Journey to Compassion
Compassion is a state of consciousness. We cultivate compassion when we can put ourselves in someone else’s situation and understand their thoughts, feelings and behavior. Our compassion helps us refrain from judgment and give others the benefit of the doubt. Even when they are expressing some strong emotion like anger, grief or jealousy, we can relate to them because we are human and have also had these feelings. Understanding and compassion go hand in hand.
Opposite States of Consciousness: Blaming, Shaming Judging, Finding Fault with others. Inability to understand and accept the human frailties of other people, Callousness and Rejection, Unwillingness to offer help and encouragement. Objectifying and dehumanizing others so that we feel justified in ignoring their rights and their needs.
Compassion is similar to empathy but it is not identical. Compassion helps us to be the observer and see the big picture. It helps us understand, based on our own experience, what someone else is going through. When we feel compassion for someone, we refrain from judging or rejecting, because we can see and relate to that person’s suffering.
Compassion is the bedrock of all twelve step programs. Alcoholics and drug addicts all have similar experiences. Women who have been harassed, beaten or raped have similar experiences. Boys or girls that have been abused by priests all have similar experiences. People who have been hungry or homeless understand the pain and struggle of those who are hungry and homeless now.
Our common experiences enable us to accept others even when they are acting out in unpleasant or destructive ways. We can really say “I know, because I have been there.”
Yet we can also feel compassion even if we have not had the same experience as someone else. When we understand someone’s history, we can see the root cause of his transgressions, misdeeds or mistakes. A person who grows up in poverty learns to lie or steal to survive. We don’t condone the lying or the stealing, but we don’t write that person off and refuse to help him because we understand how he became a liar or a thief. We also can see how he might change his behavior if he were offered the resources he needs.
Compassion enables us to walk in another person’s moccasins before we attempt to evaluate his behavior. Walking in his moccasins allows us to feel empathy for him. We can feel what he feels.
Empathy can be a stepping stone that deepens our experience of compassion. But it can also be problematic. When we feel empathy, we identify with that person’s experience, so that it becomes our own. If that person is experiencing grief, we start to feel grief too and it triggers all the past experiences of grief we have had. Now there are two people experiencing grief, not one.
So you can see the problem. If both people are in pain, who can bring love? Who can bring healing? Who can bring encouragement?
When we identify with someone else’s pain we are unable to help that person. We get stuck in the feelings. That is like one person jumping into quicksand to try to help another. It doesn’t work.
So empathy is helpful only if it is short term and we use our empathy to move into compassion. Compassion sees the big picture. It helps us stand back, observe and understand the situation so that we have the ability to help.
Oftentimes, people who are empathetic have a very difficult time in life. They identify with and “take on” the feelings of others. They have to learn to establish boundaries so that they are protected from the negative feeling states of other people. They need to constantly be aware of when those boundaries are being crossed and they are jeopardizing their own comfort and safety.
Sometimes identification happens unconsciously. The people we judge harshly often bring up our own unconscious guilt. We judge the homosexual because he brings up our own gay tendencies or ambivalence about our sexuality. We think we can exorcise our own feelings by condemning those who trigger our guilt. But this never works.
In John 8.7 Jesus tells the crowd who wanted to punish the woman who had committed adultery: “ He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” Jesus calls them to a deeper level of honesty, in which they must acknowledge their own sins.
if they punish her, then they should also be punished. If they forgive her, then they can also be forgiven.
There is an essential equality that exists between all human beings. One is not better or more spiritual than another. In Christian terms, “all are sinners.” All have made mistakes and must atone for them.
Compassion arises from our recognition of our essential equality with all other human beings. If I condemn others, then I am also condemning myself, for we are all cut of the same cloth.
Compassion enables me to recognize “myself in you” and “you in myself.” Either both of us are guilty, or both of us are innocent. What is true for the goose is true for the gander. There is not one set of truths for you and another set of truths for me. There is just one Truth and it applies to all of us.
Today practice compassion. Give others a break. Be tolerant toward them. Walk in their shoes and understand the struggles and pressures that they are facing in their lives. Try to find something in your own experience that helps you better understand or relate to them.
Today have compassion for yourself as well. If you are judging or condemning yourself, try to soften and cut yourself a break. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be right all the time. You are human and make mistakes.
Accept your humanness and fallibility and that of all the people you interact with today. Hold your experience and that of others gently. Affirm your equality with each brother or sister you meet. See yourself in others. See others in yourself.
Even if your experience is very different from that of others, you are more like them than you are different. Find what you have in common and use that as a foundation to accept whatever differences there are.
When you see another holding a baby, think of your own child. When someone is crying, remember the last time you shed tears. When someone asks you to forgive, remember when forgiveness was offered to you.
Today remember that you are a member of one human family. It does not matter that some are tall and others short, or that some are black and others brown or white. The differences create variety and an amazing melting pot from which each emerges one-of-a-kind and unique.
One of the most beautiful paradoxes that we experience in this life is that we are both unique and the same. We can and must individuate, but even as we discover our own truth, we do not lose our common roots. We are individuals, but also members of a family. Because of that, we are faithful to each other. We accept our differences. We support and encourage each other, even though our paths may diverge.
Today, be aware of needs of your human family. Support and encourage your brother and sister. Withhold your judgments and criticism. Give each person the respect you would want them to give to you.
Today, honor your common humanity. Understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone makes mistakes and is tasked to learn from them. Today, let your heart be open and extend your arms outward to bring everyone into the safety net of your love. Today, be compassionate toward all. Do not ostracize or reject anyone. Do not cast anyone out of your heart
In what ways do I need to be more compassionate with myself or with others? Is empathy a stepping stone toward compassion for me or does it result in my identifying with and taking on the emotional states of others?
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