September 9, 2015

Compassion: What it Teaches Us About Ourselves.

Mike Dannheim/Author

Warning: Naughty language ahead.

Do you feel it? Does it move you?

It’s possible to think about it conceptually, like an object. You can understand its attributes and its qualities and talk about it, but that’s just the intellectualization of it.

I’m referring to when someone opens up and shares vulnerably about what they’re going through, what they’re suffering with. The feeling that surfaces then, like electricity moving through a network. Do you feel it?

I do.

It runs deep through my body and it moves me, it makes me feel connected. A oneness with the person sharing.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.

It seems that compassion and suffering are directly linked in a profound way. For this post I’m going to dive in and explore some of my recent experience with these two.

 “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~ Gandhi

What if the first step was compassion? Not for others, but for yourself?

I’m slow on the uptake—I recently discovered that the quote was actually all about my inner world, it was about me changing me! Unfortunately for my ego it had less to do with me running around changing all of the people that I thought just “didn’t understand.

All of “those people that just needed to do X—if they would only do X (insert broad list) the world would be a better place. Mike was good though, no change needed here!

Here are some of the ways I’ve mistakenly put “Be the change you wish to see in the world” into action:

  • Forcing others to be the change that I want to see in the world while not taking action on myself.
  • Convincing others that they need to be the change that I want to see in the world.
  • Becoming angry, resentful and complaining about what others are doing in hopes that they might be the change that I want to see in the world.
  • Sitting in a dark room and feeling sorry for myself because others just don’t understand and if they did the world would be a better place.
  • Decided to move to the other side of the world because the 5.5 million people living in Miami just don’t get it (oh boy…).

Somehow I never thought about stopping and starting with myself. It was so much easier to tell you what to do, why would I start with myself!?

Awesome! So the outcome of me “being the change” (aka telling you what needed to be changed) resulted in me becoming frustrated and angry that “you didn’t get it.”

I’m not sure if that was what our homeboy Gandhi had in mind.

Thankfully about a year and half ago I had a full on mental breakdown and in that breakdown a wound was opened and the light was able to trickle in.

Through a divine act of synchronicity I met a therapist named Rachel Levy who helped me to see my shadow and unravel all the bullshit I had accumulated over the years. She taught me the action and embodiment (which was markedly different than the intellectual knowing) of seeing people as a mirror, reflecting to me what I wanted/needed to change in myself.

Through that experience I began to see myself for what I am rather than what I thought I was. And somehow in the process “others” began to fade away and in the space that was created a sense of connection began to slowly ooze in. And in that delightful oneness, the realization that anything that bothered me about someone else was really just an arrow pointing back at me. After all when you point one finger at someone or something how many do you have pointing back to you!?

There’s a reason for that kind of stuff you know!?

The constant act of looking within was terrifying at first—actually it was really overwhelming. I knew I was an obsessive judging machine but now through these new lenses I began to see how much I really judged. And that every judgement cast on others was actually a critique or a judgement of myself.

For example, if there was something about my wife (intimate relationships are loaded w/ triggers) that was bothering me I’d sit with it for a minute and ask, “what is she doing that I do and dislike about myself for doing!?” and sure enough, bam! Like a mac truck drove straight into my forehead—a shift would occur.

Whatever I saw in her was now something inside of me that needed love or forgiveness so I could be at peace and make the necessary change to no longer be bothered by it. The internal experience of this process was radical —it was like surfing, riding some internal wave inside of myself.

The amazing part of this process is that the quality of peace I’m experiencing as a result. It seems that all along the frustration and anger were really at myself for being such a hypocrite. In the example of my wife—she can have the house wallpapered in bags now and it wouldn’t bother me. I’ll definitely have something to say about it, but I can do it in peace and respect. Internal peace of mind and it’s wonderful—I’d take it over any material possession, it’s freaking delightful!

Linking this back to compassion, it was the very key to make this process work. Compassion for myself. Taking a moment to step back and tune into that little petulant inner voice and observe it with no judgement and in the observation of it watching it slowly silence itself and in that space that was created offer myself forgiveness.

Someone once asked me; “If you had a roommate that spoke to you like your inner-voice does what would you do to him?”

My answer: “Kick him out!

Right, so then why do I sit and let that voice carry on and on?

I’m really good at beating the sh*t out of myself. So this process wasn’t an over overnight thing—in fact, it’s still a work in progress and the more experience I gain with it the more I realize that it will most likely always be a journey but it’s worth it and I’m just glad to be in the process.

Would love to learn from you all, how do you experience compassion? How do you tune into that still place that lies on the other side of that noisy inner- voice of yours?





Relephant Read:

How I Find Compassion in the Chaos.


Author: Mike Dannheim

Assistant Editor: Kelly Chesney / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Author’s own image

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