Camping in the Mud, a Carsick Dog and a Dying Friend: Connecting with Compassion in Times of Stress

Overloaded moments happen to all of us. Sometimes it’s project or charting deadlines competing with care emergencies.  Or it’s a crisis in our family that collides with our scheduled client times. Or it’s an on-call emergency that comes in just at the height of our preparations for a family birthday dinner.  It’s another violent death in the news, worries about bills, and a loved one who is transitioning into their final days.  If we could map the stress patterns of our day, odds are some of those high stress moments are going to overlap with the need for a high quality connection with someone. 

We all have those times when someone needs us – maybe during our working hours and scheduled ‘available’ times – and we’re far from that state of calm, curious, regulated attention that we know as presence.  

This winter, my partner and I took an inaugural voyage with our new (to us) popup camper. It was inevitably going to have some stress-load to it.  First off, there was a long list of ‘things we can’t comprehend’ from the various manuals.  Then, as we departed, there were the intolerably loud alarms that must mean something, but what, we had no clue.  There was the 4” mud layer that surrounded our camping area, sucking our wheels into the ground and leaving a moat that meant wet shoes and mud-covered everything. There was a car sick dog, the uncertainty about winter camping and staying warm and going through a second round of unexplained alarms. And then there was the intent of the 5 hour trip – to spend socially distanced, outdoors time with a good friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. In the midst of trying to manage mud, cookstoves, and making what we hoped would be a fireside meal and time to connect, a client had a crisis, and I needed to take the call.  

It’s times like these that everyone, myself included, needs quality connections and a safe place to be vulnerable. It’s times like these that I’m so very grateful for practices that can settle my central nervous system, not shutting me off from my experience, and not letting the strong emotions and the overwhelming inputs push me off balance.

The trees, still dormant, moved their branches like uplifted arms, lending me inspiration. My feet, feeling that soft earth mixed with the heavy wetness of winter, found balance. The wind, still holding the crisp edge of winter seen in the banks of snow mounded among the leaf litter of the forest, breathed with me. One for me, one for you, and one for this world full of uncertainties, loss, confusion and the goodness of being alive, even with grief, and difficulty.

When I feel a warmth of compassion and a space of acceptance in this way, it’s not me showing up for you, or you showing up for me. It’s just the simple fact of our connectedness that holds up the world. Even when the load is heavy. 

A Practice For You

Here’s a practice to try when you’re working with a stressful experience:

  • Bring your attention to the soles of your feet
    • If you’re standing, notice how your feet support you and provide you balance
      • wiggle your toes
      • shift your weight toward your toes for a few seconds and return to center
      • shift your weight back on your heels for a few seconds and return to center
      • with your feet fully stable and supported, take a few in-breaths and out-breaths as you need to feel more connected and balanced.
    • If you’re sitting, notice how your feet feel resting firmly on the floor
      • slowly move or gently wiggle your toes
      • feel the texture of your socks, the shoes covering your feet 
      • bring your attention to the curve of your arch, then your heels
      • if you’re barefoot, feel the floor or carpet with the soles of your feet
      • with your feet fully supported, take a few in-breaths and out-breaths as you need to feel more connected and balanced.



Karen Laing is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher with experience in trauma and caregiving. She's spent the last 25 years supporting families through major life transitions such as birth and postpartum care.

She founded Birthways over 20 years ago to support expectant families and provide training and support for birthworkers. She created WisdomWay as a means to continue supporting all caregivers with mindfulness-based training and certifications. She speaks nationwide on mindfulness, parenting, caregiving, and mental health.