This week’s theme in class has been compassion. As per definition, compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy for others who experience misfortune accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. It involves the act of showing kindness, caring and a willingness to help one another.
Whilst this directs the focus to the outside world, I believe there is a concept evenly important: Compassion for oneself, bringing it from an external focus back to yourself.
Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love says:
When I tried this morning, after an hour or so of unhappy thinking, to dip back into my meditation, I took a new idea with me: compassion. I asked my heart if it could please infuse my soul with a more generous perspective on my mind’s workings. Instead of thinking that I was a failure, could I perhaps accept that I am only a human being?
Each day is new. We are all confronted with new situations, new excitements, new challenges in every moment of our being designed for us to grow and learn. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail.
If you are, like me, a perfectly imperfect human being this is part of your nature. We learn by trial and error – sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong.
No one taught me how to show up in a difficult situation at work; how to solve a conflict; how to love; how to slow down; how to maintain a long-term relationship or marriage; how to become and be a good parent; how to deal with the loss of someone close and so on.
So, inevitably, we make mistakes along the way. We begin to judge, blame and experience guilt or shame as if we and others should have known better.
When practising compassion, we give permission to the not knowing better. We understand that each of us, including myself, is always doing the best they can and are capable of in any given moment.
We then step forward knowing that any mistakes or missteps are designed to evolve and learn in just this way, doing our very best to leave guilt and (self-) judgement aside.
The challenges we face in our world today are enormous. For example, when someone opens a fire in Las Vegas, leaving 58 people dead and 489 injured, you may ask yourself: How am I ever supposed to feel something like compassion for that person?
Whilst this is a drastic example, the question and feelings we’re left with may translate into many other situations and circumstances of our lives. The response may be feelings like judgement, hatred, separation, anger and frustration. This is a normal and human experience – we haven’t learned it any other way.
By no means will I ever justify violence or cruel behaviour, however what has helped me is to understand that: We all came to this world as innocent, loved and loving beings. Only hurt people hurt. So, if you find yourself in a dance between anger and compassion for those who cause suffering, spare some of that for those who turned these innocent, trusting and loving beings into something other than that.
So, where do we begin? The simple answer is: right here. Even if I’m convinced ______ [my boss, my neighbour, the terrorist, the president of a certain country, my ex-husband, the wife of my ex-husband… the list goes on – feel free to fill in the blank] is bound to live in hell making compassion impossible for me, can I choose something other than resentment? Compassion is a matter of the heart: Can I try to see their childlike innocence and loving nature making it possible for me to choose love anyway?
We can begin to practise on a micro-level when we choose to practise a compassionate asana, avoiding injury, taking a rest in Child pose when the breath is out of rhythm, taking a step back when the legs are shaking, lowering the arms when the shoulders are hunching. Choosing a gentle and mindful approach on the mat is compassion in action.
It is an inside-out practice – if we can’t hold that space for ourselves on the mat, it is unlikely that we can in interaction with others off the mat.
As always, I hope it goes well for you this week. Please get in touch if you have any questions.