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…)

I Am Enough, The World Is Enough

I was telling a friend of mine recently that I seem to always walk around with a favorite song.  A song that’s acting like the soundtrack that describes my life or, perhaps, describes a dominant thought or concern…  So, here’s my current soundtrack that’s currently describing both a feeling and an aspiration… As I’m not completely there yet…
I think I’m trying to teach or remind myself of two things with this song:
  • I’m enough
  • The world is enough

I really started down the road that “I’m enough” when I started down the path of banishing the shame and guilt that I have built up since childhood.  This overriding since of inadequacy has been with me too long.  I’m not handsome enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not rich enough, I’m not ambitious enough…  I’m not…. this or that.

But, you see I AM ENOUGH.  Or, more precisely, my striving to be better at things is different from my worth as a person.  The pernicious thing about this is that feeling unworthy made it more likely for me to do things that increased the sense that I’m not.  Reversing that trend has been a full two years or so worth of work…

The idea that the world is enough is more recent.  It hit me most clearly while meditating.  But, it’s also very much connects back to other strains of life’s philosophy that I’m exploring. Getting out of the deficit thinking (I’m not enough) is related to getting out of the scarcity thinking (the world is not enough). I couldn’t have grasped the second without the first.

Is there a limit to the joy I can accept?  Are there limits to the happiness I can share?  What about love?  I can love me.  I can love you.  I can love others too.  One love, does not diminish the love I feel for others.

This is an absolute REVOLUTION of my heart.  And, I don’t just mean in the polyamory sense.  I haven’t been able to love fully, in the way that I am meant to, because I have felt unworthy of love.  Even the love I feel for friends and family has been warped by this scarcity thinking.  I felt unworthy of love.  Because how I needed to love and be loved in the traditional sense didn’t fit neatly into the societal notions of romantic love, I didn’t feel I could be loved in any sense.  And so, to quote Marc Broussard, “you know love don’t find this sort of man.”

But, it does.  And, it thrives.  And, it is joyful.

Shifting from the false notion that there’s a scarcity of love that has to be metered out, to the notion that love exists in abundance and I simply need to open my heart to it to experience it, has started an absolute revolution in thinking and feeling.

I had glimmers of this notion before, but I could not fully shake off my cultural baggage.  The best example of this is my relationship with my friend Renee.   I love Renee in every way that a man can love a woman.  I’m unashamed of that.  In the end, however, it was much less important for us to be romantically linked (and all that entails) than it was for us to be linked, connected, or interconnected.  The friendship thrives because we decided to not limit our feeling, even if we limited our action.

Although my orientation to love and the abundance of joy are perhaps the most profound aspects to my simple realization that “the world is enough. “  But, it’s also changing the way I approach work.  I’m much less combative and competitive in the rawest since.  I’ve been able to separate my ambitious goals for the business from my ambition as an individual.  If I can help make everyone around me more successful, my success is most definitely assured.

So, I guess the short of it is that I’m still growing and learning.  Of course, not in a straight line by any means.  But, the trend is up and I’m enjoying it, for the most part.