This week I learned something from the source of all ancient wisdom: Facebook. Well OK, from a quote from the Tao Te Ching that my mom posted. The part that jumped out at me said,
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
That’s a gigantic claim. Using definitions from dictionary.com, it means, approximately, “Having deep sympathy for yourself and a strong desire to alleviate your own suffering, you can bring all beings in the world into harmony.”
How does that work? I stop getting down on myself for not doing the dishes and suddenly there’s a ceasefire in Syria? Sounds preposterous.
A couple of days later, I saw this quote from Jim Finley that I’d written on an envelope: “refusal to let anything less than love define who you are.” Ah-ha, instructions on how to be compassionate toward yourself.
We generally define ourselves by our internal judgments — by what we think we have and haven’t done well — or by others’ opinions of us, both of which are much, much less than love and will never lead to reconciliation. They’re designed to do just the opposite, to keep us off balance so that we’ll continue to lean on them for support. The problem is, they can’t bear our weight.
Love, on the other hand, is freeing and freely given. It doesn’t reserve itself until we’ve reached some self-defined and non-existent perfection. It is always and only present, always giving itself away as our lives, as Finley would say. When we let Love define us, when we admit that love is what we are, we can see it accompanying us through our suffering, we can have compassion.
But there’s still that bit about reconciling all beings. Looking with the eyes of love, we can see that preposterous things happen every day: a woman gives half of her last tortilla to a child traveling alone to escape violence, an alcoholic stops drinking, the Berlin Wall comes down. This whole compassion thing might be worth a try.