Compassion Begins at Home

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about … well, I could stop with, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. But what’s on my mind today is a deeper realization that compassion begins at home. If I can’t be compassionate with myself, then there’s no way I can be compassionate with someone else. Not truly.

I think I had a misconception about compassion and forgiveness and acquiescence early on. I thought that they were all closely linked, and that compassion and forgiveness were the same as saying, “It’s okay.” As in, it’s okay that you did that, so it’s okay to do it again. No lesson needed, no change required. This kind of thinking applied equally to myself and others. For my own behavior, it’s manifested most often in how I care for my body. For others, I usually thought about this in terms of how others treated me. Having compassion for them, forgiving them, meant I was saying it was okay to do it again. I struggled with this for a long time.

How could other people practice this? How could I? Because on some deep level, I knew that in many cases, it was NOT okay to do it again. Because of this, I couldn’t understand how people could forgive friends for transgressions, let alone how someone could forgive a rapist or a murderer. And if I forgave myself for not taking care of myself, what was to prevent from from continuing to abuse my body? I then extended this to my behavior. If I forgave myself for being shitty to someone, what would stop me from being shitty again? I truly felt like there needed to be some kind of punishment. A correction. That these things too were linked to compassion and forgiveness. I think that I’m not alone, that this is a very Western way of seeing things. We are particularly steeped in it in America, the land of Freedom and Justice and those goddamned Bootstraps.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten easier to separate the concepts. Or at least, it’s gotten easier to see the separations. I still have to work to weave that seeing into my actions and into my inner perspective. Being compassionate is not the same as forgiveness, though it’s certainly closer to that than it is to acquiescence, or a need for correction or punishment. For me, being compassionate means that I understand that I am not perfect. Sometimes I behave badly. But I know that on my deepest level, I am good. And I believe that about the vast majority of my fellow humanity, even as I struggle at times to keep that belief in the forefront of my mind. If I, as a fundamentally good person, can behave badly, then so can someone else. I apply what I know to be true about myself to others. I feel that to be the heart of compassion. And that is where it diverges from  acquiescence and a need to be punitive.

Seeing that someone else is acting from a wounded place doesn’t mean I’m going to continue to allow myself to share the experience. It just means that I’m going to understand that they’re acting from a wounded place. That wound might be from a really fucked up life experience. It could be from cultural experiences. Could be karma. Could be all of these and could be nothing I could imagine. None of it matters though, if I can’t apply the same way of thinking to myself. Allowing myself to fuck up means I have more room to allow others to fuck up. And who am I to think I know what they need to learn?

So… today I’m applying that thought to myself, and I’m going to do my level best to hold onto it tomorrow. I have, in the past, talked myself out of things I really want to do when the going gets hard. Physical reality: I am dealing with an injury, one rooted in a fundamental reality of having a curvature in my spine. But I have to try tomorrow. If I have to stop, it doesn’t mean I failed. Frankly, even showing up will be a victory for me. I will have compassion for my body. And I will remember this the next time I’m witness to someone else’s struggle. I have to have compassion for myself to give it to give it to someone else. There’s no other way.

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