Mindful Moments

A Monthly Chrysalis Institute Email Publication  |  OCTOBER 2014 

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." --LONGFELLOW

 Compassion and the Law of Life | by Kay Davidson

It seems ironic that just as social scientists have begun exploring the positive in our human natures, there is also considerable agreement among others that this current adult generation- we who are living now- is the most medicated, addicted, in-debt, and obese adult cohort in human history. Researcher/storyteller Brene Brown believes that these all signal our attempts to escape our difficult emotions and to numb us to our vulnerability. There is no question that, in fact, we are vulnerable...

not only to the mortal threats of illness, aging and death, but also to the threats that the media are constantly reporting: threats to our health (Ebola), threats to our environment (global warming), threats to our safety (terrorists). Because we are programmed biologically and neurologically to react to threats by fighting or fleeing or numbing to them, we develop ways to evade, resist and move away from that which is fearful, painful, or emotionally difficult. On top of that our culture conditions us (see TV ads) to seek relief from that which is merely uncomfortable. The denial of existential realities, the escapes from vulnerability, and even the avoidance of the uncomfortable are forms of resistance to our own suffering. We steer clear of the unpleasant neighborhood of reality. So what has this to do with compassion? To be compassionate requires that we open to suffering. It requires that we are able not only to recognize suffering, but to be with it. Whether it is our own or another's. Religious scholar and leader of a global compassion movement, Karen Armstrong writes: "Suffering is a law of life, and it is essential ...to acknowledge our own pain or we shall find it impossible to have compassion for the distress of others." There are then significant consequences to our denial and avoidance. For one thing, in this avoidance, we are also denying our own capacity for resilience. When we do that, we consistently underestimate, and so do not discover the strength of, our own hearts. Furthermore, turning away from the reality of suffering may already be impacting the next generation. A recent study reported the alarming statistic that American children rank twentieth out of twenty-one countries in compassion and that we are raising kids who are more narcissistic and self-focused than ever before (see Dacher Keltner's Born to Be Good). It doesn't seem a very long leap from this to state that the more narcissistic we become, the less likely we are to focus on the needs of others let alone respond to the suffering of others. Responding to suffering is the essence of compassion and unless we turn toward it, acknowledge it - allow it to affect us--we cannot nor will not be able to relieve it. It is, really, responding to our human condition-- that we are all vulnerable, that everyone struggles. When we are compassionate, we are allowing the world to touch us; we are remembering that we all are a part of the universal story. As always seems to be the case, we must in this universal story begin with ourselves in order to bequeath our children and grandchildren a more compassionate world. If compassion is about remembering that everyone is struggling, then self-compassion acknowledges our own vulnerability and our own very human failings and reactions. Just as we might respond to others, we treat ourselves with the same openness; we allow our pain to be felt, we allow ourselves to care that we are hurting. We can then offer to ourselves what we would most want to offer a loved one in the same circumstances. And we can sense our belonging to a greater whole in the common experience with others who share the same pain. "When we do not turn away from our [difficulties] then what was dark becomes bright, what was painful becomes the occasion of release....To welcome life instead of fighting it, to befriend moments of night is to respect our embodiment and fulfill its tasks. We are simple then, happy or afraid or peaceful, and through that simplicity and openness, we are linked with each other. Meeting each other is possible.... " --John Tarrant


For more on compassion, see Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. For more on self-compassion, see Kristen Neff 's Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind

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