Compassion

I have spent a great deal of time lately thinking about suffering, more specifically about the suffering of others and the endless suffering of animals. Religion always offered a cut and dry answer, a reason, for why there is so much suffering in the world. Now I am having doubts, and without God’s “master plan”, there seems to be no explanation for the pain and misery of countless living things. Not that the religious answer brought any real comfort. My therapist is a wonderful woman, and we have worked a lot with this idea. Today, she gave me an excerpt from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, who write,

We may have compassion for the victims of social or political injustice, but can we feel compassion for those who perpetrate that injustice? Our tendency might be to feel a righteous anger toward such people, forgetting that their actions are coming out of an ignorance…Can our compassion recognize that ignorance and embrace them as well?

This is not something that comes naturally to me, but I think it is very important work. To have compassion for the perpetrator is difficult, but essential if one wishes to acknowledge the reality of suffering without becoming overwhelmed by it.

The excerpt is followed by a beautiful poem, by Thich Nhat Hanh, called “Please Call Me by My True Names”:

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply; I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on
the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear
water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake, who, approaching
in silence, feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons
to Uganda.

I am the twelve year old girl, refugee on a
small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet
capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the Politburo with plenty
of power in my hands,
And I am the man who has to pay his debt of
blood to my people dying slowly in a
forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes
flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full
it fills all four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
So I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
So I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names
So I can wake up and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
The door of compassion.

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Kelli Ann Wilson

Kelli lives in rural New Hampshire with her husband Damian and their two children. She works as a writer, and in her free time enjoys reading, gardening, taking pictures, walking in the woods, and celebrating the seasons of nature and the feasts, festivals, and holy days of the Christian year.

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