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At a party a hint of another conversation distracts me from my light banter with a friend. The voice of a woman drifts by and I hear; "Compassion is just something that you use to get what you want from another person. I don't do compassion anymore." The sneering tone of the comment is almost as distracting as the words themselves. The speaker seems to be saying "I just take what I want from whoever I want now…."
I spend the rest of the evening thinking about the ways that I have come to view compassion, what it has come to mean to me, and what things I have changed in my life to make a space for compassion. I still can't define it, I would liked to have been able explain my view of compassion to the woman at the party. I tried to think of how to start a compassionate conversation, to make sure that I understood what she was really trying to convey, but all that came to my mind was to hold out my hand, and say; "Here, grab my wrist...". Not something that would be acceptable for guest behavior even if the party is here in California.
Before starting Aikido my concept of compassion was something closely resembling grace, but harder by far to define or express. To act out compassion on a daily basis, was getting harder and harder. Now, a short two years later, I know throughout my being what compassion is, I have felt it physically almost daily in my training, heard it in the teachings of my Sensei, and experienced it in the way that I view the world, and it's people.
I don't always succeed at being compassionate. I try hard, in daily life, and especially when I am on the mat. My failures and inadequacies in being compassionate loom large in my mind, and I feel them as a pain of failing. A pain I used to allow to fester, and rethink over and over. "If only I had done this instead of that, said wow instead of unloading on the person, tried harder to understand what their experience of the situation was, worked to calm myself more, maintained my center more, softened my criticism…" One small incident would stretch into days of self recriminations.
Early in my training Sensei Gambell said "We cannot practice compassion for others until we have compassion for ourselves" This rocked my world. I realized that I had little compassion for other people, in part because I had NONE for myself. I needed to start as close to home as I could. I needed to take a deep breath, and let myself be, to know that as I strive to be compassionate in the world, I am not always to going to do as well as I want to do. I needed to silence my own recriminations. Learn from the mistakes that I have made, apologize sincerely to those that I have lacked compassion for, and move on.
Compassion is a gift I give myself. A gift that I renew in myself daily. A gift that I give everyone around me. A check against my own violent nature, against what damages I can inflict on the world, and her people. A gift that helps me in my giving allowing me to; keep my soul clean, my purpose clear, and my outlook positive. To not give everyone around me all of the compassion that I can would make my own world darker, more violent, and force me to submit to demeaning self recriminations. It is only through constantly striving to give compassion to others that I am able to keep my own violence and hatred out of the world.
Here, grab my wrist, maybe together we can figure out how to be even more compassionate, and thereby make the world a better place.