9/50: EMBRACE COMPASSION
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
Compassion (noun): sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others
As I hope you know by now, I try to be a glass half-full kind of person. Generally I try to make the prevailing situation better, or at the least not worse and, contrary to popular belief, I try to speak only if I feel I can improve upon the silence. I don’t think I’m a naive fool, but if I am then I’m a well- intentioned one.
And as we enter this, the fifth week of our lockdown, it feels as though the gears are beginning to crunch a bit for a lot of people. We are all increasingly frustrated at this seemingly voluntary paralysis of our daily lives and, with only a tentative end date in sight, a little fearful for the future. Some of us are enjoying the family time while some of us are desperate for solitude. Conversely, some of us are isolated and desperate for good news. But apparently mainstream news feeds are happy to provide anything except that.
One thing I’m sure about though, is that everyone is doing the very best that they can.
No, really. They are.
It’s funny to me that something so obvious is so contentious to so many people, but I promise you it’s true. Whatever you got from someone else just now, it’s the best they can give you. And if you feel they could do better, well, if they could, they would. It’s really simple.
The point is that in these extraordinary, epoch-changing times through which we are living, it’s easy to over-react to other people, easy to take offence where none was intended, easy to get off on the wrong foot and stay there. But while practising social distancing let’s also try not to become detached from one another’s need to connect.
Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
He was a wise old buzzard, that Plato, and that pithy little epithet is an incredibly important thing to remember.
Which is to say that everyone you meet is fighting a battle about which you know nothing. They are silently struggling with life issues and family drama and financial worries and health problems, and all kinds of things they have not told you, never mind that they are exhausted from worrying about the state of the world, about the job market when we get out of lockdown, and on, and on.
The problem is that when we see another person, we see only the elegant swan gliding along the surface of the millpond. We are so consumed with the noisy drama playing out in our own head that we are completely unaware of theirs, and we forget that beneath the surface they, like us, have just the one pair of legs paddling hard against the current to keep things moving in the right direction.
More often than not, we only remember it for ourselves and that is why this post is about Compassion. It is to remind you about the quite literally magical potential that lies in finding and enlightening your own Compassion and exercising it in favour of those around you, extending it to everyone you meet. Because without Compassion none of us is going to make it through lockdown without a lot more pain than is required.
In her book, The Choice, Dr Edith Eger states that there is no hierarchy in suffering. Which means that whatever emotional, physical or psychological pain you are going through right now is as valid as any pain which I am experiencing. That can be tough to take at face value. After all, how can a mild neurosis about hand-cleansing, for example, be compared to the grief of a parent who has lost a child? But since all pain is experienced subjectively, they absolutely cannot be compared, and therefore they are subjectively equal. You can only experience the pain you have, and I can only experience the pain I have. We can’t trade pain, even if we can feel it empathetically. And so it is: there is no hierarchy in suffering. Plato said it, “a harder battle”.
And right now, in these endless days of lockdown, it is perhaps useful to remember that those around us, the people with whom we are living cheek-by-jowl and rubbing up against at all hours of the day, those people are also going through silent struggles, are also fighting harder battles. It is possible that they, like us, are anxious about being confined. It’s even possible that they no longer find us as amusing as they once did, or perhaps they are grieving the life that they no longer have. Who knows? They may be going through pain they cannot even articulate.
But if you can remember that in your dealings with them, and silently extend your Compassion towards them, you can help them not only to get through the pain, you can also transform the situation. For Compassion encompasses so much: tolerance, kindness, acceptance and most of all, sheer Love. When you switch on your Compassion it’s like plugging in a huge cosmic atomiser: an invisible force field literally changes the energy in the room. The linear world may still be presenting you with huge problems but somehow, when they are showered with Compassion, they no longer seem so overwhelming.
And maybe all our battles become easier. Try it. You’ll love it.
Be well. Stay well.