The dodge of compassion

Published on August 10, 2011 by      Print
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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 .

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  1. adan says:

    “at some point forgiveness might be a great step, but not before I feel and deal with the clogged up reservoir” -


    “you gotta roll up your sleeves and rewire your nervous system. Period” -

    spoke to me, thank you much ;-)

  2. Chrissy says:

    Great post….I could not agree more. I am kind of over the Saccharine laced , “Love everybody, this moment is as it should be” stuff. I think that if the people who spout these types of attitudes truly live, and breathe it then yes, there could be some plausibility, however in my experience they don’t…or do when it suits them or as a means to one up others, or to win the “spiritual” game. Sometimes life is hard, sometimes it is painfully simple…not everything has to be a breakthrough or a big deal, however knowing where you start or come from is a great base!

    • Jayson says:

      Chrissy, well said. yes, when it’s the real deal, it’s quite amazing really. but that is very rare in my experience. thanks for your 2cents.

  3. Jenifer says:

    Did you like the film Tree of Life? It’s a 2.5 hr feel-fest. Awesome! Truly.

    What I like about studying, practicing, and teaching about compassion is the origin of the word, which is to be with someone, and oneself, while they (or you) are in “passion.” But it’s not like “twilight is awesome!” passion, but rather “passion of the christ”- this totally sucks! passion.

    And that is hard. It’s hard to sit with your own passions. It’s hard to sit with someone else and their passions — to be open and feeling about it, without problem solving, without fixing, and without checking out. Just being with it.

    Yeah, ouch. And hard. (or as they say in NZ: “hard as.”)

    • Jayson says:

      Jenifer, Didn’t know that about the roots of the word. Makes sense and yes, bring on the passion, even if it burns baby!

      • Jenifer says:

        to be precise — from the french, to feel pity, coming from the ecclisiastical latin “to feel sympathy” from the latin stem compati which is “com” which means “together” and “pati” which means “to suffer.”

        I love to study the origins of words. It distracts me from actually doing them. ;)

  4. Kristin Luce says:

    Very sweet, and very true, Jay. I love when you say, “you gotta roll up your sleeves and rewire your nervous system. Period.” Yes, this work is, well, work!

    I said in one of my recent articles, “Who knew that becoming a Bodhisattva would entail seeing all the ways that I am the opposite of one.” THAT is the hard part, as you say: noticing how I feel, think and react *in reality,* rather than in the idealized version of myself. Thanks for this!–kristin-luce/

    • Jayson says:

      Thanks Kristin, yes, very true. I continue to see the ways in which I use spiritual jargon and teachings to sidestep what is living inside of my body. thanks for seeing that about yourself!

  5. Kimberly Johnson says:

    A lot of this really resonated with me.
    I too have pasted on my idea of “nice” or “compassionate”
    Another escape strategy is focusing on improving the lives of other people who are suffering
    more than me, in order to not see the true content of my mind, in the name of compassion.
    Usually what’s compassionate is dealing with our own sh*t, feelings, emotions and past.
    It’s what can get lost sometimes in a coaching model, where people get coached instead of get therapy. And when people think meditating is an adequate substitute for therapy. I always feel relieved when my yoga friends tell me they are in therapy! Not that all therapy is good therapy, but the acknowlodgement of the psychological in the spiritual feels like a good start.

    Love your last line. Kimberly

    • Jayson says:

      Thanks Kimberly, Yup, good therapy can accelerate the process on the path. And yes, I agree. “helpers” and rescuers out there are often helping in very self-serving, neurotic ways. Thanks for the support and for doing your part as a yoga teacher!

  6. Jonathan says:

    Hey Jayson,

    This hits close to the mark for me, in that often times, I’ve overlooked and have not taken time to experience the true feelings, instead feeling like I should just move towards acceptance and “compassion.” It’s happened everywhere from relationships to friendships and acquaintances.

    The question I’m feeling into right now is how do you skip judgment and move into true compassion? Often when someone does something that is way off mark, I’ll assign a hypothetical reason to it – “Because of their relationship with their father or mother or blah” – and it’s totally got no basis in reality, but it’s a reason and it’s helped me understand **potentially** where an action is coming from.

    Looking forward to your insights bro,


    • Jayson says:


      you asked “how do you skip judgment and move into true compassion?”

      good one. I personally don’t try skipping any judgments anymore. just have them, own them and get curious, not so much about them, but what it’s triggering in you. stay on your side, instead of analyzing them or making up a story about them.

      true compassion ain’t going to happen by trying to avoid our judgmentalism.

      it’s likely that you are caught in a more subtle way of judging yourself and just projecting it outward. my 2 cents. :)

  7. robert says:

    Very beautiful and right on target. If I lived near Boulder, I would be inclined to join one of groups. Suffering is not “error”, and looking it in the face is usually (in my experience) the cleanest road to freedom. Thanks for being real. Love- RC

  8. Justice says:

    Funny – I just used the phrase “spiritual bypass” the other day. Probably the second or third time ever. In regards to Abraham-Hicks. Interesting to think of it in terms of compassion. It’s tricky territory. Where you’re at. Where you wish you were at. The space between. What to do about it. What to not do about it. It’s all good. Or wait, is it? How ’bout now? Now? Now? Fake it ’til I make it? Live by principles? Or indulge all feelings wherever they might take me? I guess being PRESENT is a good place to start. One of my Hakomi teachers would say something about bear management. When there’s a bear in the room, you better do bear management. Even if you know ultimately there is no bear. Or something like that. Good post dude.

  9. Christopher Nova says:

    Thank you for this, It was exactly what I need to read at this point in my journey.

    I tend to find myself acting like everything is perfect when it is not. There are still issues I must face within to continue on in peace.

  10. The Elephant In The Spiritual Room | elephant journal says:

    [...] to bypass our real-time challenges at home, in line at Whole Foods, and at the office. We use “compassion” to bypass our [...]

  11. Mokasiya says:

    Greetings Jayson,
    The Dodge of Compasion or the ode to bliss. My two cents worth to share with you.
    At least to begin to feel all the parts, before we can begin to take ourselves off the cross of suffering, making or believing we are better than another just adds more to the boiling brew of suffering, but it may well be a step that is needed, who can really know what someone else may need, feel or experience.?
    ” True compasson can be fucking hard” fucking can be a dance of beauty as well, how do we open to the shadow and embrace those parts as allies and friends?

  12. The dodge of compassion. | elephant journal says:

    [...] piece originally appeared on Recovering Yogi on August 10, [...]

  13. Karly says:


    Reading this post made me exhale in relief. I can definitely relate!

    I’ve noticed that I can turn compassion into a weapon, where I bludgeon myself with giant, tight, painful, “I shoulds:” I shouldn’t feel angry, feel hateful, be sad, feel depressed…. I should be kinder, more compassionate. And one of my favorites – I should like everyone.

    Yep, the spiritual bypass.

    I spent much of the past 2 years in the dark, in a painful, difficult, unraveling place. I spent a lot of that time with my therapist, and with my stuff.

    It wasn’t pretty. It was incredibly humbling and often terrifying. More than that, it brought up intense shame – this feeling of, “Shouldn’t I be beyond this human stuff already?”

    I think that’s the deepest pain – the ideas we carry around in our heads about what a spiritual person “should” be. When I feel like I don’t measure up – when my humanity rears its head – I either hide it or try to make it go away. This is where I twist myself into pretzels to deny all these messy feelings.

    So, my path is embracing and loving my very imperfect humanity. That’s what compassion is to me – not to jump to an easy “it’s all good” (which can be a sugared up word for denial) but to accept, ouch, this hurts, and that it’s hard to be a human being. Can I love even the ugliest, messiest most wounded parts of my humanity? That is what my 2 years of challenge taught me.

    Warmly, Karly

  14. Nadine Fawell says:


    I can’t feel compassion for what my MOTHER did when I was a kid, and when I was a grown up. Well, I can, but it’s incomplete. Mostly, I am pissed off, and I channel that pissed-offness into positive action. It’s the best I can do with those not very nice emotions…

  15. Cross-Class Friendships | Kassi Dephinia says:

    [...] we have so many wrongheaded ideas about each of them, like mistaking empathy for sympathy, and idiot compassion, and thinking of humility as a weakness, as submissiveness, the image of being prostrate before [...]

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