Compassion. Do You Have It?
What Is Compassion?
Surely, you're familiar with the term "compassion." Just in case, compassion is defined by Webster's Dictionary as:
"sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it."
Now that we're all up to speed, let's talk about compassion.
Who Deserves Yours?
Say you see a dog who has been abused, starved, neglected. Do you feel a pang of sadness? Are you overwhelmed with grief over the idea that a poor, helpless creature has been betrayed by those who were charged with its care?
How about a child? When "Save The Children" or one of those kind of organizations parades photos of hungry, naked children with huge sad eyes across the television screen do you well up with tears? Do you imagine what it must be like to fall asleep with knots tearing through your stomach? Do you feel for the parents, unable to provide for their child's most basic needs?
Now, how about a neighbor who has lost his job? Do you feel for his family, worried about losing their home? Is it upsetting to know that he lays awake at night feeling like a failure and wondering if things really are going to be all right?
What if the dog in question is a pit-bull, a rottweiler? Is it any more difficult to feel bad?
How about the starving children? Do your feelings on international issues cloud your ability to realize that you are seeing a baby suffer? Are you too busy blaming bad government, loose morals, or skin color to recognize an innocent spirit crying out for someone to care?
Now, for the neighbor. Say you don't like the way he only cuts his lawn once per month. Or that political sign he sticks in said lawn. Is he then less worthy of your compassion? Have you judged him for living beyond his means or for being in a bad industry, while looking past the fact that he is a fellow human with feelings every bit as valid as your own?
Tenzyn Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Compassion, has said that regardless of deeper existential beliefs, all humans share a desire for happiness.
Often, in our lives, we allow hatred and anger to poison our minds. This usually leads us astray on our path to happiness and fulfillment, making it much more difficult to wish others well on their journey.
Once anger and hatred have been allowed to infiltrate, our whole existence becomes difficult, unclear, muddled. We often feel frustrated and unsatisfied at our lack of happiness. This leads us down a slippery slope of blame and bitterness.
If we can pass the buck to something or someone else, we can avoid the reality that we are ultimately responsible for our own mental and spiritual state of being. Sadly, we can never achieve fulfillment this way. Quite the opposite, the more we stew over who or what has cheated us out of our happiness, the worse off we feel. Feeling less-than-stellar inside our own psyche just leads to more lashing out. It's a particularly nasty cycle that far too many of us spend our lives repeating.
Like begets like. You have probably heard the old Native American proverb where an elder tells his grandchildren that there are two wolves inside every person, constantly battling for dominance. One is filled with anger, selfishness, hatred, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is of compassion, kindness, humility, and love. The children ask which wolf will ultimately prevail and the answer (of course) is: "the one you feed."
Compassion, empathy, and concern is something that we can obtain and nurture.
First, we must clear out all of the junk that has accumulated in our minds. The noise. The things that don't matter. A big problem is that many of us have great difficulty just seeing anything. As soon as we look at something - be it a person, a situation, or an idea - we have already placed upon it a whole heap of clutter that completely alters our view of the thing as it really is. Rather than see the situation at hand - that a person is suffering - we often build up whole colonies of judgements against the sufferer and allow these judgements to discount the magnitude of their pain, or to negate its validity.
Next time you catch yourself doing this, stop and make a conscious effort to peel away all of the whys and hows and take the situation at face value. Here in this moment, someone suffers. If you cannot alleviate their pain, perhaps you can at least wish the best for them. This will not diminish your own potential for happiness. In fact, it will increase it exponentially.
Anoint the blistered feet before you rather than condemning the person they belong to for how they came to be that way.