It can be easy to feel compassion for the homeless man on the side of the street, or for the child that loses a parent, or the parent that loses a child. It’s almost instinctual. That is a very good thing. It allows us to trust that the capacity for caring is innate; the spark of compassion is always ready to be lit.
What is more difficult is discovering compassion toward someone in the heat of reactivity and edginess. When I feel impulses unfolding, sometimes it takes all of my energy to just be patient; to pause the habitual momentum of reaction from turning into action. It feels volatile and restless, and it’s held in the body, though the mind is doing all that it can to remain soft. While I do this internal work in how I am relating to this other person, at the same time I have to do the work of how I am relating to myself. I even watch as all these walls arise from seemingly nowhere. In that moment, I am trying to be kind with my own experience. I am not letting myself off the hook, but I am trying to allow myself to be human and to be with this as well. It is a whole lot of work. It can feel all consuming. However, the disruptive nature of pausing with all of this is that it disrupts the flow of reactivity and then instead we sit with it all. The experience becomes intensely vivid, heavy and light, personal and impersonal, critical and kind all at the same time. It’s hard, but good work.
The only way to feel compassion for another in the heat of emotion and reactivity, is to let go of the ego entirely. As long as I sit in my own story, the spark of compassion will remain unlit. The moment I step outside of myself, I can allow myself to step into another person’s experience. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong, or fixing that needs to happen, it’s internal work that needs attending. It is the deep and kind labor of expressing compassion towards our own suffering and pain, while at the same feeling compassion towards the suffering and pain of others.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
~ Pema Chodron