Compassion is Still a Practice

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I change it regardless of the time of year. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Over the weekend I sifted through some old writing and reread my post on compassion  from May 2015. While I previously committed to practicing compassion to myself and those around me, I’d forgotten the journey I took to get there. I’d forgotten the finer points of the thought process that helped me understand what it means to be a kinder, more compassionate individual. Rereading that blog post reminded me and I’m glad it did.

Reflecting, I think I’m more judgemental than I want to be. While there are definitely  circumstances when passing judgement on another person is appropriate, there are likely many more when it is not. Anything that qualifies as gossip almost certainly falls into the latter category. There are few things we can unequivocally determine about others, yet we are quick to draw conclusions that may be dangerously inaccurate or at the very least, misguided. Those conclusions affect our actions towards others or our thoughts about them, often to the point of never attempting to know or understand them. The mere thought of engagement with someone we have condemned becomes abhorrent and inconceivable. This then leads to a breakdown in social relationships, an unwillingness to step outside of our tight circles, and a refusal to hear or recognize perspectives that might differ from our own. We are uncomfortable admitting that whatever we heard might be more complicated than we initially thought.

This is what happens when we are quick to appraise others, especially those we don’t know. We smile knowingly at those in our confidence and say things like, “I’m in no position to judge but. . . .” We admit to knowing that we don’t have the knowledge or understanding to say what we’re about to say.

And then we say it.

I’m guilty of this, too, which is why I’m writing this post. The next time I catch myself (or you catch me!) beginning such a sentence, I’d like to stop with, “I’m in no position to judge.” And then I’d like to take a moment to think about what I want to say. Maybe there is nothing to say, which should be the end of the conversation. I expect this to be the case rather frequently.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, I believe we need to accept Matthieu Ricard’s explanation of ignorance as “the mental confusion that deforms reality and gives rise to an array of mental obstructions such as hatred, compulsive desire, jealousy, and pride”. We need to accept that ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. From there, we have to accept that people who do harmful things are suffering in some way due to ignorance, due to mental confusion. When we approach others and their actions already knowing that the actions are a mere glimmer of what might be happening internally, it far easier to approach other people mindfully, thoughtfully, and compassionately. It is far easier to extend a hand in love, kindness, and generosity to help them return to a place where the inner confusion and turmoil do not take such a hold.

This way of seeing others, truly seeing and not just looking at or looking past, paves the way for dialogue and understanding, essential aspects of building a better and more peaceful world. Though I firmly believe this, I’ve been negligent in my practice of compassion because I often find it challenging. I tend to feel emotion very intensely and can be uncomfortably reactive in my thoughts, though that’s now much rarer in my actions and behavior. I’m much better at keeping the thoughts to myself than I used to be but I’d like to grow stronger at tamping down the thoughts as they begin rather than letting them flare until they burn out.

Compassion is a practice. It is ongoing. It can hurt, it can heal, and it will wax and wane as we work at it. But it will ultimately get easier and hopefully become a deliberate habit. I have a renewed understanding of this. Practicing compassion is necessary if we are to create a better, more peaceful world. Simple as that.

If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, I might put this one aside for next year. I might brush it off as something to do someday but not quite today. But I don’t, which is why I’m writing about it tonight. Life is about getting better daily and this is one way I’m trying to do it beginning right now.

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