Happiness- real, lasting happiness -can be best experienced when we are engaged in the flow of life - connected to rather than separate from everything else."
Kristen Neff, PhD, Self-Compassion
Self-Compassion or Self-Esteem?
Compassion is one of the four boundless qualities of the heart as taught by the Buddha. It is also known as a divine abiding - that which brings us into communion with what is beyond our limited sense of self or ego. Being boundless means that it is not contingent upon circumstances being what we like or prefer. It takes us beyond the illusion of separation between ourselves and others. As such, it is more than sympathy which implies a distinction or even a subtle hierarchy between giver and receiver.
Compassion is the willingness to be present with suffering or distress - our own and that of others. We don't stand apart from the one who is experiencing difficulty. Rather, we enter into a shared presence with that being, embracing it completely. One way of practicing this physically is by breathing in the pain that is present, allowing the armor around our heart to be shattered and then breathing out release, light or spaciousness. Unless we can do this for ourselves, it is not possible to do it for others.
I'd like to highlight two counterfeits to compassion which are frequently mistaken for the real thing. The first is enabling. This is when we try to excuse or rescue ourselves or someone else from going through something difficult because we fail to see that there is the capacity for finding freedom in the midst of a challenge. Of course, it doesn't help to demand that someone move in a particular direction, but we can allow the opportunity for growth by not excusing or justifying limited ways of thinking and being. Loving in this way is not an easy path to take, but it is a way that we can offer our support as a true friend.
The second counterfeit to compassion is self-esteem. Hearing this may surprise you since so much attention has been given to the importance of boosting self-esteem from educators, psychologists and other social service providers who genuinely want to improve people's lives. However, research shows that self-esteem is not necessarily correlated to happiness in the long-run and, in fact, can lead to narcissism, competitiveness, or self-loathing. This is because self-esteem is dependent upon performance, appearance, success or other measures of acceptability in our society. It's like riding a roller coaster that needs to be constantly recharged in order to carry one past the dips that inevitably come in life. Real compassion, on the other hand, is an immeasurable quality that holds us even when we experience failure or make mistakes.
It may seem necessary to have a healthy ego, i.e. healthy self-esteem, before we can actually let go of the ego. While it is the more preferable option, even a healthy ego is limited and can prevent us from seeing deeper. If we investigate what this ego really is, we'll see how it keeps us in a box however pretty the wrapping may be. No amount of improving our image, or perfecting our game will lead to the freedom that comes from insight into the boundless heart that is intrinsic to our nature. Wholeness can only be found right here.
Web of Connection Classes
Mindfulness in Nature First Sundays in June -October Deer Park Learning Center 15 Columbia Road, Colorado Springs
4:30- 6:00 pm
Non-Duality through a June 6-27, four Tuesdays
Buddhist Lens Deer Park Learning Center
15 Columbia Road, Colorado Springs
Saturday Meditation Ongoing (no need to register) and Inquiry 4:30-6:00 pm at Deer Park Learning Center
15 Columbia Road, Colorado Springs
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