Is There a Crisis of Compassion?
I’ve been participating in a mindfulness and non-violent communication group for the past 8 weeks. The other week we were sharing the things that bring up feelings of powerlessness and struggle for us.
There was a lot of talk about climate change and frustration with the apathy of governments, corporations and individuals. Different people identified the roots of these problems differently.
One of the members shared that she was concerned about a lack of compassion in the world, both between human beings, and from human beings to the other species on the planet.
She called this a crisis of compassion.
The phrase stuck with me. Perhaps it was just the poetic alliteration?
As I reflect on this it does seem that within the human species there is a tendency that might be increasing to classify people into groups and then give up the ability to communicate with them. There also seems to be a tendency to rush and thus not put a lot of care in one’s words or actions.
Whether our species has altogether less compassion now than it did in the past I’m not sure about. Colonial culture seems egregiously short on consideration for other species. But within that culture we seem to be making tiny but definite strides in the direction of appreciating each other more.
Regardless of how we compare with our earlier selves, there is still a lot more room for treating each other with loving kindness, treating other living beings with loving kindness, and treating ourselves with loving kindness.
In fact, as I reflected on this idea, what came up for me was that the first crisis of compassion is within ourselves.
The first crisis of compassion is within ourselves.
It takes a lot of tender compassion for us to take a good look at ourselves, and to not turn away from anything.
I see that this is my definition of self love, that I will look at everything about myself, and I will keep looking, and I will embrace and care for all of it. As I make space for all that, I will also be making space for all of that in others.
If you’re curious about what these things are that can be hard not to turn away from, I’m referring to “triggers”. This is when someone says something, or we see something and we find ourselves reacting to it in an unloving way that doesn’t reflect our best self.
It can also be hard not to turn away from our body.
Sometimes when we see how our body looks, or see our physical weakness and frailty, it can make us want to turn away. We might prefer not to know that something has become hard for us to do.
In my early life I was very critical of my body. It was just a constant litany that I never thought much about. I don’t know why this was, but I don’t think I was very unique in this regard. It has something to do with messaging about a female’s value being linked to how she looks.
One day when I was 23 and in the middle of massage school, I was stepping into the shower. I glanced at my body and the usual disparaging litany of disappointment and not-good-enoughness came up and I turned away.
Then something happened.
I turned back and looked at myself. I thought, “You can’t keep treating her this way. Look at everything she does for you. She always does her best for you, even when your demands are unreasonable. You need to start telling her you love her. She needs that.”
That was the moment I first offered loving-kindness to my own body. Now we’re partners and we’re friends, I appreciate her and I listen to her. My willingness to see my body as it is, instead of how I think it ought to be allows me to really explore my capacity. Failure doesn’t scare me, and not being good enough doesn’t scare me.
I want to share this excerpt from a love letter that Thich Nhat Hahn, a Zen Master, wrote to the planet Earth. This was also shared by someone in the mindfulness group. You can read more of it Here.
“Dear Mother, wherever there is soil, water, rock or air, you are there, nourishing me and giving me life. You are present in every cell of my body. My physical body is your physical body, and just as the sun and stars are present in you, they are also present in me. You are not outside of me and I am not outside of you. You are more than just my environment. You are nothing less than myself.
I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you. I promise to be aware that your health and well-being is my own health and well-being. I know I need to keep this awareness alive in me for us both to be peaceful, happy, healthy, and strong.
Sometimes I forget. Lost in the confusions and worries of daily life, I forget that my body is your body, and sometimes even forget that I have a body at all. Unaware of the presence of my body and the beautiful planet around me and within me, I’m unable to cherish and celebrate the precious gift of life you have given me. Dear Mother, my deep wish is to wake up to the miracle of life. I promise to train myself to be present for myself, my life, and for you in every moment. I know that my true presence is the best gift I can offer to you, the one I love.”
I like that Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of the body of the planet and his own body as being expressions of each other, and that he vows to support the health and well-being of both as one.
I like that he says that when the worries and confusion of daily life make him forgetful and unaware he loses the ability to cherish and celebrate life.
I like that he longs to celebrate the miracle and the precious gift that is life, and makes no distinction between the celebration of his own life and life itself.
And finally, I like that he promises to train himself so that he can be present for himself and for the Mother in every moment.
Training oneself to be present, awake and celebrating the miracle of life is not just done within the mind. It will be accomplished through making friends with the body and becoming stronger, more graceful and more free.
And to do that we need our own deep well of self compassion, so that we can start from exactly where we are…wherever that happens to be, and love ourselves going forward.
If you want an exercise to help practice this, I suggest standing in front of a mirror completely naked and looking at your wonderful body, with tender compassion, acceptance and love.