Shame, anger, self-loathing—sound familiar?
Not too long ago, those three emotions were my essence. The emotions filtered how I view the world and how I was viewed as well. Remarkably, through compassion, I have changed the way I see my friends, my loved ones, and—equally, if not more importantly—how I see myself.
When my marriage of 28 years came to a crashing conclusion last April, I found myself upended, trying to understand what had happened and what was now the meaning in my life. All the assumptions in which I had found so much comfort (particularly the knowledge that I had a life-partner with whom I would spend the rest of my days) burned away like a morning fog before the sun’s full rise.
I found myself gravitating toward philosophy, a subject I had embraced in college. Near the end of my marriage, I was given Pema Chödrön’s, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
Chödrön, applies Buddhist philosophies as a means of dealing with life’s challenges.
Also recently, I was introduced to Tara Brach, an American psychologist and Buddhist. Both Chödrön’s work and Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance, have helped me appreciate the importance of existing in the moment, striving to be authentic, and (most importantly) to always be mindful and focused on responding—not reacting.
And that’s where compassion has made all the difference in my life.
Compassion is a two-way street, but not in the way I once envisioned. It is not based on the hope there’s a quid pro quo in the wings—that if I am compassionate to someone, they, likewise, will show compassion toward me.
Instead, it is my own two-way street of compassion. I am learning to find compassion, not only for others, but for myself.
I used to jokingly quote the line, “The only thing I hate more than myself is everyone else in the world.”
Such was the extent of my self-loathing, but through compassion for myself, that’s no longer the case.
For much of my adult life, I hid my true self from others because I thought I was damaged, that I was broken. Through compassion, for the first time in my life, I have come to terms with that shame. I have learned to take ownership of it. In doing so, I acknowledge its existence, but no longer let it dominate my sense of self.
This compassion is nothing short of liberating.
My appreciation of happiness is completely different today. No longer do I envision happiness as the absence of pain. Even contentment is now something to savor, despite the presence of discontent. I can relax into have conflicting emotions co-existing at the same time.
Even as I write this—sitting in a loud, frenetic café where I’m holed up—I have a sense of calmness and peace, despite the fact I have an apartment that needs cleaning and a ton of emails demanding my attention.
In the here and now, I don’t think I could be happier, so I savor this moment for what it is—perfect.
Compassion toward others has helped me break the habit of taking things personally. When I was struggling and depressed—my self-esteem non-existent—I processed anything someone said as a criticism of me.
I became defensive. I struck back in retaliation. I was miserable.
With compassion for others, I listen—contemplating where their words originate. Talking with my three grown-up daughters, I process how much pain they’re in and compassion overwhelms me.
Through compassion, I no longer feel the need to hide myself.
That freedom has led to new, more authentic relationships. Warts and all, through my journey, I now have a new and better appreciation for words expressed by the philosopher, Paul McCartney: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Author: Jon Freedman
Image: Instagram @leslieglewis
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina