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Widening the Embrace of Compassion

February 25, 2009

Humpback WhaleDuring my walk this morning, and while talking by phone with my son, Benoit, I began to ponder the meaning of compassion. During our conversation the subject came up of the incredible gap that often occurs between how others see us and how we see ourselves. For example, sometimes people see us as “experts” in certain areas, and when they do the way they look at us and speak with us changes dramatically, often putting unconscious pressure on us to support that image. If we are honest, of course, we realize that whatever expertise we believe we may have or others may see in us has little to do with our actual being and with what we actually experience of ourselves. The fact is, except in very special conditions, we seldom see or tell the “whole truth” about ourselves either to ourselves or to others. How could we? We are seldom conscious of our own wholeness, including all the different, sometimes even contradictory, impulses, motivations, and manifestations of ourselves.

When I returned from my walk, I looked up one of my favorite Einstein quotes, which reminds us that “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

As I have pondered this passage over the years, I’ve realized that the practice of compassion begins at home, in our own hearts and minds and bodies. Before we can truly widen our circle of compassion to sincerely embrace others with our full presence, we need to widen the circle to embrace the whole of ourselves, to see and include all those aspects of ourselves that we have difficulty with, or don’t like, or even despise, along with the consciousness that makes everything possible.

When we are able to find this new, more-conscious way of embracing ourselves, when we wake up and realize that life itself is a miracle and a mystery, compassion toward others is a natural result. Fully present to the miracle of ourselves, how could we not feel great compassion toward “all living creatures” in the face of this beautiful mystery that we call life?

Copyright 2009 by Dennis Lewis

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2009 9:58 pm

    I like articles that help me to wonder and ponder–I like this article. I have found out from experience that my amount of compassion is equal to my energy level. The more energy I have, the more positive I feel and the more I am open to help others to ease their suffering. I often try to pause and try to understand why people feel, behave, and act a certain way and to accept them for who they. But my compassion has boundaries: I’ve observed that if I feel good, I am open to help; if I am tired, I prefer not dealing with any “negative” human psychological issues. I’ve also noticed that my compassion manifests more easily toward animals than to people. People can be very draining with their thoughts, behaviors, and actions, especially in the health care industry which is my line of work.

  2. February 25, 2009 10:11 pm

    That is a great observation, and probably true for many people.

    But what about compassion toward yourself? Do you observe that the same principles are true?

    And if our compassion is just based on the amount of energy we feel at the time, can we really call it compassion?

  3. February 25, 2009 10:32 pm

    Do you mean: “feeling compassion toward oneself–the many different parts of oneself”?

    Can we call love a form of compassion?

    What do you mean by compassion toward self–is it accepting oneself unconditionally without criticism?

  4. February 26, 2009 4:44 pm

    Dasha…such an interesting comment. Lately, I’ve been reading Eckhart Tolle and Richard Rohr. Both of them point to the false self, or Ego…the outer manifestation of our inner core. Our inner core, which is love and a spark of the divine…which is unconditional and accepting…compassionate and experiences the entire of creation as One and the same part of the whole. As a drop is part of the entire ocean. When I reflect on Dennis’ ideas of the breath…I believe that this kind of work, gets us in touch with that inner self. The Ego, which judges and sees everything as separate…is what causes us to suffer. Awakening is realizing there is no duality. That love is our essential nature.
    Criticism of our ‘self’ and others is part of that Ego, that false sense.
    I’m not sure if it is ‘acceptance’ or realization that, as Tolle says, our False Self is a fabrication…a basket, if you will…with our personal name on it…that contains a collection of past experiences and future desires.
    If we follow our own breath, we may soon forgive ourselves and everyone and everything for being ‘possessed’ by this false self…or Ego…
    And so forgiveness, may be simply, realizing that many of us are possessed by the False Self.
    Seekers will find little solace in the outside world…where we grasp for ‘things’ to satisfy an insatiable hunger for more this and/or that, outside of our inner core.
    Much emotional energy, (and I know this as anxiety) depletes physical energy.
    Compassion for our Self, Dennis, I think may be the same as compassion for everything.

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