“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. … Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”― Pema Chödrön
There is a recurring theme in my life. Perhaps I am just not getting it and I have to hear the same thing over and over until I do.
In a course on Social Psychology I was assigned a Day of Compassion. I took Pema’s quote as my definition of compassion; as understanding my oneness with everyone on earth. If I truly see each person as an extension of myself, then I should want to be as caring about his or her life as I am of my own. And so I began:
During any day I have more interaction with my husband than with anyone else. Throughout my DOC, I made extra effort to connect with him. When he came into a room I stopped what I was doing and listened attentively. I looked directly at him in all conversations and made every attempt not to be sidetracked or distracted when he was with me. After all, it is easy to take those for granted those who are the closest…to make a date for connection instead of practicing it each moment.
When I was undergoing treatment at a doctor’s office I look at the technician with new eyes. I engaged in meaningful conversation with her and interestingly, she was very open and related personal feelings stories. It was a soulful interchange rather than the normal office chat.
There were people with whom I had difficulty identifying. For instance, in my exercise class I was put off by the critical attitude of a participant. As I did my deep knee bends I realized that my attitude toward her was just as critical. I took a deep breath and spent some time thinking about why we feel it necessary to express our negative thoughts as pronouncement of the truth.
Sometimes I was brought up short by my thoughts. For instance, watching a fairly heavy young woman feed her child sweets, it was easier for me to get into a judgmental pattern rather than knowing that I didn’t (when my children were young) and still don’t always make wise choices. This young woman and I are not so different.
As I sat down to eat my lunch and watch a taped episode of “The Chew”, I found that it had been preempted by coverage of the anniversary of the March on Washington. Watching the faces in the crowd and the historical footage of the original March, I put myself firmly in the place of thousands of people who stood for freedoms so many years ago and could now stand before a black president and rejoice in the progress made while at the same time realizing how much compassion is necessary to change attitudes even today.
My behavior may not have been greatly different on my DOC, i.e. on any given day I would have helped the young people push their car home when their battery was dead. (I was kind of happy that it happened that day, though, so that I could feel as if I did the traditional good deed.)
But, more importantly, my awareness was heightened. My self-perception has changed. I see that in this context I distance myself from behaviors that I don’t like, attributing them to others rather than understanding that I am capable of anything.
Interestingly, being compassionalte was work for me. An on-the-ground exercise in oneness required focus. Perhaps if I can maintain it every day, eventually it will become more natural to truly comprehend the practice.
Oneness is more than a spiritual concept. I share with all. I am all. I am not separate.