by Ross Bishop
You have a life, but it’s only incidental to the real reason you are here. You are not here to pay bills, raise a couple of kids and then die. Nor are you here to end wars or cure cancer. If those things happen on the way, that’s fine, but they are not why you have come. You are here to participate in “Compassion School.”
It isn’t that you need to learn compassion. Compassion is integral to who you are, it is your nature. What you need to learn is that it is safe to live in that space. You must come to know that you cannot be harmed. (See: http://www.rossbishop.com/being-wounded/) Then you can feel safe to express your true nature.
You need to “unlearn” the defenses you have built up from the fear of being hurt. In truth, you don’t need them. You are not as vulnerable as you think. But as things stand today, when challenged, you move too easily into fear and defensiveness. You have come here to learn that there is nothing to fear.*
Life is the theater in which you learn to work out the rough spots in your compassion practice. And to do that you need other people. Bumping up against others shows you where your limits are, how open or defensive you are. And notice that everything that happens here stays here. All the yelling and screaming, the unkind words, the judgements, the criticisms will all die out almost moment they are spoken. Even if they make it to the newspaper or go down in the history books, it stays here. Nothing gets carried out, other than your memories. This is intended. It is how this space stays safe.
Compassion must be lived, experienced and tested through the fires of hell until you learn that it is safe to live it. In your daily life if you want to learn something, you study it, practice it. For example if you want to play the piano you take lessons. If you want to be an engineer, you go to school. But “unlearning” isn’t like that. Now, you can study life and get better at that, but you’ll find that this too, is just a part the process of releasing fear, and yes, as a species, we have a ways to go.
So how does the process of learning to be unafraid work? In concept, it’s really quite simple. When you are not holding compassion, life hurts! Hold back from someone and what do you feel? Tension! Close down to a hurting friend and what will you feel? Like crap! (That’s not a scientific description.) The point is, if you step off the path, life will smack you “upside the head” as my grandmother used to say! That’s the way the system has been designed. And at this stage in our development, pain is the great motivator and our greatest teacher. Conversely, when you hold compassion, it never hurts.
Living from the heart is really a very simple concept, but it is also very difficult to do. Why? As I say, we get scared. Scared of what? Being hurt. But that is a smokescreen. We cannot be hurt. “Being hurt” is the ego’s way of protecting the soft place in us that does not feel worthy. And overcoming that, in a nutshell, is what life is about. That is the essential transition we have to make as a part of “Compassion School.” Look at how easy life becomes when we live from our hearts, and how difficult things become when we do not.
As it stands, you do not appreciate yourself. You view yourself as inadequate or defective, perhaps unworthy. It is true that you are not finished, but a pot on a potter’s wheel is not finished either, it is merely incomplete. That does not mean it is defective. The same is true for you. The difference is that you are already whole, but you are not able to embrace that yet.
It is expected that you will make significant missteps along the way. Making mistakes is how we learn. And remember, you are here to learn! That is why life was created the way that it was – so you would get opportunities to learn, lots of opportunities. God does not place a penalty on those mistakes – we do.
We don’t really like the process of life. We’re not supposed to. It’s sloppy and messy, people get upset and angry and we hurt each other when we get scared and close off. Now, that will change as we do, but it may take a while.
Think about the last time you got really hurt. The hurt wasn’t so much about the situation, but rather the blow was to your ego, your pride, your self-esteem. “How could he do that?” Really, it was quite easy. The real question is how rigid were your defenses? It doesn’t matter that her words evaporated in the same breath that she said them. You’ll hang on to them forever because they prove what you secretly believe about yourself!
There is no map for the process you are engaged in. This is also intentional. You must find your own way out of this dense and dark forest. The learning that will occur as you do that is vital to your ultimate understanding of yourself and the universe. To have a “map” would deny you that learning opportunity. There are guidelines, but we generally disregard those (more about that in a minute).
So, you get dumped down here with 7 billion other lost souls, and it’s a lot like the blind leading the blind. Nobody has a map, everybody is scared and confused. As a result, we partition ourselves off from each other out of confusion and fear and try and run our lives according to our rational minds, which never works. And that is the ultimate lesson.
We fashion a set of beliefs based in our fears and anxieties and cling to them with incredible tenacity even in the face of evidence to the contrary. But we feel as though that is all we have! And this is where rationality and spirituality split up. Rationality needs proof; faith knows better.
We have been taught compassion by countless spiritual teachers, but letting go of the rational mind isn’t easy! We feel as though it is all we have, and again, as long as we believe we can be hurt, or that we are defective, we need some kind of protection! So we choose to ignore the wise counsel of our elders and go on letting our egos run our lives.
Making the transition from being self-centered (protected) to being open and loving (vulnerable) requires an incredible act of faith. There is no guarantee that if we surrender our egos we won’t be left hanging with nothing to protect us. And that is the big myth generated by our fear. In the surrendered place there is no need for protection because, we cannot be hurt!*
That is a safety built into the system so that you won’t go off until you are really ready. The secret is that by the time you reach that point, surrender will be a non-issue. But most people get hung up, unable to surrender the seeming safety and security of their conscious minds. But remember, living out of step is also a place of pain! So for many people sadly, they have to get to a place where they are in so much pain that surrender is the only real option. It’s a lousy place to be, but it is effective!
We can experience compassion when we surrender our beliefs and leave the rational mind in favor of irrational concepts like love and compassion. And compassion is an incredibly irrational process. Having compassion for someone who hurt you (“turn the other cheek”) doesn’t make any sense! Nor does compassion for the poor (“they haven’t earned it”), or the sick or drug addicted (“bad lifestyle choices”) and finally how do you “make sense” out of being in love? – I think you get my point.
The thing is, greed is also irrational! How much gold does one person really need? This isn’t a place where the answer lies someplace in the middle. Notice that the scale runs from totally self-centered narcissism on one end to enlightened compassion on the other. It is also a scale that ranges from immaturity to spiritual awareness.
*I am setting aside physical violence and things like sexual abuse because those operate under a different set of principles.
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