Every day I wake up believing I was sent into the world with a mission of healing and change. Along with many of you I sense that we humans have been painting ourselves into a corner and are in need of a totally new way of living. Economic, technological, environmental, political, and social issues have taken on lives of their own and have taken a toll on our lives. And it’s all moving at an alarmingly accelerated pace, out of our control. Developments that once took centuries now are occurring in months and we’re constantly playing catch-up.
I need something that will bring me spiritual fulfillment in this new world. That radical concept is a compassion that transforms and heals. Compassion literally means “to feel with.” In practical terms it is my understanding or empathy for the suffering of others that will motivate me to help.
I witness compassion daily and usually unconsciously, and yet I run away from it. When I pass by a homeless person on the streets of Boston asking for money my first response is to nod and walk on, for fear the cash will go to a substance addiction. It’s not that I’m reluctant to buy them a meal if they really want food, but I often don’t have the time or the extra cash. Then almost immediately thereafter I feel a pain in my heart because I wish I had made a different choice. Like frowning versus smiling, it takes more muscle and mental effort not to be compassionate.
But I also realize that not all of what I call compassion is equivalent. Simply feeling sorry for others or having empathy for their plight does little to help them. For example, the media knows that a good story and the emotions it produces can make us feel more connected to the kind of “community” that the media wish to create. But then they beat a good story to death with repetitious updates, too much detail, intrusive interviewing, or unhelpful follow-ups. Haven’t many of us adopted this style of reporting our comings and goings in the social media? While all of this may engender feelings of compassion, it’s usually at a safe distance and often leads to empathy overload.
Aside from warm feelings, the kind of compassion our world needs must be transformational and healing. The means by which we practice this form of compassion is by our integrity. How can I know I am integrated enough? (Read my previous post: “I Do Not Have Integrity”) The point is I cannot know. I approach life either with integrity or not, either by being whole in the moment or not. All the empathy I might have for others means nothing if it is not intimately flowing from my integrity, my wholeness as a human-being-in-action.
Integrity enables me to listen to my heart for the cues I need that lead me to take the next right compassionate step. It has nothing to do with the warm feeling in helping others or even its outcome. It has to do with taking the appropriate action. I yearn that compassion motivated by integrity become second-nature in me, moving me to act automatically, without my calculating out how much I will be inconvenienced. It’s got to be the right thing to do for no other reason than it isthe right thing to do now.
How do I get there? I think it starts with self-awareness. I’ve found that the person with whom I am most cruel, heartless, and impatient is me. And why do I give myself such a hard time? I used to think it was a high ethical stance, or because I was socially a square peg forcing myself to fit into a round hole, or due to the dysfunction in my family of origin and my highly sensitive nature. I used to think I was hard on myself for some complicated or unknowable reason.
But now I’ve stripped away former analyses, excuses, and justifications. I now know that I am not compassionate with myself whenever I feel like I don’t matter. It’s up to me to accept the choice I have to value and appreciate my unique, atypical self, fully and openly. I need to give myself at least the same understanding and love I so readily wish to give to others. It is the beginning of truly transformative and healing compassion that will emanate from my life and touch others. Thus my life purpose will be fulfilled. What about yours?
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An another wonderful blog, so accurately portrayed and defined. Very touching. I Love it.
An another wonderful blog, so accurately portrayed and defined. Very touching.
Where does compassion begin and end. I have compassion but if I gave money to every homeless person or person in need I wouldn’t have enough to take care of my needs.
Also the compassion to take on others problems in some ways is a way of avoiding you own problems.
I applaud people with overwhelming compassion but they also seem to have the most issues with themsleves.
Prescisely. Compassion must begin with oneself. Only then will we be able to approach others with the appropriate form of compassion that will best help them. This may be material help, or it could be relational or program help. I must disagree with your last statement though. There are a lot of people with overwhelming compassion such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta who did not seem to have huge issues with herself. She was quite confident in her mission. Thanks for your comment!