I’m having a hard time with compassion.
So far, I’ve developed a daily ritual at my altar, I’ve reconciled (for the time being) my differences with my Christianity, I’m working to hold the tension between my Druid Revival leanings and my ADF approach, and all of that feels good. I feel like I’m developing a balanced, sincere, honorable religious practice.
And yet, I’m uncertain about compassion.
By saying that I’m uncertain about compassion I don’t mean to imply that I don’t feel compassion, or that I’m uncertain of how to show compassion. It’s more that I’m not sure how I incorporate compassion into my practice. This subject hasn’t come up much in my Pagan studies, and I’m not really sure why.
We Pagans and Polytheists concern ourselves a great deal with orthopraxy, or right action. We discussion belief from time to time, but mainly as it relates to what we do. In light of this, I think we are actually well suited to explore the subject of compassion.
Compassion, as I see it, is all about the doing. It is about right action in relationship to another person or living thing. Compassion speaks to a quality of interaction, and as I understand it, arises from a place of empathy. We act with compassion by seeking to understand, relate to, and care for another person, exactly where they are in that moment. In this way, compassion can be seen as a practice similar to a daily ritual at one’s altar, except that the opportunity to show compassion is present every time we connect with another person.
Compassion is not a solitary act; it is an act of communing.
Just before bed last night, I read a post by my colleague, Star Foster, in which she announced that she would be taking a brief hiatus from blogging. I also read a rather heated and uncomfortable debate between Star and her readership, followed by a flurry of posts about the exchange on Facebook. Everyone was worked up, and many were downright angry.
I’m not taking sides on the matter, because I don’t think that would be helpful. What I will say is that what is evident in the argument that unfolded around her original post, and the situation that Star describes in her Sabbatical post are indications that we are in dire need to have a discussion about compassion and what it means in our interactions with one another.
The internet, by and large, has not proven to be a haven for compassion. We all know this. We engage in social networks from a place of relative isolation, and in the process we practice a kind of inauthentic, calculated transparency. Our profile pics are not our genuine faces, and our text-voice is not our voice-voice. When we communicate online, we are interacting with something that only resembles a part of a complete person. I wonder if in recognizing this fact we give ourselves permission to be meaner than we would if a person was sitting across from us. Perhaps compassion feels multidimensional, whereas the internet presents us all as two-dimensional characters. I don’t know.
But I do know that I was upset by the intensity and insensitivity of the language that followed Star’s posts. I like Star, with all of her feistiness. I also know and like many of the people who responded to her, and I trust that they are equally as capable of compassion as she is.
In thinking about this, I had to acknowledge my own inability to convey and express compassion. My first draft of this post was quite righteous, and I’m afraid was devoid of any compassion whatsoever. Ironic, no? In my own quest to call out others for their lack of compassion, I experienced a lack of compassion. Why would that be so?
I have many questions. I would like to know if compassion could be a guiding principle in our interaction with one another, and if we might allow it to come more to the forefront of our minds. When we find ourselves being caddy with one another, or hateful, or when we use our language to shut one another down in conversation, I wonder if we might take a moment to ask ourselves if there is a more compassionate way of acting.
I could be the most pious, most devout, most respected person in the world (or at least, in my corner of the blogosphere), but if I don’t practice compassion with the people I come into contact with what is my piety worth? Perhaps it’s worth something to the Gods I worship, but I’m not living in a world populated exclusively by my Gods. Everybody else is here too, and you are all deserving of my compassion.
I would like to see compassion become a point of discussion in our community. I would like to see us discuss with a calm, self-reflective, gentle voice how we can be more compassionate with one another. I could imagine us searching through our histories, both mythological and ordinary, for examples of compassion-in-action, and holding up those mythological and historical figures who exemplify compassion as being worthy of special recognition.
And, I’d like us to think of compassion as an act of magick, as though our clear, concise choice to use our faculties and will to respond to our fellow human being with care and kindness is mystical in nature.
Could we conceive of compassion as a magickal practice?
If we are a people concerned with religious orthopraxy – right action in relation to the Gods – what would happen if we began to think of compassion for one another as a king of social orthopraxy – right action in relationship to one another? How might that change things?
What are your thoughts on compassion?