The topic of compassion is of course very close to the purpose of this site âs it is an aspect of Love. However, this was instigated recently by the ‘Spread the Love Now!’ project of Wade of The Middle Way, Kenton of Zen-Inspired Self Development, and Albert of Urban Monk.Net. This site, as the ‘About’ page shows, has two writers, and we thought we’d each contribute something to this. So there are two articles about compassion, one for each of us. This topic is, after all, central to the purpose of this site – why else would we call it Loving Awareness?
If you haven’t read the previous entry on compassion, please do so. I’m going to add to it, starting with the first comment as a basis question – on the subject of child abuse. It’s a very good question, and representative on most people’s initial response to thinking of compassion in terms of awareness and acceptance, rather than having a duty to do something to solve a problem. I realize this is a touchy subject, and that what is written here may be controversial because of the massive cultural pain that exists. However, bringing compassion to such a painful area brings a huge amount of clarity to how it is applied in the world.
Compassion applied to child abuse
Question: So in awareness of children being raped, tortured or mutilated I should be ‘simply accepting that state, however horrible it appears, as a state of perfection in that moment’? Through this accepting of the ‘moment’ I have extended compassion?
The choice isn’t black or white. There’s no saying that if you ‘simply accept’ a situation, you must retire to a virtual monastery and live a life of doing nothing about it. Accepting or not accepting a state as part of the perfection of the whole dictates nothing about any future actions. You can be completely allowing of What Is, yet still raise a voice that cries out for attention to pain that is being generated. You can offer nothing but a presence filled with a full and loving acceptance. So the real question is more : do you fully accept the person and the experience, which is to say ‘do you love them?’, or do you have reservations?
I have mentioned sexual abuse in my own past. It is very human to see such a traumatic event as child abuse and react with anger and a desire to punish. Yet such an action is rarely for the child, as much as justifications may say so. It’s for the performer of the action. The child rarely knows what’s happened. She knows is that an intense and painful experience has been etched upon her soul and that there is no way to undo this experience. There is no going back. In many ways, her life and her abuser is now intertwined; there is a bond that comes from the trauma.
The key here is that this experience is now a part of the child, including the link with the abuser. When there is no acceptance, the child feels there is no love for this part of her. There once was love for her, but now there is none, in her eyes. Therefore part of her is bad. This is the how the perception of a child works. When there is no love of the experience, resting in a complete allowing of What Is, then there is also no love of the people involved, which includes the child. It’s a reaction of the family which perpetuates the legacy of the abuse. In many ways, even unintentional denial of abuse is more painful in the long term than the actual abuse itself. It is a lack of compassion where a child expects it most.
The unfortunate aspect of abuse is that such a reaction is very normal. Parents may resist taking in the reality that a child has been abused. Their children are so dear to them and their identity that such damage is inconceivable. It may mean to them that they are ‘bad parents’, or that they have ‘failed’. Or they could simply refuse to see someone they love be part of something so awful. To their child, it simply feels like they’re now unlovable because their parents cannot accept them anymore.? When love that was once counted on disappears, a child makes inevitable conclusions about being unlovable.
In the future of the child, then, the part of them that is “unlovable” grows in such an atmosphere. If the abuse itself can’t be looked at, then all emotions stemming from that experience are also excluded. The child may be expected to “get over it” – the result is usually a conclusion that the pain is also unlovable, and therefore should be walled away. Sadness, reflexive body reactions, and boundaries may have the same conclusion. The part of the soul that is “unlovable” grows like a stain, because anything connected to the original experience of abuse cannot be given room without compassion. More and more filters, restrictions, and blocks appear to protect the world and the family from the “bad” parts of the Self. This is a natural outgrowth of not allowing the full nature of a child.
Compassion, based on a full allowing of all aspects of the abuse experience, communicates something much more simple : I see you completely, and I love you simply as you are. There is nothing needed more in healing than this.
We hope this helps you understand compassion more from looking at what happens where there is no acceptance.
Question: Why can’t parents accept such trauma? Why is so difficult to do so?
It is impossible to be accepting of trauma happening to others without accepting the possibility of it happening to you. This is empathy. Denying this possibility of pain and violence to yourself may temporarily create a sense of safety in your mind, but it also disconnects you from others who have this experience. You cut yourself off from the ability to give and receive support and warmth. This is why, for example, those who have been through sexual abuse and learned to love who they are, abuse included, offer the most empathy for others also with this experience. It doesn’t need to be this way; empathy comes from simply not resisting the experience and seeing its perfection.
Violence is part of humanity – it is part of the world we have collectively created. There is no escaping this. Denying the reality of suffering leads to an incredibly lack of resources to reacting appropriately to it.
A Tibetan Buddhist monk who lived in a monastery in India with no TV or news participated in an experiment. His brain waves were measured as he was shown videotapes of genocide and wartime rape. The scientists were amazed that his brain showed himself as deeply peaceful throughout. His response was that he was already fully aware of the possibility of this happening to others and himself, and that he felt incredible compassion to others because of this. Awareness creates compassion.
Awareness is not a theoretical thing. Knowing that extreme poverty occurs from an economic standpoint is very different from allowing the full experience of confinement and violence while not living in poverty. Awareness expands the spectrum of your experience – it does not limit it.
Of course action is a good thing in many cases. Mother Theresa and Gandhi lived lives of action based on compassion. It would not be loving to send a child back into an abusive situation, nor to avoid efforts to ensure such a traumatic event did not occur again. The question is, is this done out of compassion or as an attempt to push away the reality of the experience? Doing things out of obligation, assuaging guilt, or pushing away pain is not a place of deep compassion. Remember when you have felt others do things to ‘help’ you from this place.
The following parable in the quotes page illustrates a deeper level of compassion.
Once a master and a disciple were walking through a city and passed by a leper who was obviously close to starvation. The leper cried out loudly, in a voice full of tremendous suffering. They gave what they could and moved on.
After a short time, the disciple was flustered and still thinking of the leper. He was suffering as he gave to the leper, and still suffered. Watching his master throughout the encounter, there was no sign of suffering, no pangs whatsoever. Instead there was a deep peace and an enjoyment of the sun. Finally he asked his master, ‘Why are you not being affected by that tremendous suffering? Do you not care?’
The response was: ‘Of course I care. The only difference between me and you is that you hear them when they cry out, whereas I hear them always’.
What could be more compassionate than that level of awareness?
If you prefer a more personal, day to day story about compassion and a personal reaction, you may wish to see the previous article, ‘An allowing space‘ .