I read this most worthy conversation and I’m saddened by the amount of barbed wire that sits between me and this subject – compassion. I find my mental rhetoric, my justifications to not losing myself to compassion, really and as a more fluent part of how I engage life, of a dead nature. Some of these excuses, arguably, might have some merit in certain situations… etc. But from there to what is surfacing in my head is a long way. And the deeper I search, the more I am struck by the mindset, the fence I put up before the reasons “why?”, that have seemed to have fortified my heart. Rather than the “why”, what I hear so loud in me is the “why not!” Habitual, almost pathological indignation and a kind of resolved view: “this is reality”, is the distinctly predominant thought.
However, this is still relative. In recent months, after having read a sentence you wrote, Darrell, which really appealed to me, I have been able to cross over that fence on occasion in day to day interaction more than I have, which I find no less relevant than the big and more obvious calls for compassion. It was from your book, from the chapter “How”. You wrote: “…this is the art of devotion, again, transforming suffering into joy. In other words, SOMEONE has to give more than what appears to be appropriate so as to break the cycle that defines conflict.” This touching sentence really defused some kind of detached rigidity I’ve been carrying with me in unpleasant interactions. It hit deep and succeeded in shifting the choice towards leniency and generosity and enabled me to view things slightly differently and “pass” on the habitual mindset of “they don’t deserve it”, and direct my focus towards a more, I guess harmonious end.
Thank you for entering into this conversation with such a finely crafted, revealing description of an internal process that I think everyone can recognize. Setting aside your kind inclusion of that quote of mine – because there are so many more worthy ones from throughout history* – I’d like to take a moment to briefly comment.
Macroscopic: All spiritual thought and every religion points to compassion as the ultimate process of alchemical transformation, and they also all identify compassion as the fundamental essence of God, Nature and God in man. All schools of thought that promote wisdom and virtue lead to a final graduation into a state of compassion. All the greatest art through history celebrates compassion more than anything else. The greatest acts of heroism and impact upon others have always been acts of compassion. Any questions?
Intermediate level: In the personal construction of one’s life, what logic or justification can there be for ignoring the above in the search for betterment, happiness, resolution or personal evolution (not to mention social and species equivalents)? That is, with this information available to all and backed up by most or all of the deepest and best insights throughout history in all cultures, what could possibly be missing in terms of recognition, motivation and application?
Microscopic: I love your phrase, “almost pathological indignation,” especially in proximity to your “justifications” and “this is reality.” Very nicely assembled, and I think a perfect analysis of the core structure of conflict itself, both internal within the individual and in any relationship, from one’s closest partner to someone else’s comment here to humanity or even Life itself.
Justifications are only limited by any individual’s capacity for self-righteous fantasy. As the freedoms that allow for this expand in conjunction with the decline of any valid reality check, the sky is the limit. (That is, until the sky actually falls; I leave this to your imagination, hopefully not self-righteous.)
But I’d like to hone in on your gift, “this is reality.” Yes. And it’s the fundamental error, I think, to not apply sufficient inspired imagination to see This Is Reality. That numbed, drained, cynical, scared, complaining, withered zombie hobbling off to his next series of pathological engagements that some spokesperson from reality sold him on, never genuinely pausing for a moment to consider that the constant experience of isolated loneliness, anxiety, spiraling purposelessness, never-quite-satisfied “quiet desperation” might have something to do with the fact that those who were pointing to compassion weren’t being heard, honored and engaged in a more, well, let’s say, prioritized fashion.
But, per our retreat conversation, Herzl, on the limits of value in Abraham’s tone of voice (although I am a fan both of his tone of voice and his brilliantly inspired imagination in constructing his life in Reality), allow me to shift tone and focus here for a moment toward what I mean by “inspired imagination.”
We do have the choice. One has to intuit and imagine what is possible. Admittedly, it’s a difficult skill to hold to one’s vision of Reality when confronted with the inequities, boredom and vulgar impositions in the common day’s uninspired mediocrity (especially those within one’s own heart and mind). The temptations to submit to some form of “just ride it out in painful silence and steal whatever I can along the way” are endless. And conscience alone can’t compensate. One must reconnect daily with something that regenerates at least the experiential recognition that This Is Reality. This “spiritual ritual” re-ignites our most playful, child-like luminosity, reconnecting us to our purest joy and love for Life.
For your imagination: I think that compassion is an actual alchemical process in which any given situation can be resolved and transcended by bringing the force of Nature’s essence into reality, thereby making it Reality. This process is what all spirituality is. That is, the greatest human endeavor is to bring imagination’s yearning into the pre-set limitations of a circumstance that won’t allow for it. You could say that this is how we create heaven on Earth…at least for and in that moment.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.
~Dr. Samuel Johnson
Old age is the fourth stage. By the time one reaches this stage of his journey, he must have discovered that the joys available in this world are trivial and fleeting. He must be equipped with the higher knowledge of spiritual joy, available through delving into the inner spring of Bliss. Through his experiences, his heart must have softened and be filled with compassion. He has to be engrossed in promoting the progress of all beings without distinction. And he must be eager to share with others the knowledge he has accumulated and the benefit of his experiences.
~Sri Sathva Sai Baba
Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.
I came upon a doctor who appeared in quite poor health. I said, ‘There’s nothing that I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.’ He said, ‘Oh yes you can. Just hold my hand. I think that that would help.’ So I sat with him a while then I asked him how he felt. He said, ‘I think I’m cured.’
© 2015 Darrell Calkins