The Courage to be Compassionate

Blog 4: Courage

Many people have difficulty with compassion because they think that to be compassionate you have to be powerless and become a “doormat.”  This is far from the truth although for me it is the most difficult aspect of compassion.  As I previously mentioned, Steve Gilligan described compassion as tender, fierce, and mischievous, and when I studied fierce compassion, I found that for me a better descriptor was courage.

In an effort to not practice “idiot compassion” (please see Blog 3: Wisdom), one needs to be able to be fierce like a mother protecting her child.  We often see this in the wild, where tiger and lion moms will sacrifice and fight to the death to protect their cubs.  Human moms express their fierceness somewhat differently but we can still observe a mother’s reaction to anything that potentially threatens her child.

There are other examples when courage is necessary to compassion.  When we see wrongdoing in the world, and take action to create change, this requires the courage of compassion.  You have perhaps encountered someone who is quite strident in their social justice words and it has the effect of discounting their efforts.  We don’t need to be aggressive and mean to change the world, such as using forms of violence to create peace and justice. We do need to seek, from our Core Self/Christ Consciousness, what Love is calling us to do in the situation.  It is only when we pause and seek to see from Christ’s eyes that we can select the best path of action.  Even personally, it will require setting ego boundaries to find the capacity to pause and awaken to Christ consciousness because we automatically respond with retribution rather than restorative justice.  This is the “fight or flight” response of our basic brain structure.

Pema Chodron recounts in her audio series “Noble Heart”[1]  a story that a student shared with her.  The short version is that this person had a roommate who was addicted to drugs.  Out of tender compassion, although he did not support his behavior, he did not interfere and accepted him as he was. One day he came home to find his roommate nearly dead on the floor and he became so angry at the roommate he screamed at him to stop doing this to himself and take care of himself. He then left the apartment. He expected upon his return that his roommate would be very angry with him and/or moved out. Instead he found a roommate who was grateful that he had cared enough about him to get angry and the roommate stopped using drugs.

Paul Gilbert, Ph.D. wrote in 2015, “When people hear the word compassion, they tend to think of kindness. But scientific study has found the core of compassion to be courage.”[2] He continues, “The point is that kind people don’t always have the courage to behave compassionately.”  For some people, it takes courage just to acknowledge suffering, let alone act to alleviate it.  Compassion requires something out of us and it takes courage to open ourselves to suffering and use the three facets of compassion, tenderness, courage, and wisdom, to act from our Core Self.

 

 

 

[1] Chdron, P. (1998) “Noble Heart.” Boulder, CO.: Sounds True.

[2] Gilbert, P. (2015) “Compassion Universally Misunderstood” in Huffington Post-UK. Aug. 25, 2015, retrieved on June 12, 2018.

What is Compassion and What is Suffering?

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I feel it is important to define what we mean by compassion.

Most definitions of compassion include some notion of suffering, i.e. compassion is to “suffer with” another. It seems to me then, that we first need to define suffering.  In certain Western cultures, we tend to think of suffering as a really big incident or something of huge import.  So people who are starving in the Third World, persons whose loved one dies unexpectedly, or some loss of life or home in a flood, fire, earthquake, or hurricane; these are the people who suffer.

But what about daily life for us?  Don’t we suffer and need compassion?  I think we need a broader definition of suffering to extend compassion in our daily lives.  Buddhists use the term. “dukkha” which describes “…anything on a scale from small annoyances to serious diseases…anything that fosters a separate sense of self and suppresses our natural tendency to be one with the Ultimate.”[1]  Yes, there are degrees of suffering but “it occurs because life involves change and decay, loss, disappointment and impermanence.”[2]  Simply put dukkha means “suffering, unsatisfactoriness, frustration, and disappointment.”[3]  This description of suffering/dukkha explains suffering in the context of contemplative compassion for me.

I will leave you with 2 of my favorite descriptions of compassion:

Jim Finley, Ph.D. mystic, author, and psychologist, defines compassion this way, “Compassion is that love that recognizes and goes forth to identify with the preciousness of all that is lost and broken within ourselves and others.”[4]

Paul Gilbert, Ph.D., creator of Compassion-Focused Therapy, defines it this way, “being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to prevent and relieve it.”[5] Paul Gilbert’s thinking “is based on an “evolutionary neuroscience approach.”[6]  This is helpful for our purposes in that he describes behavior which requires a number of different competencies and attributes which can be developed and practiced in relationship to others. Although it is focused predominantly on the ego-self, there is much there for the contemplative compassion seeker.

Finally, a definition of suffering/dukkha is essential to how I define compassion, that is, compassion is tender, courageous, and wise. We will explore tender, courageous, and wise in next week’s blog.

 

[1] Miller, J.P. (2016) Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, page 126

[2] IBID

[3] Miller, J.P.  p. 234

[4] Finley, J. (2004) Christian Meditation. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, Harper-Collins Publishers, p.279.

[5] Gilbert, P. and Choden (2014) Mindful Compassion. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., p. 1.

[6] Gilbert, P. (2009) The Compassionate Mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., p. 193.

What is Contemplative Compassion?

What is Contemplative Compassion?

We tend to think of compassion as an act of mercy toward another or to ‘suffer with’ another.  Most often this is ego-based and has generated many right actions and relationships.

By Contemplative Compassion I mean compassion that has God/Infinite Being as its source.  It emanates from Infinite Love and Compassion.  It is part of our Christological DNA.[1]  It is from our Core Self, one with God who is Infinite Love and Compassion (ILC) and who we are created to be.[2]  It is enacted in ‘oneness consciousness[3] and flows into our everyday activities.  This is what this weekly blog will focus on, an in-depth exploration of contemplative compassion.

If this interests you, please join me on the path.

A statement from James Finley, Ph.D.[4] many years ago captured my heart-mind.  He said, “The primary agent of transformation is compassion.” My core self knew this was true and I was at a point in my life, (the constructed-self life) when I needed to transform or die. (Little did I know at that time that transformation is death; a death to the egocentric self.) I also realized that I did not understand compassion as it was meant in Jim’s statement. And so the journey began in 1993 and I’m sure will continue as long as I am in this finite body.

Next week I’ll discuss the many different definitions of compassion. In the following weeks we’ll explore compassionate being and doing from oneness consciousness, both Christian and Buddhist. I also feel that a key for living the contemplative compassion path is to understand it from that which is commonly called our “true self” and “false self.”[5] In order to remove the pejorative language of “false” (AKA ‘bad’) self, I will explore Core (AKA True) Self and Constructed (AKA False) Self.

If these heart-mind aspects of living speak to you, please join me.

 

[1] I am indebted to Joanne P. Miller for this term.  Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way. (2016) Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, p. 78

[2] Genesis 1:27; Romans 8:29-35

[3] Oneness consciousness also known as unitive consciousness, Paul R. Smith (2017) Is Your God Big Enough? Close Enough? You Enough? St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, p. 68

[4] James Finley said this on many retreats and it is also found in Christian Mediation (2004) San Francisco, CA and New York: HarperSanFrancisco

[5] Merton, Thomas (1961) New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions and Odorisio, David  “Rediscovering the True Self through the Life and Writings of Thomas Merton” Thomas Merton Seasonal Vol. 28, No 2, pp. 13-23.