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).
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.
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.