August 16, 2010

Compassion Can Kiss My Tender Heart.

“When we believe everything we think, and focus on the negative, nothing is good enough, no one is smart enough and everything is useless”.

We were having one of those “sister” arguments, you know, the ones that are less about actually arguing with your sibling and more about just being completely stupid. Looking back I cannot remember what it was about, knowing us probably something to do with zombies or cute animals. We were sitting on wooden stools in the middle of the kitchen on that muggy day when she said the off-hand comment that made me stop and think: “I thought you people [Buddhists] were supposed to have compassion on all life, even people!”

She didn’t mean to start a philosophical debate or change my point of view; she was merely joking with me but unwittingly she did completely change me. I sat there, smiled, and said something unimportant as I slid off the stool and walked into my room. The comment probably should not have affected me as much as it did, yet there I was,mind reeling and thoughts blazing agreeing with my 17-year-old sister. We are suppose to have compassion. I am supposed to have compassion for all life, so why do I easily forget to have compassion for people? I cannot speak for anyone other than myself when I make this statement, but I am sure there are others like me who are reading this: People bug me. I am so apt to get upset with the faults I find when I look at others.
It doesn’t help that I work at a restaurant and spend my days listening to people complain about problems that I cannot change. I have a hard time listening to people whine about their non existent problems. People who rush around in a frenzy with nothing to say, screaming that their ideas are the best.  My patience is tried for people who dramatize issues, even more so for those who hate others.
I must sound like a really terrible person and a hypocrite and, you know, I am starting to realize that I just might be.Yet, I do have compassion and have fought hard for basic human rights and other “compassion based” ideals since I moved back to the United States. I am challenged by experiencing compassion for specific people. Anger, disgust and  scoffing come naturally. Compassion? Probably not.

After my sister made that comment I found myself wondering why it is so hard to give compassion freely? I give it to animals (I don’t eat meat and cannot bring myself to kill spiders or gummy bears, but that’s a different story) and to the land I live on, so why not people?  Do they not also deserve compassion? After a few days of contemplation I believe I found my answers.

First I had to admit that I am in need of compassion. I had to look at myself with and see the gunk that had accumulated within me. I am not perfect; some days I am mean, cranky, whiny or annoying and yet I have people in my life who allow me to be those things and still treat me with patience, love and gentle prodding to do better. Sometimes I think we forget about those who have compassion for us. We are so willing to judge others and their downfalls that we forget to look at ourselves and what messes we truly are.
Buddhism doesn’t teach that you meditate a few times and bam, you are floating on a cloud of superiority and all others are completely lost in the fog of desires; It teaches that we all have desires that in some way harm us, that we are all a little lost and that we all are in need for compassion because we all make mistakes. I had to say to myself “Look at what an unhappy mess I actually am! Who am I to deserve compassion?” and the answer is that I am no one special but compassion is still given freely.

The second thing I had to realize is that all life has Buddha—nature within. All people have the ability to reach Buddha—hood, everyone, no exceptions. I tried an experiment while at work to help me with compassion. Whenever I would feel myself get upset with people I would simply think “All life has Buddha-nature.” Then I would think about the person and what their story read if they became a Buddha. Would their tale be one of anger turned into love, depression melting into happiness or stress stripping away to peace? In doing this I had to think about what makes them the way they are: Do they have a hard job? Thankless family? Did someone they care about die? Perhaps they are having a bad day? There is so much we do not know about the person sitting across from us and sometimes people need nothing more than a genuine smile to keep them going. I learned so much about people when I stopped getting angry with them and started to see that spark of basic goodness in them.

Lastly in showing no compassion to others I ultimately harm myself. When I only focus on those things which I find negative I leave no room for joy. My heart begins to harden and my compassion and love for others slowly becomes choked out. I curl up like an armadillo and shield myself from anything that comes my way—good or bad. Hate and joy do not dwell together peacefully, one gets tired and lays down for a while.
When we believe everything we think, and focus on the negative, nothing is good enough, no one is smart enough and everything is useless.  I find myself dangerously close to this thinking pattern sometimes and it scares the hell out of me. It’s stupidly hard to have a desire to show compassion towards others. I struggle with it every single day and sometimes all day long when it comes to dealing with certain people. Occasionally I just don’t have it in me and I have to realize that the most compassionate thing I can do in that moment is shut my mouth, leave the room and take deep breaths. I know that compassionate is the key to living as a non—dual spiritual warrior. Just knowing doesn’t make it an easier practice.

Compassion is my most challenging practice yet. I regress constantly and wonder if this work is worth it. When I remember to let go with my exhale and soften my belly, there is a little bit more room for compassion. One breath at a time.

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