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Thursday, January 20, 2011

On Compassion...


The act of compassion was something that I re-learned when I was forty-seven years old. I believe that I was born with the ability to be compassionate just as we all are, but that I lost it somewhere deep inside of me, and it took a very long time to excavate it, let it flow freely from me and begin practicing it once again.
For years I thought that I was being compassionate when I cried with girlfriends, offered money to street buskers, and silently sighed when listening to the woes of someone’s struggles. In my mind, I was actually so sad for each one and thankful that I did not have the issues that each one of them had. I felt sorry for them. Feeling sorry does no good and creates an artificial hierarchy that implies one is better off than the other and I just do not believe this.
Once as a teen when I was being judgmental of another, my grandmother looked directly at me, pointed her finger firmly in the air towards my heart and said, “She’s a little a bit good and a little bit bad, just like you.” And then her beautiful, round, gentle and unblemished face smiled slowly and warmly. Wow, what a powerful moment that was in my life. What my grandmother was trying to remind me of was about being compassionate. In that moment I was not choosing empathy and compassion but instead choosing to be judgmental and better than. I have thought about this moment on and off for many years and I am so thankful to have had that amazing lady play the role of grandma in my life. Yet I still went on comparing my existence with others, for many years, thinking about how fortunate I was. But was I?
I met Meghan when I was forty-seven and she was in her twenties. She and I were taking a twelve-week course together modeled after Lynn Grabhorn’s book Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting, and would continue to see each other once a week. I was captivated by her sturdy posture as she sat to the table, her quiet composure, and eventually her deep sultry voice. She wore colourful green eye-shadow that took in her entire deep and full eyelids and she wore edgy silver jewelry and high heels. She looked like she should be on the arm of Ozzy Osbourne. One evening, Meghan was retelling a life story that touched my heart so deeply that I felt an immediate heaviness in my stomach causing me to think I might vomit. My head dropped to look down and I covered my mouth. Just as I was slipping into my usual pattern of feeling sorry, I looked directly at this stunningly beautiful and courageous woman and realized how fine she was. I mean really fine… more than okay… Why on earth should I feel sorry for her? It finally made no sense to me and I sensed the harm that it might do to Meghan’s and my relationship and I easily and readily slipped into an authentic feeling of compassion for this shared journey that she and I were on. My stomach settled down. My head rose. I sat taller and I could feel a warm smile emitting beyond my entire being. I loved this lady sitting next to me and I had no right to feel sorry for her. 

I believe that we are here on purpose to be in relationship with others for our highest and greatest good. Compassion is a part of that picture and is exempt of judgmental beliefs and I am utmost grateful to Meghan for offering me this gift in order that I could begin being compassionate.
…Ellyn