How I Learned The True Meaning of the C-Word

12 Sep

Someone recently told me that compassion was something that I could work on, and I thought, “what?! I am an expert in this.  I do Yoga.  I am good at forgiving

After the conversation, I looked up the definition of compassion, to make sure that I was correct about the opinion that I had of myself, which was that I was a compassionate expert, and I came across this: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

“Of course I want to alleviate others’ suffering,” I thought, “I am reading Giving 2.0 so that I can decide how to best volunteer and help others.”

However, the definition and conversation stayed with me, floating in the back of my mind as I went throughout my days.  I began to become acutely aware of how I interacted with others, as well as that inner voice inside my head; the one that we all have that pushes us forward, constantly telling us how we should be.

I saw myself not only being very hard on others, but also myself.  I realized that I was more judgmental and evil to myself than anyone else, and that this stopped me from having compassion toward other people.  I had an unseen fist in my mind, gripping onto old anger, current stresses, and all the ways that I felt shame and disappointment.

During this time I was got laryngitis, and while some would think that was just a coincidence, I wasn’t that surprised that it struck me.

I spent days, alone in my room, berating myself for the evil person that I truly was; for all the mistakes I had made; for all the shame I felt over my depression; for every single wrong choice I had made in my life.

And it was here that I began to cry, to almost everyone (much to my embarrassment) and that’s when people started to surprise me: friends forgave me, co-workers understood me and still believed in my work, and my Mom unexpectedly responded to me needing to borrow money with, “that’s ok, I understand.  I know how hard it is on good days.  You’re a great daughter.”

So then I sobbed to myself, at the end of a very bad day, with guilt because in my heart I knew that so many other peoples’ problems were bigger than mine, but I couldn’t help it.  I turned in on myself, and saw my own suffering, saw how I often created it, saw that I had more weaknesses than I would care to admit.

Saw that I was still hurting over a lot of tough stuff that happened to me in the past, and more importantly saw that I never found myself good enough for my own self; that this often created my own reality.

Then I began to forgive myself, without even being conscious of it, I started to say, “I’m sorry,” again and again, and my heart began to open to my own imperfect humanity.

I had been told that, “we are so much more than our own and others definitions,” but at times it is near impossible to get outside of your own language; impossible to break impression you didn’t know you possessed.

What I’ve learned is not that we all suffer, I knew that already, but that to truly be compassionate, or to begin practicing compassion, one must become alive to the personal sufferings within.  These are difficult to see because they are the ones that are cloaked in shame, hidden deep so that we don’t have to feel their pain.

It is an excavation process, so that there’s room in the heart to possess an empathetic understanding toward all people because you know that their spirits are so much greater than that imperfect humanity you both share – and to be forgiving toward those who are trapped in their own sufferings.

Compassion is important even to those that are cruel because they’re the ones that have to live with their own self and actions – that is the ultimate punishment, they don’t need us to punish them (though that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in jails, boundaries are important too).

We have a choice, as people, to contribute to our inner pain, or to face it and help others carry theirs.  It doesn’t have to be grandioso gestures, or a lifetime of giving, but just space in the heart for all the messy, beautiful, imperfect beings that are encountered throughout life.

I believe this is a lifetime practice – all of my revelations won’t immediately turn me into the most compassionate person that anyone has ever encountered, but I am committed to beginning with myself; to see myself as I am, and to work on being my own true friend, so that I can give the same to others.


One Response to “How I Learned The True Meaning of the C-Word”

  1. barbara September 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm #


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