Practicing Compassion After Physical Abuse. ~ via Hollie Hirst.

Via elephant journal
on Nov 23, 2009
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My ex-husband began abusing me when I was four months pregnant.

It started with emotional abuse. I would sit on our sofa picking fuzz balls off of the blanket I was wrapped in, listening to him belittle me for hours. He was unabashed in letting me know how worthless I was.

Eventually, the emotional abuse turned physical. One night I remember especially vividly; we had been watching a program on TV, and the program was speaking of authenticity, the importance of living a good life, keeping our relationships uncluttered with negativity and treating our loved ones well. He asked me if I thought I had done this with my life. I replied that I thought I had. This comment sent him off into one of his rages. He tackled me on the sofa, pinning my legs down with his legs, grabbing the wrist of one of my arms and pinning my other arm with his elbow. He then placed his other hand over my mouth and nose so I was unable to breathe. He glared at me and snarled,

“Really, you really think you are so great? Are you are ready to die tonight? You better be cuz you are gonna die tonight.”

His Buddha necklace made of Thai gold dangled in my sight. I struggled for a moment, needing air, but to no avail. I left my body and observed the scene. He yelled,

“Don’t look at me with those blue eyes, those evil blue eyes…”

I don’t remember what happened next, how he got off of me. I just remember getting up and walking calmly upstairs to go to bed. He followed me up, yelling the whole way, telling me how worthless he thought I was.

When I got to the bedroom I sat on the edge of the bed to remove my socks and he pulled his .45 out of the closet and put it to my head, continuing on his tirade. He insisted I should kill myself because he saw me as a vile person, insisting that if I stayed around, our kids would grow up to be scarred and horrible people because I ruin everything. I asked him,

“If I am such a horrible person, why do you stay with me? What does it say about you that you are with such a worthless woman?”

Of course, this enraged him more and his threats of putting a bullet through my head escalated. Somehow I was able to get my kids out of the house and into the truck.

My kids and I moved to Colorado shortly there after.

Last year, around the anniversary of this scene, I found myself thinking about it all, about him, about the abuse. I had just found out that he owns a natural foods restaurant in Indiana.

Opening a similar restaurant had been one of my dreams. I found myself thinking,

“Where is the karma in that? How does a man who abused me end up getting to live his dreams?”

I decided to go to a yoga class and see if I could find any kind of insight on the mat.

In the yoga class we did toppling tree and birds of paradise, now two of my favorite poses. Both toppling tree and birds of paradise are bound balancing poses, and both remind me to maintain my focus, balance and grace when I find myself bound in difficult situations.

Hollie Hirst

While on the mat, I thought of all the difficulties that life had dealt this man, my ex-husband, my abuser.

I thought about how he had been raised in Southern Indiana by two abusive fathers. Both of them had blue eyes. I realized that while he was abusing me and yelling about my eyes he had probably been flashing back to them.

None of this is to make an excuse for his behavior, what he did was wrong.

I thought of all the kids that would hurl racist slurs at him. A gang of kids once held him down and shoved dog poop in his ear while calling him “chink.”

I though of the anger and hatred that I had felt for him and the desire for revenge my anger had inspired in me. I realized that he still carried the anger caused by the abuse he had experienced in his youth. His clinging to the anger and desire for revenge had been what had justified, in his mind, his abuse of me.

In practicing compassion for him I was able to see that I had to let go of my anger, lest I become like him.

I also realized that I could use my past experiences of abuse to practice compassion for others who had lived in terror. I can understand how people are moved to act in horrible ways by the terror they have seen in their lives. It is not right to strap a bomb to oneself and kill innocent people, or to abduct children and force them into being soldiers; just as my ex-husbands abuse was wrong, and my desire for revenge was wrong.

But I understand it, because I have felt it, and I know that this is where anyone’s untrained mind goes.

“It is possible to have compassion without attachment, and similarly, to have anger without hatred. Therefore we need to clarify the distinctions between compassion and attachment, and between anger and hatred.

Such clarity is useful in our daily life and in our efforts toward world peace.

I consider these to be basic spiritual values for the happiness of all human beings, regardless of whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever.”

~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso


Hollie Hirst, a certified yoga instructor, enjoys working privately with survivors and others struggling with life’s difficulties. She is a volunteer legal advocate with the Safehouse Alliance for Progressive Non-Violence (SPAN) and has been a rape crisis hotline volunteer. Hollie earned a BGS with a concentration in human and behavioral sciences from Indiana University and a graduate level certificate in Organizational Management and Development from Fielding Graduate University, where her studies concentrated in authentic leadership and horizontal organizations.

To schedule a private lesson, she can be contacted by email.


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8 Responses to “Practicing Compassion After Physical Abuse. ~ via Hollie Hirst.”

  1. Hollie Hirst says:

    I wanted to clarify some things on this post. First, I must emphasize that the abuser is always responsible for their behavior. Second, I never begin practice with survivors by doing this type of work (unless they have been out of the relationship for quite some time and they request it). Often a certain amount of anger is necessary for the survivor to have the impetus to leave the abusive relationship. I start with the most important question, are you safe? I then focus on restoring self-confidence and create situations in which they can feel strong and capable. I also teach pranayama as a stress management tool. Often survivors hold trauma in certain areas of the body, and I know from personal experience that yoga and dance are powerful tools to help release the trauma out of the body. It is my goal to create a safe space where clients can release the fear, feelings of betrayal and self doubt that so often are the result of abuse.

  2. Kevin Casey says:

    Hollie, this is an incredible piece of writing – it captures so much in such vivid detail and graceful expression of an outrageously delicate and dangerous topic. I tip my hat for this contribution that is so uniquely yours and so well crafted. We are proud to have you as a part of our dojo.

  3. Chris says:

    Great story, good to see you moved on. I read Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda, great book talks about what you felt here.… A must read book by everyone who wants to do Yoga, it is just not physical exercise, it is also mental.

  4. Guest says:

    Thank you for this. I'm so glad someone was able to express this better than I can. I recently heard a yoga teacher try and unfortunately sound closer to stating that the victim is somehow to blame for any trauma she or he feels… I assume that is not what the teacher meant, but still. Thank you.

  5. Hollie says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments and thoughtful suggestions!

    Kevin, it's an honor to both train at and teach at the dojo!

  6. […] had been grappling with it for some time, because of some painful experiences in life (especially with men). My confusion and pain inspired discussions with my sensei Kevin, in our meditation class. I was […]

  7. wikirandy says:


    Thanks for sharing, and opening more of your world to me, and others. I was fortunate enough experience your generosity of of spirit in our path at Fielding. You do bring light to others – remember that always. – Randy

  8. Hollie says:

    Hi Randy!!!!
    How awesome to see you here!
    Sorry it took me a few to get back to you 🙂
    Thanks so much for your kind words!

    Your compassion and support have been a source of peace and inspiration for me is so many ways!