Many people in our world today lack compassion for others. Inmates, people on one side of any fence, store clerks, corporations, mother-in-laws, son-in-laws, business people, policy makers, even every-day people walking by suffering human beings on the side of the road. No doubt these same individuals lack compassion for themselves. So, is it possible to change this epidemic? Can compassion be taught? Can someone learn to grow compassion? And if so, how? What if we each began with ourselves?
“Every time I get on the plane,” said Vicki one day after work, “I have this stupid worry that either I am going to die or my family will and that I will never see them again.” She traveled for work so this was no small problem. “Isn’t that ridiculous? Why am I so worried? The likelihood isn’t even statistically significant. I wish I wasn’t so insecure.” She took a sip of her wine.
I didn’t think she was insecure at all but it was obvious that she didn’t have compassion for herself or what she felt. I suddenly had an idea. “Do you believe in past lives?” I asked her, seemingly out of the blue.
“What? Are you serious? Of course not. You think that has something to do with my unreasonable worries?” She took another sip, this one more like a gulp.
I ignored her self-criticism. “What if you had a real, deep-seeded reason to think your family might die before you saw them again? What if…the way you feel isn’t foolish, but rooted in something important inside you that needs to be honored?”
“You’re always so positive Brynne,” she said with a sarcastic twang, “but come on. I’m just neurotic.” More self-criticism and lack of compassion for herself.
“What if you were, say, Anastasia in a past life?” I wasn’t going to give up. Not yet.
“You mean the Russian royal daughter who’s whole family was shot and killed in front of her? The young girl who they say was the only living survivor of a horrible massacre during the Russian Revolution?”
“Yep, her.” Now it was my turn to take a gulp.
“So you’re saying that’s why I worry about losing my family now, because of something that happened to me in a past life? Ha!” She faked a laugh but then began to consider my proposal again. “It would make sense if I was Anastasia, wouldn’t it?” Her face slowly began to change, to soften. I watched as she processed the idea, as she began to grow compassion for herself, to come to an understanding that maybe she actually did feel worried about for a reason. “Its a nice idea. I’ll give you that. Heck, even past lives don't exist it still makes me feel less stupid about my worries, as if maybe I do have a reason for the way I am. I mean, if my parents did die before my eyes when I didn’t expect it, then maybe I would have a reason for being so worried that it might happen again. We are conditioned beings, after all.”
I waited for a moment, having the feeling she wasn’t done yet. I was right.
“I was gonna tell you earlier Brynne, but didn’t. Um, I’m sure things will work out fine with your your work. And anyway, I bet things will look a lot better in the morning after a good rest.”
“Thanks, Vicki.” I said with a smile that hid the depth of my joy. It was the first truly compassionate thing she had ever said to me in almost two years. She had grown a trace of compassion for herself so she finally had some compassion to give away.
* * *
When you put your hand in front of your face, you can’t see it clearly. In much the same way many of us cannot grow compassion for ourselves when we look ourselves, or our situations, straight in the face. But with a little imagination, things can begin to change. With techniques to engage creative thinking, we can move from our heads to more heart-centered places, from judgment-based living to more feeling-based living.
When we have compassion for ourselves, wherever we are or whatever we feel, we are more likely to have compassion for others. You don’t want to go to the party because you don’t feel up for it? Then honor that. Don’t feel bad about it. Be who you are. You feel terrible every time you’re around their arguing? Then leave when they start. Honor yourself, have compassion for what you feel. And the more you do, notice yourself begin to have more compassion for others’ feelings, as well. Once we touch our own domino of compassion, the dominoes of compassion for our friends follow suit….and so on, and so on....one day touching those who need to be touched the most.
How different would our world be if we all lived with more compassion…for ourselves and for one another? I dare you not to smile at the answer.