Compassion Totters on Friday the 13th

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

~The Tao~

A car accident allowed me a “real-life” opportunity to practice the three treasures of the Tao—simplicity, patience, compassion. The Friday the 13th mishap found my compassion tottering, like an amphora (vase) too close to the edge.

Frankly, my patience held, even when my tone of voice betrayed me, as I temporarily strayed into the tentacles of story so very far from the simplicity that is “the source of being.” As far as I know, the story strands still abound outside my being.
Compassion Crash 091313

At the core of the story is an uninsured driver, momentarily distracted by a text message, hitting one parked car and sliding it into another (mine) in the parking lot of the apartment complex where all involved live. The driver left a phone number, unable to remain at the scene. That is the source of every story that followed.

Thoughtful neighbors who witnessed parts of the accident notified me. My initial thought on seeing the two cars together was I am very fortunate. The car that slid into my white Scion was severely damaged on both sides. After more than one call to the police, an officer did arrive to assist with details and separate the two vehicles.

My compassion vase moved ever closer to the edge as the hours ticked by, bringing no response to a voice mail I left for the driver. His late night call to me with strands of story unconnected to the accident wrapped round me, and my emotions swirled to the surface. My compassion went into free fall.
Compassion Jug 092113

Over the next 72 hours, the driver’s story would emerge in various versions, sometimes tangentially connected to the incident but often not. In a face-to-face meeting of all three car owners, I peppered the driver with questions in a cold, staccato tone devoid of compassion, a tone I once used far too frequently.

However, that realization was not what returned me to compassion but this thought: I really have to stop reading/watching so many murder mysteries. I am not a chief inspector solving a crime. I smiled, stopped my questions, and leaned back in my chair, finally listening to the driver’s story. Then, I let it go.

Securing my amphora of compassion—returning to my source of being—meant more to me than staying in a never-ending story. Once, I had lived that way, for most of my life, actually. Those years pale to how I live now.

Of course, I still have moments when my compassion totters, and there will be others, no doubt, but such is the human experience. My vase is secure for now. As for the final reconciliation, the driver and I have entered into a payment arrangement. After all was agreed and signed, he said he had not expected me to be kind. I responded that he and I had one bad moment but we need not have another.

Patience is…

…second to simplicity, according to sage Lao-tzu, sixth century B.C. author of the Tao Te Ching (Tao). Some sources cite the Tao as the second most translated work in history, preceded only by the Bible. As always, second place may or may not impress but what is impressive is that each of the Tao’s 81 sections (or 5000 Chinese characters) provides us with the constant contradictions inherent in life and then, most generously, offers us strategies within the Tao’s three central teachings–simplicity, patience, and compassion—for every moment we live.

That simplicity precedes patience is not difficult to appreciate. Before we can be, we must separate the strands of our life, acknowledging each strand unto itself as well as its relationship to every other strand. Patience emerges from the untangling but “the place of waiting is always trying and very difficult to live out…fear wants us to act too soon…patience, hard as it is, helps us outlast our preconceptions” (Mark Nepo).

If we practice patience rather than relying on a conditioned response—that which we have always known or done—our perception of what is possible changes completely. Within patience, the moment is fresh and free as in Moksha, a Sanskrit word meaning freedom or release. Deepak Chopra has referred to Moksha as “choiceless awareness,” in which the moment is emotionally free from the situation surrounding it.

In the freedom of Moksha, every moment is free because it is now, completely and fully present. Just as the strands separate to reveal simplicity, in Moksha, the present moment is removed from any future or past situation. The moment is free of any complication, of any condition. The moment is.

Like the moment, how we respond is free and fresh, separate from any situation that has established itself in the past or in the future. As long as we are completely present, we are as emotionally free as the moment. Essentially, we are not attached to the situation’s outcome– a central tenet of Buddhism—as yet another ancient tradition reveals itself within the practice of patience.

Yes, I am weaving in and out of the Vedas of Hinduism and the Tao of Taoism along with the Zen of Buddhism, an intricate weave of no beginning and no end. Continuously, I am startled by similarities—as if I were following the strands of the weave for the first time rather than following a familiar pattern—there is such crispness, freshness to this wondrous weave’s undulating eternity. There is such life in these traditions and thus, freedom.

Yet, the moments from my previous meandering among these traditions show themselves from time to time. There is unraveling yet to be done but the strands sort themselves as only memory can. It takes time but I wait for I know every moment I have is free as long as I have patience. It is rarely easy but with practice, patience increases.

“… When feeling urgent to find your place on this Earth…wait…and things as you fear them will, more often than not, shrink into the hard irreplaceable beauty of things as they are…of which you have no choice but to be a part” (Nepo).

And buried therein are the seeds of compassion.

(All Mark Nepo quotations are from The Book of Awakening