• Compassion is Key

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

    - Longfellow

    When we're young we are so quick to believe that anything that someone else does that we don't like is being done with the intent to hurt or anger us. High School comes to mind with all its fabricated drama... As if we're less alive if we aren't in the middle of a 'crisis' with our friends or family. With maturity should come the insight that, with a few exceptions, everyone who hurts us is probably hurting inside themselves. With that realization comes the option of exercising compassion instead of retaliation, breaking the cycle of anger with, if not love, at least understanding.

    TRIGGER WARNING: the following paragraph mentions childhood abuse. Please skip if needed. 

    I recently had a long conversation with one of the patients in the mental health center where I now work part time. She'd come in with two black eyes, because when the mental pain inside her gets so big, the only thing that she can think of is to distract herself with physical pain. We'd talked about the abuse she suffered as a child, about the shame and guilt of feeling complicit, of where to start with forgiving yourself. And I explained the things I've learned about the brain and how it will do anything to survive a horrible situation like that, that the way you act then isn't a choice, but a reflex. And how the stress of not knowing if the abuse is going to happen today or not can be worse than the abuse itself, so becoming complicit may be, at the time, the least stressful way to survive. (Trauma brain might be the topic of another newsletter, but for now, if you are interested check out  the books The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk). 


    After we talked, she asked me: "How do you work here? How do you not go home every day and bawl your eyes out?" 

    So we talked about compassion. How it helps to realize that everybody here is hurting. When patients get angry, that is not about something we did that we need to defend ourselves for, or retaliate for: We can meet that with compassion. When someone tells us about their hurt, that is not our hurt, and while we can strive to understand it's not something that can destroy us, because we are not living it. So we can meet that with compassion too.

    It's not easy. Compassion comes up again and again in my daily Invitational Meditation more recently. But to get the opportunity to practice compassion, to offer kindness, no matter how small or how well or ill received, to those who hurt, is what makes me grow as a person.

    And I firmly believe the cultivation of compassion is the one thing that will make the world a better place.