Compassion is a spirituality of meat, not milk; of adults, not children; of love, not masochism; of justice, not philanthropy. It requires maturity, a big heart, a willingness to risk and imagination.
Been working lately with resistance in my life—which is an optimistic way of saying a lowering sky of craptitude has settled over the horizon of my hut. A general desire to resist the difficulties. A magnetic pull to news sites rather than novel drafts. A vague hope that the difficult people in my life will finally go all out, elbow-chomping insane so I can feel less guilty about walking away from them for a while.
And, then I remembered something from my monk books. The calm, unavoidable question that is the beginning of awareness: what is this?
What is this experience really about? What are the thoughts that are swirling, the underlying judgments and assumptions that are producing anxiety, impatience, or avoidance? And, most important: what is it that I’m fearing?
The strange thing is that the more I ask these questions, the less I ultimately care about whatever the THING is that precipitated the uncomfortable experience. It’s amazing how many THINGS aren’t really things at all. Most of the stuff we get upset about are just triggers.
Anyway. I’ve been having these interesting time outs with God lately—especially this week, it seems, when my internal resistance to working on my novel was unparalleled (oddly enough at the same time I’m having unparalleled successes with the agent hunt). You know the drill: stepping away from the computer, making a cup of tea, and just sitting for five or ten minutes. Just being open to whatever God or your gut has to say.
And then late in the week I got embroiled in one of those truly awful Facebook debates and, apart from the generally unfortunate character that is ALL Facebook debates, I realized this same principle applies to genuinely hearing other people.
If you can get past the bloody messiness of their words, anyway.
Because the thing I read on Facebook was one of those semi-cranky rants about men being VISUAL and women needing to get with the PROGRAM and all of us being on a well-greased zip line to HELL.
(I simplify, but you understand).
Well, when I read something like that, of course, all my defenses are instantly up because I’ve spent the last decade of my life trying to escape that shame-based merry-go-round. So I assemble my objections and recall my research and fire off my response.
But, it’s not until the exchange gets truly ridiculous (I invoke truisms, he claims victimization) that I remember to stop and read the rant the way I would read myself, by asking: what IS this?
And, I could be completely off my rocker (it’s been known to happen), but it looked for all the world like what he was really saying was: I am in pain right now. I am struggling with something that is dark and deeply upsetting to me, and I am so tired of struggling that in my internal resistance to this problem, I find it infinitely easier to look at all the things other people should be doing differently to make my problems go away or at least seem justifiable. But, more than anything else, I am in pain.
Dear God, I thought.
If that’s what he meant, what response is there but compassion? We’re all in pain. We’re all tired. We all struggle with shame.
And beneath the rationality and feminism and, yes, contempt, of my previous comments was my answering lament: I am in pain when you say that, because I have spent my life being given the maudlin, self-deceptive excuses of oppressors who will not take responsibility for their sin. And I will fight you to the death if you take up those colors, because truth is more important to me than life. But, more than anything, your words trigger pain.
If I had said that, I also know what the response would have been. There would have been no argument.
What a pity it’s so hard to tell the truth.
Alternately, how much nicer it would be to have these realizations BEFORE one says snappish things to people who are in pain.
If you call Jesus Goodness, he will be good to you; if you call him Love, he will be loving to you; but if you call him Compassion, he will know that you know. —Brennan Manning