Seems like every day we find someone saying this to us or “feeling” it at us. What’s very interesting to note is that those who actually might need our compassion or assistance are usually those people who are so absorbed by the difficulties that they are encountering that our participation is almost never considered let alone recognized that we might be able to help by easing their challenges.
Before we get into what compassion actually is it would be prudent to first expose the two perspectives that most of us might have pertaining to its implementation. These two perspectives exist at either extreme of how it’s identified and used. At the first extreme we have those of us who were raised permeated with an altruistic outlook on life. That is, we were raised believing that it is our responsibility to make up for what others, who appear less fortunate or more challenged than we, might require in order to simply make it through their lives with a minimum of potential damage to their well-being. The more deeply this outlook has been implanted and incorporated into our value system, the more likely and more easily we will be convinced to offer our assistance, even to the extent that the welfare of others will take precedence over our own needs or interests. In those of us having this disposition, the empathy we were born with has been well activated and “farmed” by those attempting to teach us compassion. This may sound a bit derogatory or even mercenary but we must realize that we are still part animal and that a lot of this type of training is accomplished on a subliminal or instinctual level, that is, below our usual threshold of conscious awareness. At this point, many of you are now asking, “But aren’t empathy and compassion the same thing?” In a word, no. Empathy is innate, involuntary and always in gear but moves mostly below our threshold of awareness. Compassion is learned, voluntary and intermittent depending on where our current thoughts are focusing. Let me explain how and why.
In Utero or even before, we have no perceived need of anything. Lack or absence of anything is non-existent. We have no lack of food, we have no need of closeness or nurturance. We have no awareness of the existence of anything but what we feel. Our senses, which tell us what we have or not has not yet been formed or activated nor is it needed as we haven’t a physical body yet to require or build them. We exist in an ocean of feeling with no beginning and no end, no borders, no points of reference. In this feeling “soup,” whatever we feel is felt by anyone else in this same existence. Call it being in spirit, being etheric, being un-incarnated, discorporate or whatever in your mind would be considered as being unattached, undefined and not yet incarnated. When we feel a rush of happy, everyone else in the “soup” feels the same happy we do at the same time. When we feel a rush sadness, everyone else feels the same also. What we feel, everyone else also does simultaneously and vice versa. This is empathy; feeling what another soul feels. It is innate, involuntary, uncontrollable and always in motion.
Then, we pop out of the womb, our bottom is slapped, we take our first breath and we feel the traumatic difference between being in a warm, safe nurturing place requiring nothing to a cold, loud, sense assaulting place making us painfully aware of having lost something and now feeling separated from. It’s possible to reduce the trauma associated with birth but the separation from a completely self-contained existence cannot be eased. We still have our empathy but it is completely overwhelmed by the pain of our separation. As we grow, our thoughts and language are formed enabling us to negotiate between what we have and feel and what we don’t. Our feelings become slowly overwhelmed and submerged beneath our thinking and the stark differences in our loud and voluminous newly polarized physical world. The subtle energies of our empathy no longer have the power to pierce the volume and intensity of our rapidly expanding materialistic and physical world. Yet, it still exists, almost dormant and moving well beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. Our only evidence of it is experienced through instinctively “knowing” and reacting to what our mother feels. For the majority of our childhood it remains existing well below our threshold of awareness.
Then, one day if we’re lucky, our parents assist us in recalling our attention to the feelings moving well beneath the surface and awareness of our daily lives. If they have learned to access and identify their own, they slowly help us to access and identify ours. Slowly they draw our attention to the fact that everyone else also has those same feelings and at the same time teaching us to recognize that what we feel are what others may be feeling and perhaps not recognizing. Over a long period of time they teach us how to recognize what others are feeling and teach us that there are things we might be able to do or say to assist others in easing some of the pain they’re feeling through what they’re dealing with. They teach us that we can decide to assist or not. It’s our choice. In experiencing this, compassion is born. It’s learned, voluntary, controllable and in motion only when we set it as such.
Compassion is a separate entity from altruism but they are mutually influential. The more altruism we have ingested, the more compassion we feel compelled to administer. The less we have ingested, the more choice we feel we have in whether to involve ourselves with others and the pain they might be feeling that we might be able to ease.
But now we move on to our second or alternate extreme of how compassion is identified and used. These are the people that have not been taught compassion nor have they been able to reach or sense the empathy that was buried while they were growing up. They are only aware of their own immediate or surface feelings and when they do empathize they are convinced that what they are feeling is either their own, self-generated or caused by others. These are also children whose inner feelings were neither acknowledged nor allowed expression when they were growing up. The parental neglect or prohibition of their feelings and expression has produced an undercurrent of unworthiness that has translated into becoming exploitative and manipulative in order to get whatever they desire. With that has also been produced a profound sense of shame but very deeply buried. As they practice physical and emotional acquisition their abilities to sense those who respond to altruism and perception of those who appear to be less aware are honed to a razor sharp sensitivity. They can almost literally “smell out” those who are easily manipulatable through their perceived obligations and training. They then utilize either guilt or helplessness to extort “assistance” from those who feel empathy and act on their compassion. Sometimes these manipulators and those manipulated establish long term relationships built on codependency and perceived obligation. They become what we commonly refer to as givers and takers. Because this dynamic most often resides beneath the threshold of awareness for most people, both the manipulators and those manipulated “feel” at times that there is something “off” in their relationship but can’t quite put a finger on what’s wrong. Eventually, the feeling fades with the progression into daily circumstances and they just continue on thinking it was just a “phase” and is “normal.”
With the slow and progressive dissolution of the family, or more specifically, extended families, let alone nuclear, no longer living together, the ability for children to observe empathy, compassion and intimacy first hand is slowly being lost. The teaching of how to recognize our empathy and the implementation of compassion by way of enforced intimacy through close family cohabitation has been shrinking dramatically as even the nuclear family disintegrates. Many of us find ourselves in a world where we feel lost, deserted, unloved, undeserving and unimportant without ever learning or understanding why.
So back to our theme of requested compassion. We’ve seen the two extremes that we all work between and based on our child rearing we find ourselves compelled to be compassionate, believe that it is strictly our choice or have never been taught and see it as an avenue for exploiting others. I think the most difficult part for those of us who have learned to recognize our empathy and apply our compassion is to sense or gauge who actually needs it. That ability can only come from continued practice and experience. There are times where we will be successful and feel good about what we’ve done and there will be times that we feel badly because we realized that we’ve been played. We must accept both and grown in experience. We know that most of those who actually don’t need assistance are those who most often ask for it with their outer edges being populated by those who would use it to exploit us. They both are usually people who are either too lazy to handle accountability for their own creations or perhaps are too afraid to risk exposing their perceived lack of ability or deservedness by failing at any attempt to do it themselves. We also know that those who honestly need the assistance are usually those who are so involved in handling their stress and pain that they feel overwhelmed and infrequently observe who around them might be of assistance.
We have to judge for ourselves where to apply what we’ve learned and feel compelled to offer. But we must also recognize when that compulsion is a one sided product of our upbringing and runs contrary to what our heart tells us. Those who feel compelled to judge us on where we apply compassion or not have no right or place to administer “punishment” for what we do that might not fit their values, what they’ve learned or what is proper or necessary for our own heart. Our emotional and spiritual maturity is our own concern and cannot be assessed by others who haven’t walked in our shoes. Administer compassion when it feels “right” and comfortable for you to do so and when it answers your heart…not your learned requirements. Your exploration of life and experience is what you are here for. Following your own path is enough to serve and share with others by your personal example and personal benefit. Serving others intentionally is a choice not a necessity, unless you put an inordinate amount of stock exclusively in political, parental or religious training. Then it becomes required in order for you to belong. There is only earthly security and your personal path. You must choose.