  Anger towards the ones I love, to those who could defend themselves and against those who could not.  But most of all it was anger toward my own innocence.  To my own sense of who I was, to my own inner being.  The starkest memory was of a generous soul who taught me about unconditional love in the most in your face manner possible, my dog Paddy.  He was a lovely German Shorthair Pointer that was found in the Oquirrh Mountains in Utah scratching for something to eat.  Nancy brought him back to me as I was working at the weekend clinic on post and said, ‘Here, I found you a dog!’ and indeed she had. 

He was a fantastic dog, loyal, humble, playful, and loving.  As an owner I had my ups and downs, and one of my biggest downs was in the harshness of my training of him.  That is the gem that life dropped into my lap, an opportunity to look back at the highlight reel of harsh training methods from my current perspective, and it was gut wrenching.  However, it was the gut wrenching starkness of that review that led to the most profound healing.  In looking at how magnificently Paddy continued to love me despite my actions I had a glimpse at the unconditional nature of love.  As I reflected up on that unconditional nature of love, I was able to see so many others in my life who had loved me as deeply and as unconditionally in spite of my actions, they saw me as I was, deep inside, and looked past those aspects of me that were not bright shiny moments.  The loved me beyond my actions and in spite of my glaring imperfections.  They found me worthy of that love even when I did not find myself worthy of such love, and certainly did not have any for myself in that time.

In looking at these moments something becomes very clear, that in each of these moments I was doing the very best that I was capable of doing, and that if I could have done better I would have.  It is this knowing, that is the ground for forgiveness.  It is this knowing that even my worst was still the best I had at that time, in those moments, and if I had been capable of anything better at that moment I would have brought that forward.  Forgiveness is seeing that aspect of every action and interaction, it is seeing that in every moment you do the best that you are capable of, and being gentle with yourself if that best appears awful.  It is accepting and loving the one who could only do so much from the knowledge that in that moment, this is all they were capable of doing.  It is looking into that moment and giving yourself that unconditional love as Paddy, and as so many did for me.  It is looking into that moment and seeing past that action, seeing without judgment, seeing it for what it is, the best you had in that moment, and loving the one who could not do any better at that moment in time.  

When you step into that space where you can love the ones who seem so unlovable, it is here that your compassion arises.  In looking within, with compassion and knowing that you did your very best in every moment, you start to see those around you in the very same light.  You see actions that look very much like your own, and realize, ‘they are doing the best they can, if they could do better they would’. You see people where they are, in their struggles, and realize they are doing the very best that they can, and so you can love them where they are for they are doing their best, if they could do any better they would.

So, as you sit and meditate, do not shy away from the gifts that life drops into your lap.  They are brought to you for a reason, they are brought at the perfect time, and they arrive to further the healing of your soul.  Love whatever arises, knowing that in any given moment, you are in fact doing the very best that you can, and that there are so many around you who see this, know this, and love you just as you are.  In time, you become the one who loves yourself as well.

For a wonderful talk on compassion that touched my heart and resonnated deeply, see Matt Kahn's talk