I live by rules that focus largely on compassion, and the avoidance of doing harm. Much of the time it’s fairly easy, and I can feel deeply magnanimous as I carry an insect outside, or agree to help someone when I really don’t feel like it. I am one, big, glowing Compassion Center, lighting up the Midwest with my patchouli-scented nobility, meditating and reading Thich Nat Hahn (while underlining!)
If I’m honest with myself (another thing I’m kind of supposed to do) it becomes clear that even when I think I’m being compassionate for the sake of being compassionate, I am more often making some kind of bargain hidden even from my conscious mind. When I carry bugs outside, the trade-off is that I feel good. When I agree to chaperone the Middle School Activity Night, I appear to be selfless, and get thanked a lot. I eat it up, I love it so. When I find myself growing impatient with someone I love, and stop myself, I feel righteous. I see with my keen and self-serving eye that I am a good, good person, and maybe no one will compliment me on my near-guru status, but I will know that I chose to be compassionate when I really felt like hanging up, walking out or blowing up.
At the moment, I am facing the necessity of compassion with no visible gain, at least not in the foreseeable future. I will not say what it is, or who it is because that’s pretty irrelevant; what matters is that there is a person in my life who fills me with intense anger, resentment and, honestly, loathing. Strong words, all true. I awaken, sometimes, with a galvanic jolt of anxiety and realize that the situation still exists. I fantasize dark, vicious ways that I can Teach A Lesson. I am unquestionably smarter than my antagonist, and if I wanted to, I could easily jab, feint and otherwise verbally box him into a mewling mess. I could say everything that’s on my mind; a long litany of grievances ranging from the petty to the stupendous. For a little while, I have to say, that would make me feel absolutely splendid, relieved of my burden, and lighter than air. It would be vindication and release. I would prevail because I’m right…if one is given to looking at humanity that way.
I am not disallowed from expressing an opinion when I think it’s helpful, even though the person on the receiving end might prefer that I keep my thoughts to myself. I can tell my son that he needs to do his homework even if he (quite reasonably) hates his teacher, because I am speaking from love and compassion. I can tell my mother that I think she’d be better off if she stopped watching horrible news stories about kidnapped and murdered children, because, again, I know that I love her and genuinely want her to be less anxious and more peaceful. I have a strong inner compass that tells me when I am constructive and when I am venting, and I work hard to move towards doing no harm. Sometimes there is a period of pushing back, and discomfort, but it is always possible to come back into balance because the filaments of love are strong, and binding.
There is no love between me and the Fly in the Ointment of my life. If I live out my fantasies of “schooling” him, he will not see it as a gesture of compassion, and it will not be such a gesture. It will be my vain, flailing attempt to correct him and shape him into a person less shocking to my sensibilities. I don’t want what’s best for him; I want what’s best for me, which is for him to straighten the hell up. I know that I should conquer my anger and resentment by loving him, but I am struggling to find the tiniest trace of something to love in him – I have tried picturing him as a helpless baby, pitying him for his difficult upbringing, and watching him for a spark of vulnerability, charm or humor. I want my compassion to be triggered in some autoplay mode, to “kick in” and make it possible for me to turn things around and see another flawed specimen of humanity instead of a heedless monster who haunts my peace and shakes my convictions.
If it were easy, if there were always an accessible “autoplay,” we would all be the Dalai Lama, or Mother Theresa. Real spiritual work is not done in the context of appealing subjects. We are born ready to forgive and understand the people we love, or understand. There are paths easier than trying to love him – I can tell him off, or exert enormous amounts of energy pretending he simply doesn’t exist (the latter being my general tendency). There is, though, no compassion in that. Both choices result in harm to my nervous system, and do nothing to help to my misguided, life-challenged enemy.
To make this better, I have to love him, I have to find it in myself to stop wishing him dead, unborn, or in Peoria. I have to accept that he is who he is, and that he is unlikely to see any reason to change his life based on an angry attack or a cold shoulder. He might respond to love. I can only hope. We might both feel safe working towards common goals if we were bound together by those strong, flexible filaments that would bind us, but allow us our individuality.
This is not easy. It may be the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. My next sentence was going to be “it may not even work.” There, again, I reveal the limitations of my understanding. I succeed if I am able to change my own mind, to find the seeds of compassion, and maybe even love towards the enemy of my peace. Changing him through the filter of that compassion would be a huge relief, but it’s really not even necessary.
I just have to love him.