This week I have been looking at the many aspects of compassion. Merriam-Webster gives the definition as: “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc. A sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
I considered how simply this definition was written compared to the immensity of emotion compassion evokes in us. It is like this enormous, gorgeous rock (that I photographed while spending time with my adopted Navajo family on the reservation) in that is strong, prominent, beautiful, subject to change only after eons of slow-moving, geological action. It resides within us and outside of us.
We feel it most directly when seeing or hearing another being in distress of some sort, whether emotional or physical. One sees an animal suffering on the streets or in a shelter and almost involuntarily, one gets tears in one’s eyes and the desire to adopt every single creature in need. One sees pictures of suffering on the news with cataclysmic events or simply ongoing events, such as famine, and one feels sorrow, one’s heart fills with pain and out comes the checkbook in order to “do something” to make it better. One sees an elderly person struggling with packages or simply trying to cross a street before the walk signal ends and one immediately feels that frailty and nervousness and offers any assistance needed. One sees another human sitting lonely and sad on a bench and even offering a smile or a hello helps to serve that person at that moment.
As human beings, we are blessed with the God-given gift of the ability to feel compassion. Our hearts grow two or even three sizes larger like The Grinch and we feel our humanity at its best.
But my exploration of compassion opened up even more this week as I thought about the compassion we show ourselves. Are we compassionate with ourselves? Do we give thanks when we look in the mirror and see the miracle of our body? Or do we nitpick mentally about some, usually, imagined flaw. Do we suffer for hours about something we said that seemed foolish or may have offended or hurt someone? Do we look at our lives and say, “It’s not enough.”? Or “I’m not making career/diet/relationship/spiritual progress.”? Do we judge ourselves within an inch of our lives on a daily basis?
I’m not saying that self-monitoring, self-questioning and self-realization are not important. But do we do these things within ourselves with sympathy and a desire to help ourselves?
Every single one of us is battling something. Look around and no matter how beautiful, accomplished, wealthy, intelligent, etc. someone is…rest assured they are struggling or battling with something, just as you are.
My prayer as we wind down 2013 and look ever towards “ananda”, bliss and joy, is to let us be compassionate with ourselves…whether struggling in a yoga posture, battling our inner demons, or outer demons for that matter. Let us treat ourselves with that same urgency to alleviate suffering that we feel for others.