Are all emotions, even compassion, essentially selfish?

So an update on my quest to make Happy Photo the actual theme of my blog, since (almost) every post I’ve been doing lately is a Happy Photo post. Nope, can’t do it. Or not officially, as a title of my blog or anything. There is a photo studio with that name already. However, I still intend to begin most of my posts with a photo and quote, as I have been doing. The posts will no longer be labelled Happy Photo. But their purpose is to feature a single photo I have taken that makes me happy, and to use that photo and accompanying quote as a starting point for some thoughts on a particular topic. (And now that I’ve figured this out, there will be fewer annoying words before the photos : ).

Electric Water

DSC_1000

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (Dalai Lama)

Let me begin by saying I highly respect the Dalai Lama. I was once lucky enough to attend a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in which he was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor. He gave a speech, and had a giggle like a small child’s. It was impossible (at least for me) not to feel profoundly impacted by his presence and message.

But I call bullshit on the above quote.

The other day there was an upsetting incident involving my ex bf. I could have responded with anger or kindness. I chose kindness, because I recognized the emotions behind his actions. They are the same that I feel: loss, grief, regret, anger, etc. All the stuff you feel when you end a relationship. The incident was incredibly distressing and even somewhat frightening to me, but mostly I felt sadness for him and myself, and for the loss we have both suffered. I responded in a way that I hoped would alleviate some of the weight of what he was feeling.

I admit I have always felt an excess of compassion for him. Perhaps because he so seems to need it.

I’ll also admit that there have been many, many times in the past when I responded with the opposite of compassion to him, and I feel deep regret for those times. Enacting compassion in relationships is something I have had to work on and learn.

I also admit that in practicing compassion for him, I feel a need for something in return. I’m not sure exactly what. Maybe recognition that even though I reacted in a kind way, I still had reason to feel upset myself. Maybe some compassion in return. Heck, maybe I expected the gates of heaven to open and angels to sing in praise of my generosity. Yeah, ugly, I know. But this is the point of this post. Was I really being compassionate, or was I acting kindly in hopes of gaining something for myself?

It should come as no surprise that the incident did not resolve in a way that alleviated my own distress. And I ended up feeling aggrieved.

I started wondering. Are all emotions and pursuant behaviors selfish? Is there such a thing as true compassion? I know I felt genuine compassion for him, but in acting upon that, it seems that I may have screwed it up.

Maybe only people like the Dalai Lama are capable of true compassion, in both thought and deed.

Or maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I did the best I could. I did act with good intentions, even if I was hoping some of that goodness would come back my way. And maybe that’s human. And at least I can see that and own it.

But I’m sorry, Dalai Lama. Practicing compassion did not make me happy. And it appears that my ex bf did not even recognize what I did as compassion, so I can’t say it really made him happy either.

Or maybe I misunderstand what compassion really is. Maybe it’s not about kindness or feeling sympathy for someone who has harmed you. But if it’s not that, what on earth is it?

Still so much to learn, still so far to go.

Advertisements

Receiving love (Happy Photo)

I’m making a couple changes to my Happy Photo series. First, the photo and accompanying quote will be featured at the beginning of the post, because it seems many of my visitors are actually photographers. I am surprised and flattered by this, and have discovered some inspiring photo blogs through the “likes” I get on my photo posts. (Thank you for the likes!)

Another change may come soon – I like doing Happy Photo so much I’m considering making it the standard form of my blog posts. I haven’t quite figured out how I will do this, though. So stay tuned. Anyway, on to the photo!

Orchid Buds

DSC_0013

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” (Fred Rogers)

I believe that true goodness exists in some people. All of us are capable of goodness, but once in awhile someone comes along who expresses it in a way that inspires others. They are the ones who are not afraid to show the world that they are kind and gentle. They really see people and really listen. And just through such seemingly simple actions, they bring grace into the world. But these people usually do not see it this way. Because they don’t think of themselves as great or special. While the world speaks of them in terms of the goodness they give to others, these people believe that they are the ones who are receiving goodness. They value the essential humanness in others so much, and love others so much, that being able to serve is their blessing.

Many people express this kind of goodness sometimes, or with certain people in their lives. But it’s rare for someone to actually embody such goodness. I think Fred Rogers comes as close as anyone I can think of. I mean Fred Rogers the man, of which Mister Rogers was only a part. There is a beautifully written profile of him, written in 1998 for Esquire magazine, that will give you an idea of why I think so highly of him.

Fred Rogers came to mind for my photo quote because yesterday morning I received an act of such kindness, a kindness I so needed that it felt like tenderness, it got me thinking about giving and receiving grace. And by grace I mean love.

It happened after a morning coffee with three friends from a writers’ group I used to attend. I stopped going to meetings some time ago, but recently reconnected with one of these friends and she suggested we all get together. The four of us, though we were not the only members of the writers’ group, had been a sort of core of it, and our rapport together is wonderful and has been since the day I first met them. It’s very rare for me to feel comfortable in groups – I’m a one-on-one type of person. So these people are pretty special to me.

We all got caught up, and I told them about the bad feedback I’d received on the dissertation chapter I handed in to my advisor last month. It was a devastating experience, because I’ve struggled for so long just to get anything down on paper, and I was proud of the work I’d done, and excited about it. My friends listened, sympathized, and offered suggestions. They took my feelings seriously. That felt good.

But one of the guys seemed to understand that this was more than just a difficult experience for me. I’m not sure if he knows I’m in a difficult period generally, which makes things that much harder to deal with, but he showed me such sympathy I wondered if he intuitively sensed just how crushed I was by the feedback. As we walked to our cars he said something that really surprised me. He said that he knows this feels not just painful, but embarrassing.

He’s right. I feel very embarrassed that my work was not seen as worthy or good. I feel ashamed. But I hadn’t said that to my friends. I was amazed by this guy’s sensitivity, and overwhelmed by his kindness in telling me he understood my feelings and felt badly for me. He offered to help me in any way he could, and gave me a hug.

This, people. This is what I needed. To be acknowledged. To be seen. To be shown some compassion and tenderness. To have another person name my feelings and feel them with me. As I drove away I realized that I had just received grace from this guy. Love. I was given an enormous blessing. It felt all the more significant because my life has seemed so lacking in blessings lately.

So thank you, world, for giving this one to me.