Compassion as Protection?
I read something today that kind of shook me up. No, it was not another horrible political thing, it was that compassion is a way and practice to protect oneself. It stood out to me because, I have never, ever thought about using compassion as a means for protecting.
I have used anger, ugly words, distance, shutting down, disconnection but never compassion as a way to protect myself.
Now I am not living in a war zone (well, most days) so why do I need to protect myself?
Of course I am talking emotionally. I have been blessed with a life where I am relatively safe physically. I do not have to worry that I am going to get mugged getting out of my car or that I am a target for some horrible crime. Those things can and might happen to me, but they aren’t issues that I worry about every day. And I am very aware of how lucky that makes me.
But emotionally I feel the need to protect myself all the time. Seems like the whole of my life has been trying (and failing mostly by being successful) to keep others from hurting me and me from doing the same. Except that I have always been more concerned with you hurting me, than the other way around. That has changed recently and I am now way more cognizant of my conduct towards you, it really is the better indicator of where I am spiritually...let me explain.
Emotionally security and spiritual development and evolution go hand in hand. The more spiritual work I do, the more emotionally safe I feel in pretty much any situation. I spent a great deal of time in my life trying to engage with others AND feel safe emotionally. For a long time that was not possible. I could have either or not both. But as I began to untangle the emotional dysfunction in myself, I was able to begin to feel safer. I could see where I was off. I could see where my own dysfunction and emotional dysregulation caused the emotional upheaval I was experiencing. I did the work which was not and is not fun. I stopped allowing a pass for myself. I took back the control that my emotional state, be they happy, scared, sad, distraught, elated, all belonged to me. You could influence them but I was responsible for them.
This kicked off a new way of living, quite unintentionally. When I was no longer blaming you for everything under the sun, most especially how I felt, then I got to really look at the source: me.
Now I know a lot of people who spend a lot of time thinking about themselves. They come up with egoic responses all designed by their ego to maintain the status quo and keep all others standing a safe distance away or they are really hard, eviscerating evaluations (by fear and fear’s henchman self pity) of one’s own conduct. Compassion isn’t even in the same zip code.
My own journey is no different. I spent a lot of time blaming you, allowing my ego to tell me all sorts of crap that I believed wholeheartedly, screwing up my life and yours and then wearing the hair shirt over the whole fucked up ordeal all in some sort of misguided idea that if I behaved badly then beat the living daylights out of myself that somehow, someday I would become a better person. In reality, it is a cycle that perpetuates itself endlessly.
So I began to review what changed.
And what changed was a couple of things...
I saw that my ego doesn’t ever want me to look at the instincts that exists below my egoic response. If I am needing something on an instinctual level, then that is not enough. My ego cannot allow for an instinctual expression because that feels too dangerous and vulnerable. So my ego steps in and creates this fabulously believable story where you are the asshole and I am just this hapless victim in your unwelcome (but oh so enticing) drama.
I had to get to a place where ego can be addressed but then pushed aside so that I can get my instinctual needs really attended to.
Once that happens, I can see the bullshit that the ego spins and that I was totally off course allowing my ego to direct and control the situation. I get to also see that my ego isn’t some manical force that only I have...nope, I am just another egoic bozo on the ego tripping bus! We all have an ego and it causes the same issues and problems for all of us! All the damn time.
This realization led me to see that I am not alone. I am not an asshole. I am just a human being trying to sort through what my head tells me which is largely a bunch of crap far too often.
Once I saw myself as human instead of flawed and damaged, I was able to then begin to have some compassion for myself and in turn, you. I didn’t have the egoic response because I was this horrible person. I, like everyone else, had an ego, period. And my ego caused problems in my life just like yours does in your life.
Terminal Uniqueness addressed. Ego discharged.
So I began to look at myself with eyes of compassion. I could look at what was driving me and my behavior in a more compassionate light and inquiry and because I was willing to look below what my head told me and dig a little deeper. I was able to get to the heart of things (well at least the heart I was capable of seeing at the time) better with compassionate inquiry rather than the egoic flight from reality and then the crash landing of self destructive evaluation.
So after many years of self flagellation, I have concluded that doesn’t work if I want to make progress. Intentional infliction of emotional distress on myself is never really a catalyst for emotional and spiritual growth because it is always and forever pitting instincts against ego. And the ego will win every single time, leaving instincts out in the cold to forever be ignored and unaddressed.
I can’t stop the instinctual drives in my life. But I can stop telling myself ridiculous stories about their origins and meaning. I can just accept that I, like every other being on the planet, need nourishment, affection, shelter and safety. If I am capable of breaking all that down and become aware of my inherent insecurities around this, I do a great deal to disconnect my ego’s need to spin lore about it all.
And if I practice this instead of the vicious cycle of self aggrandizement and then egoic flagellation, I can get to a place where compassion, not anger, motivates me to protect myself and while I am doing that on an instinctual level, I can also use the same methodology when I find your behavior unacceptable or troubling. Compassion gives me space to allow the dust to settle from the historic and never ending battles between instinct and ego, for you and for me.
Again, thanks to my friend Paul, for giving me access to what I instinctually knew but could not formulate into a working theory in my life. I see it now...this disconnection between instincts gone awry and egoic stories that allow me to perpetuate the cycle. Compassion for me and you sets us all free, every single time.