Sometimes in this life there are people who challenge us. It is often difficult to maintain an awareness of our reactions when we are being challenged by another, or when someone upsets us, frustrates or annoys us. These people can often be our greatest teachers, however, helping us to learn the ways of compassion.
Compassion is not the same as blind acceptance and becoming a sort of door mat for this kind of behaviour. It is not about loving people unconditionally. There is a social contract involved, based on circumstance, culture and society. Compassion is trying to understand the other person before falling into a reactionary role. It is trying to see the bigger picture, in order to act appropriately. We can stand up for ourselves, for what we believe is right. We can also try to understand those who challenge our views, who have hurt us in the past, who continue to frustrate or upset us in the present moment.
It might not even be that person’s fault that they upset you so. Vietnemese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his book, Interbeing on how if he had grown up on the coast of Siam, there is every possibility that he could have become a pirate like so many other men that plague the waters and make it dangerous for anyone living there. Often it is due to matters out of anyone’s control – place of birth and circumstances of living that no one can have any sort of say in.
That’s not to say that people can’t change. It is up to each and every individual to find the path that leads to the least amount of suffering in the world. We all know that suffering exists – what we should aim to do is to alleviate that suffering where we can, both within our own hearts and in the hearts of others.
We cannot change other people – they have to want to change themselves. We can only lead by example, with our hearts open to the joys of life, not shutting down despite how much we have been hurt. Many may say that this way of living simply invites more hurt into your lives, but I would disagree. By closing yourself down to love, you are doing yourself a disservice, and not having the right amount of compassion for your own self. We do not allow people to hurt us – if they do, we walk away to a safe distance, try to understand the reasons why they have behaved in the way that they did, and perhaps try to alleviate the suffering on both sides through compassionate dialogue. Where this isn’t appropriate or where it just isn’t possible, perhaps because we have been hurt too much, we can simply bow and walk away, wishing peace for them and for our own hearts to still open to the possibility of love from a myriad of sources that exist in the world.
There are people in my life that I simply do not get on with. It is sometimes a personality clash, or they have done/said something that I do not agree with – the circumstances vary. When we have been mistreated, it is often hard to have compassion for the person who has done you wrong. Your mind can get so caught up in what this person has done to you that everything they do annoys you. The way they walk, the way they talk – the way they may apparently blunder through life. When I find myself faced with such thoughts, it offers me the opportunity to see my own reactions and emotions, to understand how my mind works a little better. This is a true gift.
Yes, this person behaved inappropriately towards me in the past. But why should I let them continue to hurt me, to annoy me, to frustrate me? This is all within my control to end whenever I feel like it. I don’t have to attach to the past hurt – I can let that go and get on with my life. When I find myself glaring, or sneering on the inside, when I am disturbed on any level by this other person, I stop, pay attention what is happening in my mind, and smile. I can see the reactions for what they are. They are not actions – they are reactions. I am acting mindlessly upon something that has already happened, and I am acting again and again in a repetitive state that does not help to alleviate anyone’s suffering. We have the opportunity to really act only once in any given situation, at the moment it happens. After that, we are acting upon the memory of the situation.
I am grateful for the opportunities I am given to see how my mind works, how my emotions can override the reality of a situation. We are emotional beings, passionate creatures. We can live a passionate life without being ruled by mindless behaviour. When it becomes too much, we can walk away, taking time to breathe, to try to understand ourselves and the other, to see the reality of the situation. Where there is no way forward, where is there is only hurt or danger we walk away with open hearts. Where there is a chance for reconciliation and healing then we take that with gratitude.
Living with compassion is not an easy thing – it takes dedication to truly want to understand your self, and others around you. Yet when you do, the world opens up like a beautiful lotus flower, the many petals of existence showering you with beauty.