Compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
I don’t know about you but I find that despite a focus on trying to cultivate compassion sometimes this is challenging when it comes to situations where you feel that you have been mistreated, and particularly when a persons actions are causing pain and suffering for people you care for.
What’s even more challenging is when despite continued love, support, and guidance a person’s misfortune has arisen due to their own repeatedly poor decisions over, and over again…
The Dalai Lama in a recent talk at Stanford University in answer to a question regarding the practice of compassion in complicated situations of deceit and injustice emphasized taking a holistic view; “compassion, combined with wisdom, always helps a broader perspective”. He stated that someone who takes advantage of you and unjustly does something – ultimately, they will suffer, even within this lifetime.” Ultimately he advocated action out of “a concern for their well-being”.
But what do you do when repeated action, out of “a concern for their well-being” results in no change in behaviour and you find yourself in the same frustrating situation, having the same conversation with a person over and over again?
I’ve been really challenge by this in the past and as a result it’s forced me to consider my approach to the practice of compassion.
The only person that can help you is you. All the love, support, and guidance is futile if an individual refuses to honestly confront their reality, and isn’t ready, or committed to change and personal growth. It gets even more complicated and difficult if poor lifestyle choices are preventing the person from thinking clearly and rationally.
After investing a significant amount of energy, time, and love into futile situations I’ve realised that sometimes the compassionate approach involves walking away in the hope that space and time will be the catalyst for change by the individual.
This is also being compassionate towards yourself, thereby alleviating your own suffering. Sogyal Rinpoche in a recent talk on Happiness referred to this as “being wisely selfish” and advocated this in certain situations. You can read my notes from his wonderful talk here.
This involves the conscious decision not to react or engage in negative talk or actions. Accepting the situation for what it is, and now isn’t. It involves coming back to centre. Shifting the focus inward, away from the external, and avoiding the tempting and destructive “he, she, they, them, what they said, and what they did”. It then continues with accepting that you played a part in the situation and that you’re ultimately responsible for it also.
The Dalai Lama in his talk also pointed out the need to weigh realistic considerations when dealing with these situations. “Sometimes when I saw things, I only pray. You should be realistic: If you can do something on the spot, do it.” otherwise simply pray.
And hope. Hope for the alleviation of the individuals suffering as a result of better decisions.
Because “the road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveller than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination”.