I’ve struggled, for a long time, with what compassion truly means. I can easily read the definition in the dictionary, “Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortune of others.” My real questions have been about how I can authentically prevail in this task, within myself, on a constant basis.
It’s fairly easy not to care
It seems that, by default, it’s quite easy not to care about the misfortunes of others. Our media has done a great job of gradually numbing us, since it’s constantly bombarding us with tragic events happening in the Middle East or locally: murder, bombings, etc.
Throughout the years, my spiritual teachers have had me do exercises during which I’d have to recite, “I have compassion for all living beings.”
The problem was, I felt as if I was just saying the words and not truly feeling it. So the question remained, how do I truly feel compassion for people I don’t know and will never meet? How do I care for them, when I don’t even know what they look like or their background?
Can we feel compassion towards “evil” people?
The hardest of all the compassion questions, for me, was asking myself how to have compassion for those I hate or despise. I’d take this to the extreme and ask myself how I could have genuine empathy for Pol Pot. If you haven’t heard of him, he was responsible for the mass genocide of millions of innocent Cambodian people.
It turns out the answer lies not in these strangers and enemies but within myself. I’ve had to recognize that the darkness in my own being (fear, anxiety, regret, heartache) isn’t my fault, that all these aspects are part of the human condition.
I love this, because it alleviates some of the guilt and judgement I place on myself for having these “dark” emotions. More importantly, it immediately connects me to the entire human race. Now, I clearly see that we’re connected in this way. We all experience the loss of loved ones; we all regret actions in our past, fear the future and more—even the strangers in the world and my enemies.
When you’re able to sympathize with another human being’s suffering via your own suffering, you can have compassion for even the most evil people in history.
Imagine the fear and hatred that must have possessed Pol Pot, driving him to perform the atrocities he did. Imagining someone’s feelings like this doesn’t rationalize his (or anyone else’s) crime, but allows us to have compassion for all beings, even those we don’t support the actions of.
To react to our enemies with additional hatred only perpetuates the problem. This is where the “Law of Compassion” is crucial.
Compassion breeds forgiveness and love
When we’re able to feel compassion for those who’ve wronged us, we’re able to forgive. Forgiveness is a powerful tool. It allows us to stop carrying weight within ourselves that’s unnecessary to carry.
By forgiving those who’ve done things that hurt us in the past, we can live our lives with more love and less fear and hate.
I’m not saying you have to be friends with those who’ve wronged you or even speak to them ever again. In situations like this, forgiveness is more of an act that helps us let go. In letting go, we come a step closer to opening our hearts just a little bit more.
Opening the heart’s doors
My goal in life is to find ways in which I can constantly open my heart’s well-guarded doors. I feel a taste of this whenever I see a heartwarming movie or watch a child smile at his mother.
I ask myself, can I push these limits to higher extremes? The good news is that the answer is “yes.”
It’s quite counter-intuitive, actually. As we’re raised in this society, we’re told by movies and other media that acquiring as much as you can for yourself is the way to happiness. Seems rational, right?
However, what I’ve found in life is that the opposite is true. When I focus on the well-being of others, I actually become more fulfilled myself. There’s a natural opening of my heart and compassion flows effortlessly, without being forced. There’s also equal reciprocation of this from the people around me.
If you want to feel your own well-protected heart doors open a little, I suggest that you, too, simply turn your focus to what you can do for those around you instead of for yourself.
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