Practical Compassion

Some of you may have heard me rant about my recipe for enlightenment:

Awareness + non-judgment = perfect contentment.

Because the awareness means that you’re paying attention to the dynamics at play in your world and nonjudgment means that you’re trying to differentiate between what’s really happening and what your prejudices and past experience lead you to believe is happening. Contentment springs from this practice because after awhile, you become secure in the feeling that you can handle things and make the right decisions because you’re aware of what’s really going on.

Something I haven’t mentioned, though, is how this expands your capacity for compassion. When you’re aware of your own issues and consciously disarm them, most of the conflict arises from the people around you. Those people are where you only too recently were at; unaware, and unaware that they are unaware. Furthermore, you realize that their ability to hurt you with conflict has been severely limited by your awareness of the reality of the situation.

Insulated as you now are from the slings and arrows of those around you, suddenly, compassion is the only reaction you have.

This video was aired on previous to the Inauguration of the UN Charter for Compassion. You might have to go watch it because I can’t get the damn thing to embed

In her opening statement, Karen Armstrong makes the point that all world religions follow some version of the golden rule. Sometimes it’s framed in the positive form, as in the traditional “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

But, she says, “equally important is the negative version — “Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” Look into your own heart. Discover what it is that gives you pain. And then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else.”

She’s pretty unequivocal, isn’t she?Refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else.” “Look into your heart.” “Discover what gives you pain?”

Under this definition I’m suddenly not as compassionate as I thought.

For instance, I sometimes utter words and phrases artfully designed to deliver twinges of guilt, for something that I am already doing, willingly and out of necessity. How compassionate is it to needle someone for something they have no control over? It’s actually quite cruel.

I sometimes hold ridiculous double standards about what is important and worthwhile. In fact, all the pet projects of my family and friends deserve equal respect and attention. How would I like it if the situation were reversed?

I have prejudices that limit my belief of the achievements of others. Just this morning, after more than three weeks of working on the problem, my husband and father came up with a solution to a too-small bathroom, expanding it by more than 50% without having to move any plumbing. This was a problem which I had declared unsolvable, and had actively ridiculed and denigrated their efforts. I arrogantly believed that I had come up with the most workable solution and that they ought to stop wasting their time. In fact, I was resting on my laurels, because I had been proven right several times before. I allowed my perceptions to persuade me that I was an architect sans pareil and that no puny mortal mind could compete.

Something else Karen Armstrong notes: “Often people don’t really want to be compassionate… people often want to be right instead. And that of course defeats the object of the exercise.”

I want to be right more than I want to refrain from inflicting damage.

ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. That stings!

Hurts enough to be true.



2 thoughts on “Practical Compassion”

  1. “Those people are where you only too recently were at; unaware, and unaware that they are unaware.”

    I try to remember this every day! It is so true.

    Thanks Shanna, great post.

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