The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance

Living with All Beings 081913

The practice of compassion requires considerable courage, for the way of compassion is living an active life amongst all beings. Practicing compassion means we trust ourselves enough to connect to life completely, making ourselves vulnerable, a daring in its own right.  Such is the wisdom of compassion.

Compassion (Late Latin: com=”together” + pati “to suffer”) offers us a perspective on suffering. Its etymology—the peeling back of the layers of its life—reveals its nuance, allowing us a peek into its past. Much of the mystery of life lies in such nuance.

The practice of compassion is a commitment to connect with the suffering of all beings, including those we do not like. Connecting is not condoning but rather a revealing of the nuance inherent in every being. “It involves learning to relax in allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us” (Chodron).

A Closer Look 081913

Moving toward what scares us allows us to soften rather than harden, to open to options previously hidden from view. In acknowledging that all suffer, we recognize that all know pain in its various guises. Suffering reveals our connection to all beings.

In practicing compassion, especially when to do so challenges us to our core, we appreciate the pain of other people. The nuance is in recognizing the suffering without judging the behavior. In this coming together with those who suffer— the etymology of compassion—we glean the wisdom inherent in living such a life.

Dr. Grace Damman terms this as the aligning of compassion with wisdom: “What I mean is that when I am served by other people who are driven by their own standards of excellence, and not by the demands of my ‘whiny self,’ then I am best served by them.” It is what she discovered in her recovery from a serious car accident, a truly vulnerable state.

In reaching for the wisdom within compassion, our perspective broadens, leaving us less susceptible to shenpa or getting hooked by our emotions. When we are hooked, we soar with our neuroses, oblivious to objectivity. We sever our connection with all beings, hearing only our own demands, our own needs.

Storm Clouds 081913

The churning of our emotions slips us into solitary confinement with our suffering, devoid of compassion. We sharpen our selves, harden our hearts to resist what scares us–creating the classic boomerang effect—the life of the infinite loop.

When we finally stop and peel back the layers of our pain, we open up to compassion, softening into the realization that all suffer. We connect to the nuance of life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint of heart but for warriors—bodhisattvas—who trust their vulnerability, for they know it is their connection to the wisdom of existence.

“We cultivate bravery through making aspirations. We make the wish that all beings, including ourselves and those we dislike, be free of suffering and the root of suffering” (Chodron).

Such is the way of a life of compassion.

22 thoughts on “The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance

  1. Love the cross of compassion and wisdom, Karen. Your definition of a lack of compassion as “solitary confinement with our suffering” is so poignant. I am also struck by your statement that “suffering reveals our connection to all beings.” What better reason to have compassion since we are all connected through suffering. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

    Like

    1. These days, I see compassion unfolding no matter where I am or what I am doing. People are doing the best they can, offering what they have. Of course, there are also moments of pure selfishness and separateness. Nevertheless, compassion connects and opens us up. Hugs to you, my dear Kozo.
      Karen

      Like

  2. Hi Karen, you are so right we all have a duty to care for each other as we are all connected. It reminds me of an incident when an injured pigeon landed in my garden. my neighbour helped me put it in a box, so I could take it to the vet and he said to me. “That pigeon knew to land here and that you would take care of it” Sadly we were not able to save it but at least it died humanely.

    Like

    1. What a lovely expression of compassion, Athena, and such a thoughtful example of how we are all connected. From what I know of you, I know you never hesitate to help wherever you can. Take care.
      Karen

      Like

  3. The hardest thing about practicing compassion is that it knows no bounds, respecting, not even the borders of self. To be unreservedly compassionate requires the taking down of all barriers, all self-protections. At moments when limitless compassion is asked of me I think of Mother Teresa and wonder, did she ever, for a moment, resent the demands put on her, did she ever want to keep some scrap of what was being asked for herself alone? I will never know, and can only fight that tendency in myself, that urge to hold onto something and not give it away, that urge to absolve myself by saying, this problem is not mine.

    Like

    1. Practicing compassion without reservation, without borders, is certainly my struggle and one I have failed for most of my life. It is only in my later years that I examine and pursue the practice. Thank you for the suggestion of considering Mother Teresa and what she might have turned over in her mind before just doing what needed to be done. It is such an interesting consideration.
      Karen

      Like

  4. Another thoughtful and wonderful post – thank you, Karen. I mentioned the other week that humanity has a duty of care to each other; and it occurs to me, reading your post, that one of the paths to that end is compassion, in all the ways you describe.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, Matthew! I share your belief that it is humanity’s duty to care for all living beings. To me this requires compassion, which as I also mentioned the other week was part of each of the major traditions as they emerged. Certainly, the community’s survival was uppermost and so compassion was almost compulsory, if you will, yet I think it spoke to something larger in humanity, maybe the most powerful gift we have for in compassion, we are peaceful and cooperative.
      Karen

      Like

  5. Thank you for this lovely post, Karen. I have been struggling recently with the balance between having compassion and still setting boundaries to protect vulnerable parts of myself. I really appreciate your nuanced look at compassion here and the focus on being able to sit with what scares us without being hooked by it. That’s still a work in progress for me, but I am encouraged to see progress in myself over time as I continue to stay with it.

    Like

    1. Hey, Kenetha!
      Sitting with what scares us and not getting hooked by it just may be a lifelong practice because the power of our emotions is so great. I believe it is in Pema Chodron’s book on meditation where she explores meditating as a way to sit with our emotion. Her point is that the more familiar we are with our emotions, the more they work for us and not against us. I have had some success with that strategy, enough that I continue to practice it. I know you have been struggling of late, and I so appreciate your honest and thoughtful posts on the subject.
      Karen

      Like

  6. Very insightful and honest. Have you researched Brene Brown and her efforts towards bringing vulnerability into the national spotlight? She has an excellent TED Talk and interviews with Oprah plus a few books, I imagine you would appreciate her work

    Like

    1. Hi! Glad you enjoyed the post. I do know of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, including the TED talks and Oprah interviews. I find the TED talk on vulnerability quite powerful. Thanks so much for stopping by.
      Karen

      Like

  7. Opening up to compassion/unconditional love allowed me to see, “Oh! I love myself, too!” I think these thoughts you’ve shared with us today are the golden nugget of why we are here: to love the essence of each other and ourselves. The petty stuff really is just petty stuff. (I just have to remember that the next time some guy in an SUV gloms two parking spaces.) Hope you are doing well, Karen! 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi, Deb! Thanks, I am doing fine. As usual, you capture the essence of the post, accepting, and thus loving, the essence of one another. As you say, it is not easy to remember and always so easy to react. It is a lifelong practice, I suspect. As always, thanks so much, Deb.
      Karen

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s