The dodge of compassion
By Jayson Gaddis
In nearly every spiritual community I’ve been a part of, nearly every self-help book I’ve read has a teaching on the merits of compassion. While this is great, to my Western, modern, spiritual ego, compassion-talk simply becomes a way for me to avoid my suffering.
Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche called this Idiot Compassion.
I belonged to a Buddhist community for years and knew quite well the core teachings on compassion, specifically compassion toward oneself. I loved this, in theory. It made sense to me. I worked hard to love myself on the cushion. I still exert great effort to “accept what is” and it’s an ongoing daily practice.
But somewhere along the line my Western spiritual ego got a little cocky and started to just act nice, act conscious, or act “spiritual.” It’s not the teachings; it’s what I did (and still do) with them.
It slowly can become an act. The act started to feel like a whole lot of spiritual fluff. My nose to the air, a semi-pasted on smile, I’m doing tonglen for the world, baby! I’m way more spiritual than you are, like way more! Hey, I don’t get angry. I just breathe in anger and send out love, brah. I’m just accepting of all that is. Your traumatic brain injury is perfect, bro! And so on. (Read Spiritual Bypassing by R. Masters for more goodies on this).
My wife nearly punched me many times for being Captain Spiritual.
Get real Jayson! Compassion ain’t that easy. If it were, the entire world would look different.
Feel my pain or “what is so” first. Thennnnnnnnnnnn I get to genuine compassion.
For example, if you take advantage of me in some way, then to accept you because I read that’s what I should do is to avoid my initial, genuine reaction — which is likely some kind of fight, flight, or freeze reaction.
If I move on to forgiveness too soon, it is unlikely to stick, because I have bypassed a very valid part of my experience.
So, let’s say I do a workshop and the leader tells me that the only way to move on from my issues with my mom is to thank her and forgive her for all her mistakes and for the life she gave me. If I just adhere to that advice, I bypass the gunk in the space. I gloss over the years of hurt and anguish that are likely still living in my body. (This actually happened at a men’s workshop I went to.)
Sure, at some point forgiveness might be a great step, but not before I feel and deal with the clogged up reservoir of shit that is “mom-related material” keeping me from the intimacy I claim I want. Which is precisely why we need to relate to what is living inside us first.
People often avoid good psychotherapy because they don’t like feeling discomfort.
It’s fucking hard to feel our pain, yes. It’s work, yes.
But it all depends on what you want. If you want deep love and connection with others, and you’ve had a harsh upbringing, then you gotta roll up your sleeves and rewire your nervous system. Period. Acting nice on top of that volcano is a recipe for you leaking out your stuff sideways, specifically in your closest relationships.
Bottom line? True compassion can be fucking hard. Can you really have deep, genuine compassion for rapists, pedophiles, and murderers? Seriously.
I am not that big yet. I need to first feel the rage and violence living inside of me. Then, maybe, maybe, I can open my heart and see the human in there behind the monster.
As Trungpa Rinpoche reminds us:
“Love or compassion is the open path, is associated with ‘what is.’ In order to develop love—universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it—one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.”
Perhaps compassion is a destination, but we are not going to get there unless each step taken helps us see where we are unable or unwilling to practice it.
About Jayson Gaddis
Jayson Gaddis, MA, LPC, CGT, former overly serious buddhist meditator, is now a relationship psychotherapist devoted to helping people awaken through relationship and intimacy. He’s working to embody a new paradigm of connection, deep relationship, and family. He’s also a blogger, and a part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two kids. More here .