Archive for November, 2011

The presence of compassion

November 15, 2011

I have never been very good at compassion. I especially have difficulty being compassionate with people who I view as behaving badly (including myself). My initial reactions have been to point out their shortcomings, avoid them all-together, let them ruin my moment/day/week/month/year/life, and ruminate endlessly over how they (I) should behave.

I came upon this story from the book Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg. Sharon tells a story about meeting a Soviet official at an airport with “the most hateful stare I have ever received from anybody in my life. It was an icy rage.” She felt as if he had “poisoned her being.”

Some part of her woke up. She realized that every day this man experiences the state that she had just experienced. She writes: “A tremendous feeling of compassion came into me for him. He was no longer a threatening enemy, but rather someone in what seemed to be in intense suffering.”

The path of compassion begins with the knowledge that we do to others what we do to ourselves. None of us really know what is going on inside another human being. We don’t know what they might be experiencing, thinking, or feeling. Even if we ask them, the answer may come back nebulous and arbitrary. I have witnessed people in obvious distress and asked them about their state of being only to be told that they were “fine.” Such a response can indicate that they are truly fine, realizing they are in distress but handling it. It can also mean “I don’t know” or “none of your business” or “NO, I’m NOT!” Distress might be a normal state of being and as long as they are feeling distressed, they feel normal.

This is as far as I have gotten along the path. Compassion is a moment-by-moment, person-by-person phenomenon. It encompasses my projection of myself on to others. It realizes that I am being projected upon. Somewhere in between is a reality I can speak to.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

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