Living with Compassion

It’s been kind of a long and draining week, one in which I’ve had to say goodbye to friends and colleagues, and let go of opportunities and dreams. Loss – on all levels – is something that I, like most people, can find pretty difficult to deal with, and by the time Friday rolled around my nerves were pretty frazzled with the sheer frustration of being in a situation I couldn’t control.

Luckily, I have the honour of living with a pretty darn wonderful man, who listened to me very carefully and then reminded me of something it’s all too easy to forget – fear and the antidote to fear: compassion.

I’ll start with the fear part. Humans are afraid – it’s just part of our nature. We are afraid of being alone, of dying, of pain. It’s my personal belief that fear is such an intrinsic part of our nature that almost all the negative things we do and feel can be ascribed to fear if you peel back enough layers. We turn things down because we’re afraid that they won’t work out, that it’ll all go wrong. We’re greedy because we fear having nothing. How many negative habits and reactions are perpetuated because of one terrible experience that left us scarred? How often have we lashed out because we fear being judged and rejected?

We forget, mostly, that we’re afraid. It’s how we stay sane. But unless that fear is dealt with, it’s always underneath the surface, giving shape to our behaviour and fuelling the pain we inflict on ourselves and on others. Humans are nothing if not experts at rationalization – we can justify almost any type of behaviour with some kind of reason that sounds sensible. And it is hard to know if you’re doing the right thing sometimes. Fear of negative consequences is something I have a really hard time dealing with, and I find that it keeps me from experiencing a lot of things that I would have liked to. (For example, I was recently chatting to a friend. “I wish I’d gotten to know you sooner,” I said. “I thought you were interesting but found you pretty intimidating.” As it turned out, the friend in question thought the same thing about me…)

So how do you fix it? Be compassionate, towards yourself and others. There’s a wonderful book called The Journey by Brandon Bays which details a very practical way of dealing with your fear, but the basic gist of it is to forgive yourself for having “failed”, and knowing that you now have the mental tools to deal with something you might not have been able to. Be compassionate towards others and remember that everyone, to put it crudely, has their own shit to deal with, which you might not be aware of, no matter how close you are to them. Compassion is empathy, is forgiveness and acceptance and love. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to be compassionate towards yourself, but it’s probably the most important skill we can master.

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