Monday, 5 April 2010

Compassion is hard

When I sit on my meditation cushion and (try to) meditate, one of the types of meditation I seem drawn to the most is 'metta' meditation. During this type of meditation, you work at cultivating feelings of loving kindness and friendliness to all beings, including yourself. In your mind, you say something like, 'may all beings be safe, healthy, happy and at ease." You say this to yourself as well, and then work outwards to people you know and like, eventually including people that you find difficult and may not like very much at all.

When I'm sitting there, doing that, I seem to have no problem saying these kind words to people I dislike or find difficult. I can even say that I genuinely mean it when I'm saying it, because I know that if those people were feeling safe, happy, healthy and at ease (i.e., not suffering) they probably wouldn't be so difficult. I truly feel compassionate towards them, because I know they must be angry, hurting, defensive and confused, just like I am when I am difficult and unlikeable.

That's while I'm 'on the cushion.' It seems I have some work to do when it comes to real life. The good part is I've at least recognized that fact!

Here's what I mean. This past weekend a letter to the editor was printed in one of the local papers. In a nutshell, the couple writing the letter are opposed to a Habitat for Humanity project being considered for a neighborhood near theirs because they feel their hard-working family doesn't deserve to live near people of lower incomes who would bring crime and disorder into their upper-middle class community. Here is a quote from the letter , just to give you its flavor:
Like it or not, the children of St. Albert are high-standard children and have no place for low-income classmates. When we first moved to St. Albert our teen had a hard time fitting in because of money and it was hard on him. Now he is good, but it did not go away with just a loving hug — his status was accomplished once his friends saw our house and other possessions. It sounds cruel but that is how it is; ask your children, they will tell you.
The bigotry in the letter is quite astounding really, and it has generated a LOT of controversy, to the point that it was mentioned on the national news. If you read the comments that follow the letter, you'll see that most of them decry this couple's opinions, and some do so in very harsh terms. And I must say that my reaction was pretty much in line with theirs: my first instinct was a feeling of disgust and then many disparaging thoughts. I wanted to write a comment too, voicing these feelings and thoughts, and condemning the couple for their shallowness, snobishness and ignorance. Fortunately, in order to submit a comment I had to take the time to register on the newspaper's website first, and while deciding whether or not I wanted to do that, my urge to comment faded. Which was a good thing. I ended up donating to Habitat for Humanity instead, in the name of the couple in question. Nevertheless, I still took a lot of pleasure in other peoples' comments and their call for a boycott of the couple's business. Truth be told, I'm still taking pleasure in it, and I need to let that go.

Today I will do some metta meditation for this couple, to help me let go of it. Because it is true that if this couple could feel more safe, more healthy, more happy and more at ease, I'm sure they would soften at least a little towards the H4H development project. I will do some metta for myself as well, so I can extend to them more compassion and less judgement. And that will be good practice for the next time my old habit of judgment and derision jumps to the forefront.

Have any of you had a tough time being compassionate lately?


Beany said...

Me. Very difficult to develop compassion for some people. So I stop meditating, stop paying attention, stop caring, stop remembering the reasons...

But I hate feeling negative. I like being happy. So I write or try to remember the original reasons. Try to empathize with the person who is making me angry. That helps sometimes. It is just an ongoing, daily struggle sometimes.

Also you know what I've learned to appreciate? Feelings and passions. This couple demonstrated something that was not apathy. Dealing w/ apathy has been the most frustrating for me. I wish people would care more.

Theresa said...

It's a day to day thing alright, and more and more I realize that while I might be a nice person in my head, I need to be more of a nice person outside of my head. You're right - this couple was definitely not apathetic and much conversation and discussion has been generated, which can only be a good thing!

Anonymous said...

So true, and as you say it is even more seductive to be angry and self-righteous when everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.
Looking at your situation, it's easy for me to say, 'how sad for those people, imagine what it must be like to lay awake at night, believing that if you were to lose your possessions, you would be worthless..' and to see how that is something to be compassionate towards. But of course, when someone drives ME crazy, I just want to be angry and annoyed, and blame them. As my teacher says, that discomfort means there is something I need to let go of. I need to study the self to find out what it is.

Juliana Crespo said...

Wow, it is quite incredible that these people feel so little compassion for others in need, which suggests to me that they feel very little compassion for themselves (i.e. they're probably really hard on themselves and still feel that they aren't worthy or something, just based on the little bit you showed me). Chances are, the person who wrote this letter -- be it the mother or father -- was probably very poor as a child and now has to prove to the world that they are anything but. So I'm guessing it's a psychological thing. Not that I'm trying to analyze them (though I kind of am), but it's interesting to see where they might be coming from to be sooo defensive about the Habitat for Humanity thing. It's really sad, when you think about it. I have a difficult time feeling compassion for others, too, especially when they are so opposed to something so good, but these are the very people who have been treated wrongly at some point in their lives and feel the need to retaliate. Or at least it seems that way.

On another note, Theresa, I've enjoyed reading your blog. Please visit my blog at some point if you like:

Theresa said...

Hi Claire;

I know what you mean- it's easy to be compassionate when you're once-removed from the situation. Being right in it, makes it much harder. Slowly I'm starting to be able to recognize when I do this, sooner than I used to. Not before hand mind you, but sooner!

Theresa said...

Hello Juliana - thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment :)

Ya, it was quite a shocking letter in some respects, yet somehow...not. Our society values material things above all else, and this is the kind of people we get from that, generations down the line. I'm hoping that the response that they received about their letter will sort of be a wake up call, but I worry that it could be just the opposite too, and they just harden their opinions. Either way, they are confused, and therefore do need compassion. I do really think that, but I won't lie: I still feel like grabbing them and shaking them when I think about the whole thing. Claire's teacher is right: I need to study myself some more and figure out why it touches such a nerve.

Thanks for the link to your blog - I will come by soon to visit!

Juliana Crespo said...

As one of my old friends told me once, walk down the street and imagine every one you see or encounter is Buddha. Look at those you wouldn't typically feel compassion for and imagine they are Buddha. Now the hard part about this is remembering what this is supposed to teach me! :) I really am behind on my Buddhist readings.

I do agree that our culture is absolutely material-driven. We have forgotten the more important things in life -- peace, happiness, gratitude, balance. It seems as though people are racing to see who can fill up the void first, though they don't realize that none of it is a race and that the void can't be filled with material things.

I could go on for awhile, but I feel I should stop now or I'll get really carried away! :)


Theresa said...

Hi again Juliana. I've heard that saying too, and I think it is just supposed to remind us that we all have buddha nature and we all suffer. It does really help to engender compassion, if you can stop and remember to do it! That is the tricky part :)

Please do feel free to "carry on" - I really enjoy reading and responding to people's comments, even though I can be a bit tardy about it at times.

E said...

I try to let go/not engage in the negative. But it's a fine line between not engaging and not caring.
Here is a story you might find interesting: A 'Recovering Skinhead' On Leaving Hatred Behind

Simply Authentic said...

Amazing post and incredibly thought provoking. Compassion is definitely a difficult one and your lead-in to your post got me to think of areas in my life where I need to be more compassionate (especially as a new one surfaced recently). Your example makes me shake my head that those opinions are so prevalent around the world. However I think in the end you took the right approach. I only hope more people were spurred to donate as well.

Anonymous said...

FYI I sent you an email!

Theresa said...

Hi Eva - thanks for that link: engrossing stuff. We humans are so strange. Very hopeful to hear that someone could pull themselves out of that quagmire of racism.

Hi SA - I think quite a few other people donated to Habitat for Humanity as well - they mentioned the increased donations on the news the next day!

Claire - I gave you a mixed up email address - sorry! The right one is myriad dot things at yahoo dot ca Would you mind trying again?

Jerry said...

I think I agree with all these thoughts and comments on the importance of real compassion, even when its very hard like you have mentioned...but then again, aren't some people really just a**holes?

I'll go a long way to try to understand that someone who seems to be a jerk has become that way for some reasons that might be fixed if there was more compassion or empathy around, but if they aren't interested in recognizing that there is anything wrong...

Hmm perhaps at this stage I should remember what I wrote about forgiveness just last night. It's so very hard when I see so much selfishness though.

Jerry said...

Btw, I'm sure its been said already but fantastic thinking to re-channel your frustration towards a donation. That's some nicely laundered energy!

Theresa said...

Hi Jerry - it did feel good to donate instead of rant, but I did donate in 'honor' of the couple when I filled out the form, and that was certainly done with some sarcasm. From the Twitter conversation that was going on at the time, there were definitely other people doing the same thing. So it was far from an act of 'pure' goodness!