For many of us daily life seems to pass us by as one ongoing scene of drama and reactiveness in which the lines that define between our thoughts, emotions, and actions seem to have been blurred away; we can’t tell where one ends and the other one starts—many of us have never even considered the possibility of any other kind of existence but this rather automatic one.
And so, we live in a constant state of reaction. The next thing we know is that we’re in the middle of a situation and we have no idea how we got there.
One of the disadvantages to this plunging through life in unawareness is that we constantly confuse concepts and principles with the chaotic mishmash of memories, opinions (thoughts,) and uncontrolled emotions swirling inside this mental construct of our personal self to which we’re so attached.
This is how we find ourselves thinking and saying phrases like, love is like… respect looks like… goodness tastes like… the truth sounds like… evil looks like… God feels like… mindfulness looks like… compassion feels like…
Not only is this a delusional reduction of the magnificence of the mysteries of life and death down into the insubstantial nature of our thoughts, but it also greatly conditions our capacity to act on behalf of the benefit of others and ourselves.
Compassion is a great example of this.
Ask any group of people in any meeting, sangha, or church to talk about it, and more often than not we’ll see how the conversation begins to lean heavily on the feeling of…
For the large majority of us, the first mental form that comes to mind after hearing the word compassion is the idea of a feeling, just as if upon hearing the word rose we immediately abandon ourselves exclusively into our very subjective individual memories of the aroma of a rose (or its petals,) and the subsequent emotions conveyed. We don’t think of the objective real facts, such as its roots, or the process it requires to grow.
For the most part; in this relative world of need, suffering, and inequality; compassion often seems to require some form of action, conviction, unquestioned direction, selfless determination. Mistaking it for a feeling is to sadly condition its power to whether today I feel like it or not (a very selfish excuse.)
The hidden danger is that, consequentially, this is just a portion of a much bigger picture: the one of our endless conditioning our own awakening to a whole lifelong collection of ill-used excuses by our ego.
The de-mythifying of compassion as a feeling is actually quite revolutionary; it’s beautifully interesting to see how it changes our priorities and, especially, how it seems to flip the relevance level of everything in our minds. Walking down the street in a frenetic place like Midtown Manhattan everybody keeps cutting in front, bumping into you, honking horns, and slowing you down, but now it doesn’t matter. Being mindful of the essential difference between compassion and any emotion allows you to move through the crowd practicing kindness in every step you take, regardless of what feelings arise; they’re not relevant anymore.
On the other hand, all those other things that used to be invisible and unimportant to our self-importance start to become increasingly noticeable: the homeless person, the beggar with her baby, the crying teenager, the lonely elderly man, the frightened illegal immigrant, the young man who doesn’t understand the rage that’s eating him from the inside out… all of this become important opportunities for possible compassionate action. What we do or don’t feel finally gets out of the way, and with it any resulting sense of pride and self-gratification.
Only action remains. It’s a game-changer.
Rev. Sergio Hyeonmin is a Buddhist monk and Zen teacher with http://fmzo.org and student at http://buddhadharmauniversity.org — NYC. For more information, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/sergio.hyeonminprajna