Sunday, July 26, 2009

Curious about Compassion: How Many of Us Have It? Lessons I Have Learned along the Way.

Definition of Compassion : Literally, suffering with another; a sensation of sorrow excited by the distress or misfortunes of another; commiseration.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.” - Dalai Lama, Tibetan leader

Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” – Frederick Buechner, American clergyman

I chose compassion for this week’s theme, because I feel that our levels of compassion during this economic downturn, are being tested continually. Young and old alike are feeling the money crunch. Many are losing jobs, homes, money – and even worse – hope.

There are some of us who so easily slipped into heavy debt and are now suffering the consequences.

Yes, gurus tell us that this is a time of great opportunity. And, yes, those who have wealthy abundance are snapping up properties that are in foreclosure. And, others are even benefitting from the incredible retail sales offered by businesses that are closing and/or struggling.

How is your compassion level on a scale of 1 to 10?

Let me tell you my story of compassion. Being a fitness instructor and a sensible, healthy eater, I have had almost non-existent health challenges over the years – not quite to the level of smugness, but close. Participants in my fitness classes have often asked for advice on their aches, pains, and extra weight. I must admit that, if I watched them under performing in class, I didn’t have a great deal of compassion. Also, when I suggested that they cut back their fat intake, I would even experience disdain when they would say, “But I love to eat. I love food!”

All that until four and a half years ago.

I had a freak fall at the health club where I teach. I didn’t even have any compassion for myself. I got up, taught three classes, did visit the Emergency Room, and felt that I could get rid of the pain on my own. Three weeks passed with me walking with mounting pain and difficulty until I returned to the hospital, was re-x-rayed and found that I had a fractured hip. After surgery, I was not allowed to put any weight on it. No driving, no fitness classes, no usual active schedule.

I learned compassion for everyone who is disabled in any way. Also, for those with chronic pain of any kind. In the grocery store, I would drive around in one of those special carts. Fortunately, I could stand on my left leg and reach the top shelves, but those people who can’t stand, can’t reach them or most of the shelves. Even at the clinic where doors to the rest rooms are wide enough for a wheelchair, they are so heavy, they are impossible to open without help.

As you can imagine, I found a plethora of compassion quotations. Here are a few:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a time to honor the greatest champion of racial equality who taught a nation - through compassion and courage - about democracy, nonviolence and racial justice.” - Mark Pryor, American politician
  • The dew of compassion is a tear.” – Lord Byron, British poet
  • The individual is capable of both great compassion and great indifference. He has it within his means to nourish the former and outgrow the latter.” – Norman Cousins, American editor
  • The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” - Albert Schweitzer, German theologian
  • Yoga is about compassion and generosity towards others. It means being mindful of the world around us.” - Christy Turlington, American model
  • Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.” – Confucius, Chinese philosopher

And a couple more to think about:

Computers are magnificent tools for the realization of our dreams, but no machine can replace the human spark of spirit, compassion, love, and understanding.” - Louis Gerstner, American businessman

I feel a lot like the American director, Martin Scorsese who said, “And as I've gotten older, I've had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things.”

How about you?