December 7, 2010

Compassion, a work in progress.

One of you wrote:
“I wanted to write you an answer to ‘What does compassion mean?’ But I can’t verbalize it. I thought about it for days and days in November, and I heard the word compassion everywhere I went day after day after day! And I’ve been having lots of memories that make me say to myself: ‘Oh yes, that’s compassion’ But how to describe it to a visitor from Mars? I know what it isn’t — it isn’t feeling ashamed, it isn’t blaming, it isn’t even forgiveness.”


Nurses seemed to have an easy time defining compassion:
“It’s my job!”
“As a nurse, compassion has always meant the ‘action you do for your patient that lessens her/his suffering.’ “

People sent quotes.
* This one from Joseph Campbell: “Compassion for me is just what the word says: it is ‘suffering with.’ It is an immediate participation in the suffering of another to such a degree that you forget yourself and your own safety and spontaneously do what’s necessary.”
* This one from the Merriam Webster dictionary: “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
* And even one from me: “Compassion is what you’ve always taught us: to live life with an open heart and no judgment!”

Most people’s definitions included the desire to help others:
“To me, compassion is like empathy, but it is accompanied by a desire to help. I have compassion for alcoholics, because I understand their struggles, and I have a desire to help them.”

Or being with:
“What comes to me is empathy and being able to be with our own and other’s suffering without having to fix it.”

What compassion feels like:
“A tingling in my body.”
“A feeling of expansion in my heart.”
“A warm glowing.”
“It feels the same as emanating love feels.”

What have I learned? That we each have our own definition of and experience with compassion. Those definitions are similar, but not necessarily the same. But however different our definitions are, it seems to me that we all mean some form of being available, emotionally and physically, to others who are in need.

I’ve been working on my own definition of compassion (which changes with each new email I get from you!) Today, it goes something like this: First of all, seeing others, being aware of the people in my life, being conscious of the people in my world. Then, accepting their condition, accepting them for who they are, as they are; and to the best of my ability, loving them as they are. And finally, standing ready to be of service. Being willing to help, not to fix them, but to support them in their own goals for themselves.

I still like the everyday guidance of the Golden Rule. Don’t do anything to anyone else that I wouldn’t want done to me. Interact with others in a way I’d like to be interacted with.

Thanks for participating in this discussion. I don’t think we’ve reached the end of it yet.

Speaking of being available to others, you could help me today. Our trailer goes to the shop today for new axles and springs. If you’d like to, please joyfully imagine me and Debra leaving Kansas with light hearts, heading for Oklahoma and points south, pulling our trailer, straight and true and smooth behind us.