On learning compassion

I suppose we learn compassion in many small and rarely very large ways.  Indeed, the opportunity to learn compassion is in front of us most days in multiple ways.  We are not always open to the lesson.  We do not always see the suffering of others and our connection to it.  And, on those occasions (for some rare) when we do feel our connection to other’s suffering, we push it away, repress it, or deny it because it makes us feel bad.  It is too easy to avoid feeling bad in the desire to maintain harmony with ourselves; a sense that we are alright.  As normal as this impulse is, it cuts us off from feeling compassion.  It limits our capacity to care for others both within and without our inner circle of friends and family.  The sad result is it greatly diminishes our ability to – if not directly ease other’s suffering – to not add to it unwittingly.

To put a finer point on it, our collective desire to avoid slight dis-ease, compounds other’s suffering. (more…)

On avoiding suffering

Starting with the idea that without pain, there is no joy.  I believe this, but I have found it utterly unhelpful in getting out of the mindset.  The mindset being one of minimizing pain, smoothing out the rough patches in life, etc.  I tend to think that this is a core part of the American Psyche.  It’s the idea that we can out work or innovate our way out of suffering of all kinds.  It seems to be viewed as, in essence, the fruit and chief signal of our superiority in the world to not need to deal with the petty and other cares that assault the ROW (Rest of World).

So many aspects of our culture in my eyes are linked to this idea.  From rampant consumerism (if I buy that BMW or those shoes or ??, then I can be happy) to recreational medicine (if I don’t look like I’m getting closer to death, perhaps I can avoid it all together) to an endemic lack of will to tackle big social or economic problems (blame the victim mentality of various stripes).  From that point of view, I could not have imagined that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” ethos could be so pernicious.

The basic tendency to move away from pain or discomfort and move towards pleasure makes it very difficult for the idea of “without pain there is no pleasure” to land on people.  Or, to personalize, it resonates with me intellectually but is wholly unhelpful to me emotionally or psychically.  I might be willing to accept somewhat reduced positive affect to avoid the negative kind.  I believe lots of people would make that trade-off.  They’ll vote for emotional stability or, perhaps more precisely, lower variance in emotionality over truly experiencing the pains and joys of the world.  The fear of getting stuck or lingering too long or being permanently scared by those negative experiences keeps many people stuck in repression of all kinds. (more…)