I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These… are your greatest treasures. Lao Tzu
Compassion is, indeed, a treasure and a great number of people practice it; but too few, as far as I’m concerned. What would happen, I wonder, if the majority of the seven billion human beings who inhabit this planet were truly compassionate? Is it possible that much of the unnecessary suffering that exists could be eradicated? So much of the horror our fellow human beings endure is as a result of the actions of other humans, so yes, there is plenty that could be done to make the world a better place for many.
Compassion, as with many Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, starts with the self – if you haven’t got self-compassion then how can you have genuine compassion for others? As Gautama Buddha said, If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
To practice essential compassion, you have to embody the behaviour, not simply hold it as an ideal in your head.
Related to self-acceptance, compassion for yourself can only be found in acknowledgement of and self-forgiveness for the mistakes you have made. It is easier to do this if you are prepared to learn the lessons those mistakes would teach you, in the process aiding the transformation of your neurotic/wounded/inflated ego.
There’s a big difference between self-acceptance or self-compassion, say, and self-absorption. Sometimes it may be necessary to become a little self-absorbed in order to clear out the psychological junk that’s blocking you from living your essential life, and that’s okay; have compassion for yourself while you do this!
To heal from PTSD I had to cultivate compassion for myself; trust me, it was tough. Self-compassion requires vulnerability, and when you’re traumatised, constantly on edge and fearful, allowing yourself to become even the tiniest bit vulnerable takes enormous strength and courage. I was fortunate to have an amazing therapist who showed immense compassion towards me and helped me to open my heart to release the pain I’d resisted admitting to.
Telling Sarah about my experience visibly upset her; her response to my story showed me that it was okay to be angry, to grieve the abuse and torment I’d endured, and to reframe my perception of my experience. Without the process Sarah led me, oh so gently, through, I’d still be in a very sorry state, caught up in a vicious, ceaseless cycle of self-recrimination and guilt.
Conditioning has a lot to do with whether or not you can be compassionate with yourself; my early role models, the females in my family, were, of course, products of their upbringing. I know that both my paternal and maternal grandmothers endured tough times – they lived through a World War, after all – and this undoubtedly hardened their edges. That, coupled with Great British Stoicism, otherwise known as Bottling Everything Up, meant that my own mum was brought up with a need to protect her as-fine-as-bone-china ego in a vault made of carbon steel alloy.
My grandmothers and mum love(d) me; that is unquestionable. Their love, however, was shot through with fear; this manifested, in part, in a desperate need to keep up appearances. Anything that threatened the illusion of the perfect family they wanted the world to see also threatened their sense of identity. This way of being is not compatible with heartfelt compassion and their interactions with their family always lacked any deep nurturing.
I know my family isn’t the only one that operates in this way; I’ve met many women who have experienced domestic abuse and I’ve yet to encounter one who doesn’t have a controlling (fearful) mum. When you consider the impact all of this collective fear has in the wider world, doesn’t it make sense to set an intention to bring more compassion into your life?
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama
That’s an arresting statement by the Dalai Lama; I think he has a point.