As far as I remember, we never talked about compassion. So I invite you to share your comprehension of compassion.
My guess is compassion involves a very pure emotional center. At an intellectual level I always liked Osho’s poetic and visual metaphor (my memory of what I read at least) that love was an eternally blooming flower and compassion the fragrance. It was not something that needed to be sought after, it was part of the nature of a blooming flower, to release its beautiful scent into the world with no effort or self-interest. It does not care who smells it, sinner or saint. It does not care if it is in a meadow or coming out of the crack in a sidewalk. The flower bloomed and released its scent for the benefit of all. That idea always gave me a taste of something, something to strive for. Gentleness, acceptance, playfulness, listening, lacking self-interest and willfulness.
And sometimes there is “harshness” if destiny obliges you to be a teacher or a parent or a husband, isn’t it? 🙂
From my perspective, and this may not be the case of other English speakers so take this for what you will, harshness has a negative quality and does not speak to the quality (I think) your pointing to. Uncompromising would fit better as it is neutral in its tone, yet firm in its position. I would say, from my own experience, that from the perspective of the other it could appear as harshness. But that is from a lack of understanding the bigger picture and more importantly from avoiding necessary suffering.
“Uncompromising” doesn’t express what I wanted to (although this also can be part of expressing compassion). The “shock” part is missing. What about “irritating” or “tough” or “discomforting” instead of “harsh”?
For me “tough” catches the spirit of it well. Like the coach looking to get the best of out a player that doesn’t realize how good he can be and needs that shock to see it himself.
Harsh would be what one who is avoiding or reacting might call it, tough would be what one who is obliged to be a teacher or parent would call it.
For me, compassion is to be able to walk in the other’s moccasin during one lunar period (as American Indians say) and understand what (s)he endures. That doesn’t mean to take on ourself the difficulty or suffering of the other but simply, to be present to the other.
I understand compassion to be the sense of the obviousness of being connected to the all that surrounds me (see P. A. T. I. L.). In this all-encompassing obviousness, I sense goodwill and a welcoming. All equally important. More specifically in an exchange with another, I understand compassion as the welcoming of the “other” in what he is experiencing, and, if necessary to accompany him in his suffering, while accepting my own helplessness. This word evokes in me presence and stillness. The stillness is as if I am the center of a spinning top.
When I asked myself the question, my first thought was that I cannot really differentiate love, compassion, and listening. They all are the facets of the same diamond. Yet, when I dig a bit more, I could say that compassion is more about wishing that the other doesn’t suffer (uselessly) and love is more about whishing the other happiness. Words sound imperfect here, but the point I’m making is that love is more active while compassion is more a response.
Love takes on different forms or colors according to the object on which it acts. Compassion arises almost always towards people that I see suffering, necessary or not, expressed or not. It seems to arise in an unpredictable way, I feel it when the situation provokes it. I don’t know if it is compassion, but what I feel is related to their inability, to get out of their situation and my own inability to really do something for them. If I provide temporary assistance, which can sometimes provide relief, it is given without concern for the outcome. And also without feeling that I have helped the person. Beyond certain thoughts which are recognized and sent back to where they came from, identification or attachment that waits to seize its opportunity should my lack of vigilance allow it.
This felt sense of compassion recalls humility, the inability to really do something. It is simultaneously very soft, delicate and a little painful. To feel it I must be in direct relationship with the person, be truly listening to them, and it happens via empathy with them. This sense always comes to me spontaneously without me looking for it.
For me, compassion involves a recognition of “me” in whatever I am compassionate about. It also appears to me that one is not compassionate about “a person”, but rather about the whole situation (that the person is in). And it is not merely a feeling “about” something, compassion also has in it a kind of urge that seeks expression or action. A will, or openness, for change (of the situation), however at the same time being rooted in deep acceptance of what is.
To me, compassion is recognizing and accepting the other with his suffering (be it necessary or unnecessary). It means being presence and welcoming one’s own (necessary) suffering in the face of the other’s.
Here’s the way I actually understand what compassion is: it seems to me that compassion is not built or voluntary produced. I experienced it powerfully, some years ago, when I’ve discovered for the first time my original belief: I suddenly felt that all the people around me were living with that deep and wide open original wound, like me, and always like me, they were searching to forget it, to flee it, trying to anaesthetize it by every means, through some behaviors, leisure activities… I suddenly realized we were essentially equals: the other was me… But to return to my understanding of compassion, it seems to me that it can be expressed in different forms:
• Passively when one sees that he’s unable to provide some help, if help is needed (we can then express it through gestures, words, behavior or living it in our inner silence).
• Actively. And in this case, it appears to me that it can take many forms, depending on the circumstances and/or the person concerned by it. It can be expressed through gentleness, a calm or even disturbing neutrality, etc. It could even go as far as a “holy anger”, why not… for if, at this instant, a kick in the ass is the most helpful response to allow a person to escape from the ruts that lead him to greater alienation/useless suffering, so!… About the dialogue between R. and the teacher: reading them for the first time, I perceived first some harshness, then reading them again and again I was suddenly shaken by all the love that was behind this desire to take R’s head out of the water as he began to drown, even if it hurts the scalp. 😉 I suddenly saw his will to come back questioning R., again and again, refusing abandoning him, refusing to let him drop, even if from the outside, it might seem rude. O. also talked about the teacher’s compassion: when the teacher gave him a wonderful gift: refusing to invite him again for one year. I remember how much it hurt him at the time, and especially how he was saved because he was able to accept this gift, because he rose above the reactivity and because he has kept his heart wide open, while his mind was probably shouting him to drop and quit us and continue somewhere else.
Compassion springs from the heart, but it doesn’t necessarily express itself by gentleness, or a “good” behavior, humbleness, etc. It may take many different faces and can sometimes be “scary”.
What I can share, is that I have felt compassion, in full force, during the death of my husband. A compassion, from certain others, as a final tribute to the departed one, revealing, by their discrete presence, their affection for him, or for me, and their consideration for his family and friends in the pain they felt. A compassion with a bitter taste of “nauseous spittle” other “sickening” accounts, dumped onto me about their own suffering of lament by proxy. All this flooded me with the energy of their own denial of loss. To them, the loss was experienced as unfair and unbearable. As if by violently expressing their attachment and wallowing in their own whining was somehow proof of their “pathetic” compassion. I then saw this display as a threat that I needed to protect myself from. And to reach out to certain others where a “compatible” compassion could be shared, worthy of “recognition” of presence, of mutual respect for each other’s loss, shared then with dignity, humor and love, through paying tribute by way of tears and laughter, noise and silence, sharing memories and awareness of the moment, with a view that sees death as an expression of life while at the same time accepts its reality and inevitability.
And I could add that today I am only really close to this group, that others have slowly distanced themselves on their own over time, a fact, I only take note of. Compassion requires us to have a “highly sensitive and accurate eye” in order to correctly assess “the full extent” of this emotion which makes us sensitive to the suffering of those we care for… and it seems to me that when we think we deserve it, but don’t receive it, it is a true projection onto the other of our own “pathetic” compassion for ourselves.
To me compassion is the quality of movement in the face of another’s suffering. It is qualified by the volition behind that movement. In its higher/purer form there is not even a desire for the other’s suffering to end. There is just the unfragmented movement towards alleviating it. Lower compassion is contaminated with personal interest, and often degenerates to pity.
If I refer to its Latin origin, this word would mean “suffering with”. Translating it in this way would imply that the person who is experiencing compassion for another would be suffering in the same way, perhaps also with the same intensity. Alas, all this in the hope of getting the other to believe that he is loved, understood, i.e. that he exists as a person. It would then be an emotion, a sentiment at the “functional” level but harboring a dangerous risk, in the absence of vigilance, the risk of the triumph of personal interest and the illusion of separation. So for me compassion encompasses a much broader phenomenon: for the person that feels it, it is the realization and total acceptance that the other needs to experience necessary suffering in order to get to the next step. And a “shock” is essential at this stage, a powerful firmness and even a strong intransigence may be required to create the conditions for this shock. Because compassion doesn’t always imply gentleness and understanding: these two qualities, although they may sometimes be used, are nothing more than tools potentially available in the teacher’s toolkit. It is the teacher’s responsibility to use them or not.
For me it is being there, alongside the person who is suffering, simply present with or without words and trying to be more available if the circumstances or the person require it. I often thought I was being compassionate because I cried at the pain and misery of the other: now I am compassionate with tenderness, listening more, sometimes providing counsel, sometimes unable to say or do anything but whatever the circumstances always present with attention.
The word “compassion” brings to mind situations where, in the presence of the suffering of one or more persons a kind of opening arises, where I am sensitive to everything, where suffering circulates, and impotence as well, but in a very vast internal space, without tension nor rejection of the situation. It is a kind of physical vibration; it might be imperceptible from the outside, I don’t know. Sometimes there can be an action (speech or other), sometimes not. It also happens that away from a person, but thinking of a certain situation, this vibration arises in me. So then, I take the time to let it do its thing, I visualize precisely the people concerned. I don’t look for a specific result, but I feel that I am “doing” something.
After having considered what we might “receive” from others’ compassion unbeknownst to them, I look within at my own understanding of what compassion is and I find myself facing, in all humility, the infinite compassion that life has for our humanity. Yes life may sometimes be “harsh” in the shocks she provides us to teach us about herself and to surprise ourselves then for what we are of that which arises from this awareness. Then compassion assumes its cloak of responsibility and duty to “let it be known” of no choice (but) to serve her. The teacher doesn’t transmit his knowledge, he provides tools, keys so that the other may discover what he needs to become conscious for himself, to grow and become autonomous in what then arises from his reliability to serve life, and not just be subjected to life… So he may seem “harsh” when we receive a whack on the head in a moment of unrecognized forgetfulness but how could we forget the patience, the caution and adaptability to each individual which cannot be measured in time, nor in statements of gratitude? Could it be that in his humanity he shows the occasional signs of weariness and fatigue? Even though, he knows he doesn’t have the choice to be. We cannot remain in the illusion of living by proxy what we owe to ourselves. So…YES, trust and first listen in order to discover in ourselves that which arises and which may affirm itself later and to acknowledge the love of life that animates us. Thank you for the compassion received.
It’s funny that this night, the same point of view than Lucie’s came to me about the infinite and always renewed compassion the life has for us. It is incredible to see that we just have to move from one thousandth part of a millimeter the way we look at things, to realize how life take care of us tirelessly in order to be aware of ourselves, of our humanity and of the responsibility involved. I found the inherent creativity of life marvelous each time I am able to see it. And what comes immediately is gratitude for all the services rendered and especially for all the kick in the butt received and to be received. The very life and its servant in the form of the teacher love us unconditionally, our responsibility is to make the “Jai Guru” a reality.
When I have compassion, I listen, I am available, I am centered on the other, in empathy with the other. I feel their sincerity, their suffering, their distress, their pain while remaining neutral and focused. In the absence of self, the energy of love shines, I become presence, listening, goodwill at the service of others, all the while sensing my own vulnerability, my impotence. In a look, a loving smile as with compassion, I feel the grace within that ties me to the other and to all that surrounds me, I feel love, tenderness and fellowship. Without meaning to, that which shines within me invites the other to find themselves, to bind themselves, to unite themselves be it with gentleness or firmness. When I have compassion, I live my human dignity fully, I become goodness and mercy.
This compassion that everyone testified, I have lived it only rarely. Yes, there was softness, and acceptance of my own injury and the other’s. Mainly a deep understanding of what is humility.
My wife experiences a lot of suffering in her life. My mechanical behavior is to try to help her. A lot of mechanical talking that most often unravels and becomes a mechanical lecture. I have been more aware of my mechanicalness in talking. I was also feeling exhausted at a physical level in trying to help her. I was creating a belief that I had to take care of her. Yet behind it all I felt a sickening feeling in my gut that somehow I was being selfish but I could not put my finger on it. We got in an argument over the weekend. And after as I lay in bed going over it my head, I remembered all the words written here on compassion and it all clicked. I saw things from a new perspective and I could see and understood my selfishness in wanting to take away her pain. And it was not for her, but for myself, to make my life easier. I saw the blame when she did not help herself according to my beliefs. I saw the role of my mechanicalness was playing in keeping things stuck for me and her and I saw that all that was draining me of a lot of energy.
The next day when we woke and she was still in pain I was vigilant in remembering compassion. I let her do and say as she did. I was vigilant in supporting her without doing anything to interfere with where she was at. I was vigilant in remembering my heart (thank you L.). I was vigilant in keeping my words precise and with purpose to support and nothing more. I spent almost the whole time just holding her as she found her way herself. I felt so much more free, and felt empowered instead of drained. After at time she calmed and found a peace within herself and the entire situation found a resolution without bitterness or resentment.
Apart from compassion, your story reminded me of some reading about the difference between men and women (I guess it was in “Men come from mars, women from Venus”). It might be archetypal, but I found many things as true, and especially this one: most often, men think before they speak and speak only once they know about what they want to say. So, they assume than when someone exposes something, it is because he needs a solution. If someone exposes his/her mood, men interpret it as exposing a problem and they try to solve it. But women (most of them, most of the time) function in a different way. They speak in order to help clarify their feeling and thinking. That’s why they need time to share (I once heard about women in Africa who filled up a new well so that they would have to go to the next village to get water every day, hence, they’d have 2 hours walk and chat). Women don’t expect solutions, they just want to be listened to. I guess that’s exactly what you learned to do.
Yes I have heard this before, even understood it. I would start with the idea to support and end up trying to solve the problem because I would become mechanical as I talked. Very strong vigilance is needed to stay at the heart level, to stay with compassion and not let talking take over.