Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Compassion (continued)

Although it's only yesterday I started this line of thought, I'm finding it hard to call to mind what I intended to say. This is perhaps true of most of my blogs. Their apparent pointlessness lurks in the middle ground of consciousness.

There were nine of us present at the meeting; I was the only man. We had a reflective exercise, a bit like Scrabble, where we were asked to complete a grid with words we associated with compassion. Mine included humour, mischief. These went down well with the others in the group. Other words that came up (not mine, particularly) were love, acceptance, empathy and courage. To me this sounded like a list of "the usual suspects". My own view is that compassion is neither any of the attributes we put upon it, nor is it anything we do; far less is it something we can conjure forth by trying to be brave, or practising empathy. In this sense, it is reductive and unhelpful to label it. Like the butterfly in the metaphor, if you pin it to the board you destroy it.

At the same time, the exercise was indirectly helpful, and that was its intention. Dialogue flows in any group that enters into open-minded meditativeness, and this one did. We enter a stream of meaning that is not the product of any words exchanged, and in some way the consciousness of each is subtly transformed: this is, of course, an assertion of mine, but it does represent what I experience, and I trust it.

At some point I was aware of the significance of the truth that, if we are to show compassion to others, we need first to show compassion to ourselves. I have often struggled with this injunction. How to do it? Do I say "I love you, Peter"? Who is this "I" that says it? I've tried it, tried to grasp the significance of showing myself compassion, and failed utterly.

Then the penny dropped. While I was away at Nuneham Courtenay last November (on a kind of Brahma Kumaris training weekend-cum-retreat) I had one of those 'find-a-sixpence' moments of personal transcendence that we sometimes get out of the blue and unasked-for.

I was gazing at a green jade jar on a plinth. I can't really recollect what was going on around me, it was a seminar or group discussion of some sort. I was thinking of commitment, I don't remember why. There grew in me a new conviction about commitment that turned the world on its head. When I say "grew in me" it was a bit like a bubble of awareness that expanded in consciousness, I could almost feel its steady expanding pressure. I had always shunned commitment to anything, marriage, Buddhism, everything. Perhaps only nursing had secured a kind of grudging commitment, but only just. I saw commitment as as trap, a prison, something that restricted and bound me.

Looking at the vase, and as the bubble expanded, I knew that commitment was not a prison, but a vast inviting spaciousness, an unboundaried prospect of unspeakably joyous opportunity, a shining Truth that beheld me as the father his prodigal son. I had indeed come home to myself. My "old" long-held proposition about commitment being a prison was a little shrivelled thing, dead, pathetic. I felt a little sorry for it, but no real regret. It had been "mine", but I had no more need of it; I had stepped out of it.

I think, indeed I know that was compassion visiting me. Myself pouring out compassion on myself. Where was I in all this? Nowhere, of course, and everywhere.
The actual vase referred to is pictured above, the nearer vase of the pair.

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