16 July 2015

Compassion (Born from Nicaragua)

Hi friends! I’ve just returned from a two-week getaway in Nicaragua, and boy do I have some shiny souvenirs for each one of you! What the beautiful, love-full pictures from my trip to Nica don’t convey are the discoveries I made and the mud I tread through to unveil them. Yes, the time away in a beachside town was wonderfully fun and relaxing; but it was also challenging and fraught with important learnings that came in the form of hurt and disappointment. On the plane ride home, I started to look at the trip as a whole. From my zoomed out perspective above the clouds, I found the treasure that I have brought back to my life in LA. – it’s better than any memento I could buy for myself or you.

What I learned was a true lesson in compassion. And in excavating that compassion, I had to survive a whole mountain of judgment (on the sending and receiving end), criticism, guilt, and unmet expectations.

It is my intention that in sharing these learnings with you, I will help you remember the humanness in all of us and, by extension, facilitate more joy in your own life experiences. This reflection is a combined collection of my own realizations, teachings from a Shaman I saw in Nica, and excerpts from the elegant Buddhist Pema Chödrön.

What is Compassion?

“Compassion isn’t pity or helping someone else out who is less fortunate. That’s disempowering to the recipient. Genuine compassion is when you stand in your own shoes, then you standing in the shoes or other people too. It is shared humanity. When things hurt, you think, ‘Other people feel this.’ And when things are delightful, you get in the habit of thinking, ‘May other people enjoy this feeling.’ Compassion heals us. It is a continual feeling of your world opening up.” - Pema Chödrön

Compassion is simply the act of honoring our shared humanity and acknowledging our collective experience. It means sitting in your own human skin and recognizing that others share that same skin. In another word, compassion is maitrī (pronounced "my-tree"). Maitrī is the Sanskrit word for "Unlimited, Unconditional, Loving and Kindness towards Oneself." It represents making friends with oneself, and discovering and becoming intimate with your humanness. In seeing your own humanness fully, you can see that of others.  

Learning Compassion

This learning is the biggest gift I’ve received from Nicaragua. And, with it, I have been awarded a profound understanding of how debilitating it is to pass judgment. The latter was the most difficult part of my getaway. I didn’t realize how many expectations I had stacked up around my trip until they were unmet, or how many judgments I made until they were proved wrong. Very wrong. Countless times, I passed blame or criticism. I blamed others when the day didn’t go as I’d hoped. I was upset when people didn’t treat me the way I wanted. I was annoyed with people. I gossiped. I thought unfriendly, mean thoughts. I laughed at the expense of others. I saw people as threats or enemies. I judged others’ emotions and struggles. And all of that, for what? Disappointment, a heavy heart, confusion, and shame.

I see now that my unkind thoughts and actions were driven by fear. Fear of my own inadequacy, or fear or losing something, like love, money, time, or power.  We can all relate to that fear if we dig deep enough into a situation where we were in a position of judging someone else.  Think back to a time when you were criticizing someone – picking on their situation, expecting a different outcome from their actions, or judging how they felt. “Why can’t he stay in his own lane?” “Why does she have to be such a b*tch?” “Why can’t he get it right?” “Why won’t she just leave me alone?”

All of these judgments, when really boiled down, are simply coming from our own fear that the other person may affect us. We fear that he is going to disappoint us. We fear that she is going to waste our time. We fear that he is going to steal the spotlight. What we really fear, in all of these situations, is being hurt.

But here’s the kicker. As I was reminded in my powerful session with a Shaman, the idea that anyone can harm us or make us feel anything IS A LIE, told by our own egos. In reality, no one can rob you of your power, inherent value, or the Truth that you are love. Your worth and innocence are things that you are born with, and they are completely immutable and untouchable. No one can make you feel less than, unloved, or powerless.  If you feel those emotions bubbling up, it is actually your own choice to suffer, or not.

Practicing Compassion

So, now, we are left with the understanding that all judgments against anyone else (born from our own fears of being harmed or inadequate) have nothing to do with the other person(s). They are essentially judgments against ourselves, or merely our own fears projected onto others. If we understand that no one can actually rob or hurt us, and that we will always Be Love, there is no place for meanness, accusations, or criticism of others. They can’t touch you – the REAL you. So why put the armor on or raise your weapon in defense?

I now realize just how ‘on the defense’ I was. It was a humbling experience to feel the weight of my own disappointment and shame, coming down from my rigid expectations and assumptions. These discoveries are ushering me towards a deeper understanding of why I have been so quick to pass judgments or see others as a threat or unacceptable or unlovable. It’s mean-spirited and closed-minded. It’s limiting and unfair. Everyone deserves to be loved and to be seen as innocent. What a waste of precious life energy to position myself as separate from or against others. There is so much to learn and share with each other. Each time we are unkind or in a place of judgment, we close a door of possibility to love or learn from one another. We miss out on the human experience, stifle miracles, and fail to see omens and clues.

“Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” - Pema Chödrön

Let’s remember that emotions are just guideposts. We need not be afraid to read them.

All any of us really seeks is love, because each of our souls are comprised of pure love.  Person to person, there is no separation or difference in our inherent, true selves. Our spirits have shown up to this life in different shells, comprised of a variety of physicalities and personalities. But, as Love in the flesh, we are ALL being called to do the same two things in this life: to remember who we truly are, and to play!

Here’s a simple takeaway that I am going to use as a tool to help align me with these learnings about compassion:  If we can see all actions of others as either (1) A cry out for love, or (2) An extension of love, we can truly see the humanness and LOVE in each person. Separateness and judgment are erased, and compassion is ignited. 

05 July 2015


"Words do not express thoughts very well; everything immediately becomes a little different, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another." - Siddhartha

I read this quote in The Journey to the East by Herman Hesse earlier this week, and it's been on my mind ever since. I'm currently visiting Nicaragua, where I'm feeling the importance of words as I attempt to recall a past learned language. My Spanish is rusty, and I often have to talk around nouns and verbs that I can't recall. My expressions and requests absolutely become "distorted" and "foolish," as I rummage through my limited junk drawer of words and phrases. However, while I may feel the pressure and nerves around trying to communicate, I've noticed that being once removed from a language is nice in that it takes the emphasis off of selecting just the right word to convey something. Being limited by my textbook collection of vocabulary means that I can't fish around for a more beautiful adjective or verb that could infuse a slightly different, distinct meaning.

In the case of a being a novice at a learned language, words become more strictly about (basic, necessary) transactions, instead of conveying emotions or deep exchanges. You're using the language to check in at a hotel, order food, or find the nearest bathroom. It's more difficult to connect intimately with someone or quickly get personal when there is a language barrier. That's when body language, hand motions, and eye contact is imperative - but that's a whole other post...

What I'd really like to explore in this reflection is how we use words in our native language. I thought it would be ironic and fun to write about language in my blog, as this is a place where I attempt to tackle deep, dense, heart-musings in my posts, and word choice is important. When I write here, I am usually delving into a subject that I am newly fascinated, confused, or inspired by, and it is my goal in writing this blog to:
  • Help myself capture and process it, as well as... 
  • Share it with others, who may find it valuable and illuminating for themselves too.

The quote from Siddhartha above is particularly resonate, because it spotlights how limited we are in our ability to share those emotions and thoughts that swirl around our hearts and minds. Each of our personal experiences and memories are untouchable - inaccessible to others, and even to ourselves in retrospect. It is impossible to use words, like Legos, to recreate the exact image or sensation you experienced, such that another person can experience it too. (Apologies to all authors and filmmakers who are hating on this perspective.) We try, of course, to recreate life, as sharing and communicating with words is part of building human connection with others. Language is important - especially in an increasingly digital world, where we are able to connect with disparate groups of people and we lean on words so much more (email, texts) to conduct business and stay in touch with friends and family. So we use them often and in large amounts to carry out everyday relations and transactions. 

But, words - nouns, adjectives, verbs - are, in reality, expressions twice removed from the pure source from which they are born. They filter through the brain, the ego, and then emerge from our mouths or fingertips, bastardized in their end result. Like a copy of a copy, our words are a fuzzy resemblance of their origin. This is starting to sound like Plato's Aesthetics... but bear with me.  

Words contain so many implications and connotations, and those evocations and interpretations are naturally different for each person. The varied set of collected experiences, learnings, and environments of each person contributes to their digestion and production of language. So you can't even be sure that, for example, using "happy" vs "content" will get closer to the meaning you are intending. There's really no telling how your words will land with the recipient or if they will convey the image or feeling you are trying to recreate.

So as I write now, I can't help but wonder... "Am I really getting through to my reader? Do they understand what I'm saying? It is resonating with them?" The answer is that I will never really be able to lend anyone my skin to truly step into what I'm experiencing, feeling, and thinking when I write. It's impossible. 

But instead of being dismayed or discouraged by this, I find humor in it... How hard we struggle to "see eye to eye" and "level" with each other, when we are all operating with different emotional and mental machinery. We try to standardize meaning at an attempt to find common ground. Even the phrase "I love you" is a blatant attempt at creating a space for two people to connect. Most can agree that it differs from "I like you,"  "I adore you," and "I see you." It's meant to be heartfelt, vulnerable, and enveloping. Or is it? Are you using to with friends to instead say, "I'm here for you," or "You mean a lot to me." Do you toss it around, like a 'good' habit, or do you use is selectively? What about in the context it's used, and how many times you've said it to someone? It loses meaning when it's been uttered several times to the same person, verses the first time it's spoken to another. 

We are limited in our tools to communicate idiomatically. Dictionaries, thesauruses, context clues... they can only get us so far. But every day we use language - in excess or limited amounts - to feign connection and understanding with each other. 

Despite the limitation of words to provide true, parallel context between communicators, perhaps we can recognize that we are abundant in our tools to feel. And I would argue that feeling, without words, is the most powerful way to communicate. Energetically, we all emit a force field around us and possess a light within us that communicates, consciously or not, with others. I'm talking about when you can sense the persistent rain cloud that trails behind someone, and how it feels to be pulled into their slow, dreary orbit. Or when you know someone who makes you feel so nurtured and safe, just with their presence. This is the deeper level of connection and communication that speaks louder than any word or action. The frequency that you put out is how your spirit makes transactions with the people and world around you. Yet, many are stunted in their emotional receptors and expressions, and words or deeds become a crutch for expressing deeper meaning.

As I sit in my pool of thoughts and feel the learnings wash over me, I now see myself mentally grabbing at words and phrases to attempt to convey how this whole set of realizations has touched me. It has enlightened my human experience with compassion and a deeper curiosity for others and myself. But it seems silly now to let my ego tease me into churning out more words in hopes of my readers feeling the same 'aha!' sensation that I do now. Instead, I will retire to accepting and embracing, "to each his/her own."