Compassion – a cliché word or power to evolve humanity?

posted by Roman Hanis on May 11th, 2017

How often do you hear this word in your daily life? From advertisements about compassionate care for the elderly, to charity slogans, or references to those experiencing misfortune, compassion sometimes seems like a merely appropriate, mechanically uttered response to maintain a civilized appearance in society.

I must admit that I myself use this word quite often working with the ancestral wisdom of natural healing and evolution of consciousness. While discussing compassion comes easy to me, the actual practice of it, when I really engage the depth of its meaning, is most challenging. And yet only deep engagement in compassion creates profound purpose and fulfillment incomparable to anything else in my life.

What I used to think compassion was

For a long time I thought the definition of compassion was in the Webster dictionary. It’s described there as a feeling of wanting to help someone who’s suffering; my conclusion was that it is something I must force myself to feel for those less fortunate than me and, if I don’t feel compassion for them, then I’m a terrible, shallow person who should be ashamed of himself. Perhaps I should just give up on the whole idea of being a ‘good person’ because it’s simply not realistic in a world with so much suffering… But must suffering and compassion always be linked in this 2-dimensional way? Does compassion only arise when witnessing other’s suffering?

My story of seeking answers began with family members I found challenging to interact with growing up. Since adolescence, I felt very little in common with most of my relatives. By my early twenties I became altogether disenchanted with contemporary society’s superficial values, deciding to abandon modern civilization. I got a one-way ticket to the Amazon rainforest with the intention of never coming back. Little did I know that I couldn’t truly escape the conditioning of my life because I myself was a product of it. Because I blamed all the problems in my life on the society which I initially sought to escape, there was no way for me to take responsibility for who I was. I could not escape myself. Wherever I went, there I was.

Discovering another way

Once I’d finally exhausted every possible distraction from my own suffering that life has to offer, I began actively engaging it rather than projecting it onto others, making my disturbances their fault. I began to recognize compassion as an unparalleled evolutionary paradigm shift on both individual and social levels.

While my suffering was caused by multiple triggers and involved physical or emotional pain, the real cause was my resistance to these painful experiences. It was also my resistance towards the people and situations that reminded me about my fears, and my unwillingness to take responsibility for how I respond to life. I began to notice a sense of futility in myself and others, all facing overwhelming odds; disturbing experiences that necessitated developing elaborate delusions solely to distract, deny and avoid the inevitable. What ‘inevitable’ is this? It’s life’s situations, circumstances, and dynamics often beyond one’s control, starting with the most mundane irritations and culminating in death for every living being.

Is impending doom the only real truth?

Of course, if impending doom is the only certain and inevitable truth for everyone alive, at least one can enter the oblivion of meaningless instant gratifications, right? Then the only evident option is to dedicate all one’s time and effort ignoring the horrors of such a reality. But what if there’s an answer for this unresolvable conundrum of personal existence and it requires a wide awake non delusional attitude?

Through my own life experience I have been discovering that the way out of suffering is actually through it. This approach made it more and more clear that real compassion can only come via a glimpse of the full liberation everyone is capable of. The liberation from the fears continuously haunting this habitual, conditioned existence.

For me, this entails recognizing how my responses to the particular challenges in my life are the same as all people and this relatedness is an ongoing saving grace. Such responses to challenges are either reactive or proactive, conscious or unconscious, wise or ignorant… And what I experience as suffering is actually pain exacerbated by avoidance, resistance, fear and denial. More than that, it’s the limiting belief that I’m incapable of generating the immense amount of love and forgiveness for the adversities in my life. All along limitless, unconditional love has been readily available if I can only see past my fear-based survival mentality and irrational belief that I exist somehow entirely separate from the world. After all, who am I if not the result of many people, encounters, relationships and circumstances?

Returning to society for a fresh perspective…

And so after an initial 3 years in the Amazon, I returned to my family. While in the rainforest, I had many insights, reflections and realizations of gratitude, especially for the conditioning my relatives helped me recognize. I began to cultivate a sincere wish to uncover the root of it in myself, leaving behind a life of elaborate illusion. Of course this doesn’t mean eliminating that root came easy. There’s a saying “if you want to see how enlightened you are, go and spend time with your family…”. I discovered that, despite all my realizations, actually putting them into practice was and continues to be one of the most challenging endeavors ever.

Beyond all the philosophical conclusions, witnessing people around me dealing with the same mortality and the limited reservoir of a conditioned personality helped me first see my own limitations and glimpse beyond them. I began to recognize the essence of who I am in everyone around me as the potentiality of unconditional love beyond egocentricity. My self-obsessive fears and preoccupations became the egg from which humanness broke free, innocent and tender, pure and vulnerable, initially mistrustful of these same essential qualities of compassion that are the fabric of the universe itself.

The pure motherly love responsible for our gestation in the womb of the universe is an inherent quality of presence itself. To put it in other words, as long as I can simply be in this moment without labeling, judging or making it all about me, compassion is naturally available and can unfold into its evolutionary healing potential.

Although I’ve practiced these realizations with many dear friends over the years, I visited my relatives only occasionally because the practice was so challenging with them. While experiencing a continuous improvement in the quality of presence during these very short visits with my family, I’ve also been frustrated by the inability to share my life’s purpose with them in a more conscious way. Somehow I saw them as representations of that conditioned society I have been healing from all this time. How could they understand me?

A more recent visit to the family

I recently visited with these relatives for a longer period of time than the past 15 years combined. During that time I noticed my old preconceptions of being unable to connect on a deeper level, becoming aware of this rigid attitude I’d never fully acknowledged. Suddenly, the family members I considered to be living dull, superficial existences helped me realize that full presence with life’s circumstances outside my control can bring liberation from suffering on a much deeper level. Only through objective presence without judgments or labels can I relate to all the people in my life and see this relatedness we share as an inherent source of compassion. Once I know how I feel in the shell of separation, I realize that others feel this too, allowing me to experience the compassion as a freeing sense of shared humanity. In the shell of separation I feel mistrustful, and fearful for the imminent change of my personality bubble. The stream of heart awareness connects me to all beings and pops that bubble.

As a result, I was grateful to all of my dear family for helping me see this. I no longer wanted to prove something to them, save them or show them something they didn’t know before. I no longer saw compassion as pitying someone or feeling superior. On the contrary, I began to see how, thanks to everyone in my life, I can find my way through the suffering of separation to the shared heart of humanity and be free from this fearful self-clinging. I suddenly saw the most mundane acts as gestures of profound wisdom trying to pierce through the thick skin of rigid personality. Compassion in this way turned into a catalyst of freedom, exponentially inspiring, an infinitely abundant resource of sincerity and receptive awareness, mirrored in all of life.

Interactions with my relatives shifted in a heartbeat, literally and metaphorically. I no longer projected some strange belief system, instead sharing what inspired me in peaceful, effortless and intuitive engagement. They were no longer treating me like some strange alien invading their existence and fully opened up to the natural healing practices that they were previously completely closed to. I’d never been asked for help, advice or healing by them and yet here it was happening with sheer receptivity and openness. Simultaneously I was being healed by seeing them as profound teachers of ‘mundane’ life who are heroically facing the impermanence in the best way they know how. Isn’t that what we all are doing?

There’s more underneath the surface

And so, what I am inspired to share here is that beyond the veils of materialistic or spiritual illusions of separations exists an infinite stream of love sustaining each of our lives right now. It’s up to each of us to realize the capacity of deep trust and restfulness in that infinite stream of heart-centered consciousness. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that while I can only be certain about myself not realizing it, I can assume everyone else has already done so.

To see beyond appearances, differences of personality and forms of behavior, culture, race, gender and recognize the river of unconditional love that flows into the ocean of compassion, transcending all limitations. Experiencing this spaciousness of the heart requires crystal clarity of complete presence. While all-inclusive it is not emotional or wishy-washy in any way. How else can we bring benefit to all those who are being overwhelmed by waves of experience, without trusting the boundless capacity of the heart to include all these occurrences? For me the only real way is to do it first and foremost with my own experience of life in each moment. While compassion is an immensely challenging practice in my life because of all the conditioning I accumulated, it’s also the source of truth and meaning without which I see neither life nor evolution possible.

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