Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Little Bit of Compassion 7

Compassion for Self

Chalk drawing on the footpath in Via del Corso, Roma, Dicembre, 2010
Once I met a young man at a spiritual retreat some twenty years or more ago who suffered from deep remorse over some argument, dispute or even physical fight he had with his father some years before.  It's so long ago now that I forget the exact details he told me.  However, these details are not important at all, as the salient feature of the memory of this occasion is that that poor young man had never ever managed to forgive himself for what had happened.  In short, this person was unable to show compassion for himself. He was so full of remorse that he brings that wonderful line from possibly our second greatest Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, to my mind:  "Remorse is the devil's contrition!"

I have been of the belief for some years now that humankind has vastly over-rated its own importance in the universal scheme of things.  We still unconsciously cling to a rather Ptolemaic psychological view of the universe where we ourselves are the centre of importance.  I have also come to the conclusion that we have also over-rated the centrality of the notion of individuality, which is really only a concept/notion that has come to the fore in the last several hundred years.  A good Marxist or even materialist, or even agnostic Buddhist like myself, would then be able to offer learned opinions on the consequent delusional notions modern people would have about private property.  Another way of putting all of the above would be to say that we have over-spiritualized our essence.  Now, I am not saying that we are not spiritual "beings" at all.  What I am saying is that we have downplayed far too much the very animality, carnality and corporeality of our very nature.  We need a healthier understanding of our bodies, not an idealized, image-centred one that can bring about such horrible medical conditions like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.


Real life, Tropea, Gennaio, 2011
 As I age my body is beginning to take a more and more important place in my life.  It's almost as if it has literally had enough of all the mental gymnastics of the strutting peacock that can often masquerade as the idealized self.  My body as I age is calling out:  "Look here, I have blood pressure, I'm overweight and you are polluting me again and again with toxins.  Take note:  I need exercise.  I need good and healthy food.  I'm all you really have.  You are not just a mind or a spirit or even a ghost in a body.  This ageing body and whatever it is that is you are one and the same thing.  I think you got it right again and again in this blog where you said that you were really a Body-Mind or a Mind-Body; that somehow the "you" that is "you" is some integrated reality, not an either/or or even a mind/spirit/soul in a body but certainly a both/and."

I believe that when we over-rationalize or over-spiritualize our true nature that we are engaging in another kind of reductionism that fails to give due regard to the body, and one which fails miserably to give any little regard to the integrated nature of the Body-Mind that we are.  I also believe that when we so rationalize and spiritualize our nature that we become less forgiving of our bodily and instinctual weaknesses.  In other words when we engage in this type of cultural thinking we are setting the bar far too high for our weak natures.  Now, I am not saying - most definitely NOT saying that we should not aspire to standards and to values.  Yes, we should.  However, we must be realistic.  Being realistic means accepting myself in all my faults and strengths; accepting my humanity "warts and all" as the cliché has it.  How many poor deluded religious souls are tormented by deluded pastors and also by delusional beliefs that they are really really wicked people.  Now, these poor deluded souls suffer from a heightened sense of their own sinfulness and worthlessness.  In traditional theology such people were said to be suffering from scrupulosity.  Thankfully, the numbers of this type of believers are growing less with the inevitable onslaught of modern ideas from society.

And so by accepting our more basic and more primal animal nature; by accepting some reasonable structural model of the psyche like the Freudian structural model  where the Id is literally a cesspit of our repressed animal desires and instincts; by accepting ourselves in the round as beings on the road to integration or individuation, self-realization or self-actualization; by accepting our weaknesses and failures as well as our strengths and successes; by accepting ourselves "warts and all" we are more likely to have become compassionate people, persons who have compassion both for themselves and for others.

A Few Relevant Quotations:

Let me start with one of my favourite psychiatrists, Carl Gustave Jung.  He said once that the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.  How true that statement was and is!  Can we really say that we accept ourselves completely?  Probably not, but the idea is to strive to do so.  We are very much a work in progress.  We are beings who are designing ourselves as we go along.  Personal growth like all growth is something that never stops.  It is up to us to see that it is going in the right direction.   Then, let us remember what the 19th century American novelist Mart Twain once opined that "a man cannot be comfortable without his own approval."  To put this more colloquially, any individual must learn to live with him/herself and be able to sleep peacefully each night.

Then, we remember that Einstein once said that "once we accept our limits, we can go beyond them".   I suppose for this to happen we have to learn to train both our mind and our heart to be bigger and more compassionate with themselves.  Firstly, we must become aware of our problems and contradictions, look them squarely in the eye.  Now awareness, I believe is 50% of the solution.  Gradually, through meditation, one looks with love and compassion into the very eyes of our problems and concerns until we eventually learn to accept them; until we learn to change what we can change about them; until we learn that we cannot change some of them no matter how hard we try; that real compassion lies in this willingness to sit and face all of oneself and all of one's problems head-on with the equanimity only meditation can put at our disposal.   Then, as Dr. Robert Anthony so aptly puts it: "You are wholly complete and your success in life will be in direct proportion to your ability to accept this truth about you".

Finally, in a sweeping, but no less truthful, statement Russell Rowe (see his own website here: RR )states that "the fruit of self-understanding is self acceptance. The fruit of self acceptance is self-love. The fruit of self-love is love for the world. The fruit of love for the world is service to the world. The fruit of service to the world is peace" 

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