This is an excerpt of the book 12 Weeks of Compassion.
1 INTRTODUCTION In a book about compassion, controversy seems an odd way to start, and if this sends you away from the book, I would ask you to read this passage before putting it away and letting your thoughts change before you come back. Don't assume I'm talking to just your political opponents. Humanity is a series of diasporas -- migrations to follow hunts for survival, migrations to avoid natural disasters like changing climate, but then also scattering like slavery and kidnappings from village pillaging. Where today we look at warfighting as the pressing of a political agenda, or wars as a nationalist affair, all warfare started as the pillaging of resources. 1.75 million years ago, our early ancestors started moving out of Africa, with waves following. I'm simplifying this greatly to make a point, but the science is freely available. Those early voyagers spread across other landmasses by 40,000 BC, and among three basic species of humans (homo sapiens, homo erectus and homo neanderthalensis), the natures of those settled environments helped form genetic mutation adaptation that, as in natural selection, spread throughout geographic regions. During this, the saturnine climate underwent what for it was dramatic upheaval, the retreat and advance of the ending of the last glacial period, forming rivers and streams and making northern hemisphere soils fertile for agriculture. As limbic-system driven beings, we took from our animal forebears hierarchical arrangements, where we settled in, formed villages, hunted, ate, lived, formed rituals, and it is more than likely we did this with very little consciousness, but we acted out of animal necessity. A leading hypothesis by Julian Jaynes in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind charts the evolution of how the human mind worked: a bicameral mind is one in which the hemispheres of the brain provided an obeying side and a commanding side, which would be the verbal faculty of the brain. If you're reading these words in your mind in a mental voice, early humans would have taken this voice as the voices of gods. With the corpus callosum being the main structure communicating between the hemispheres of the brain, this eradicated the perception of super-physical communication and let us understand this voice was generated within the self. Operating under these mental conditions, survival was it. There was nothing to do but arrange in survival units that, as they gathered resources, ran the risk of war with surrounding tribes for those resources. Sometimes, villages and tribes grew tired of fear and killing, and they consolidated. Some drove others to extinction. Some tribes acquiesced to larger tribes and paid tribute, but larger powers allowed them to operate for mutual gain. No matter the finer points of these arrangements, we just accidentally started politics, born out of power and negotiation. The weaker negotiated for their existence against the powerful. Please keep that in mind, because sometimes in history, the seeming weaker understood their power and reclaimed it from the bullies. But, anyway … The bicameral mind possibly existed up to 3,000 BCE, and may even remain in vestiges through modern schizophrenia, according to the hypothesis, but as we formed from tribe and village to kingdoms and empires, these social arrangements led people to be able to specialize: soldiers defended and conquered, government governed, farmers farmed. Even Plato's Republic still debated whether or not a person should specialize. This specialization was a great leap forward for humanity in general, but looking at the time from 2,000 BCE - 1500 CE, we restless humans explored all over to find our scattered cousins … for resources. We had begun to see separation. While we saw these as other humans, and these physical descriptors were simply variations on the human model, I point to Othello - The Moor of Venice as attitudes about differences in the human model. Othello was married to Desdemona. That was it. Another historical upheaval I'll point to as a key indicator that informs our modern time is that Greece as a civilization came about due to a massive climate event. Kingdoms emerged, arranged, kept enemies at bay, composed laws and edicts, fell subject to Catholicism's power keeping itself alive through appointing Holy Roman Emperors in the West, squabbled over borders, expanded political replacement for war, and took more and more from general population, engaged in or outlawed slavery, and with colonialism a combative affair, learned dehumanization as an efficient means to, in a civilized new age, allow soldiers to kill their obstacles -- indigenous populations -- far easier. The expansion of the powerful now superseded the boundaries of their kingdoms, spilling over with terror and bloodshed for the inanimate things that either had financial value or sustained life. Before I go to a main point, it is worth noting that the battle for resources is age old, it is ingrained in our limbic systems, and race as tribalized effort didn't exist in the 1500-1600s. Kingdom and national boundaries did, but not even linguistic barriers kept us isolated. Let's go back to Othello and Desdemona. The Renaissance descriptions of Moors were actually very vague, as there was no specified notation except some people were darker, some people lighter, and these descriptions of anyone darker could range from Moors to Barbar to even Indian. The play of Othello presented elements of race -- accusations of witchcraft against Othello in getting Desdemona to marry him -- but also Othello was a general in the Venetian army. Racism, to the virulent degree we have seen it …categorization, to the fine degree we have suffered it … vilification from both … these are all recent constructs, and the ugliest development of an evolution for which we're all destined. For purposes of discussion, I have here a man named Ben -- not picking on anyone named Ben, just the name that floated to the top. Ben is a purple man. Ben lives the way his other purple people do, and he spends his time with purple people. The purple people have a long history. They came to the land and killed a lot of orange people to take that land, but orange people remaining were used as slaves, treated inhumanely, killed and raped as property, but orange people were freed. Insecure about resources, purple people refused to hire orange people, kept reinforcing the image that orange people did not belong anywhere in purple civilization -- you may think you know where I'm going with this, but I want you to know Ben's position. He has the advantage. He marries a purple woman, they have purple children, and those purple children grow up to marry purple mates. They have children. Those are Ben's grandchildren. Before he sees great grandchildren, Ben dies, and those great-grandchildren go out into the world. A great grandchild sees orange culture, loves orange people, and this great grandchild married an orange mate, and they have a brown child (purple + orange = brown). The brown child is something completely different. Purple people look down on the brown child because brown has some element of orange, orange people look down on the brown child as part of their oppressors. Would Ben control that? Does Ben have any say in whether or not that great grandchild married an orange mate? No. Did the great grandchild engage in the purple wave of terror or encourage his or her great grandfather -- or great-great-great-great grandfather to engage in the purple terror? No. People are absolutely certain, out of convoluted neurology from observation and reinforcement, that they can control things they cannot control. They deny love to others when they do what they do not want them to do, they feel deep slight when others follow their own sense of self, and they are threatened deeply by the individuality of others. Another group who features these qualities? Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by superiority without achievement, look down on people whom they believe to be inferior, and lack empathy for others and treat others as objects. One famous story I read was of a man who was an attorney; when his son wanted to be a surgeon, he disowned the son for not being an attorney. A surgeon wasn't good enough for him. The son, an extension of his father without self and agency, had to be eliminated from his life for not fulfilling his mandate of being an extension of the father. The thing I have noticed about the time in which I'm writing this is how people are taking their individual agency, but like any great leap forward, there is a sort of collective recidivism. A civilization moves forward in some way, a vocal group resists, and then the wave subsides. Social boundaries shift to the terror of those who feel they can control everyone else. Let us be real: change begins with you and no one else. Change begins with you and no one else. I will tell you an embarrassing story, because I think it illustrates something important. Tears are forming thinking of it. In my late teens, I dug drainage from my grandfather's barn, and he supervised. His form of supervision was mostly yelling for me to do things I was already doing, but after hours of it, I grew frustrated. Six feet away from him, I swung the shovel up to point the handle into the ground and express my frustration verbally, but the widening of his eyes, the sudden look of fear or surprise -- I didn't say anything, but I went right back to work and carried that image around with me. Everything good about my grandfather erupted through that, but my first moment alone, I shed tears over that and carried that with me, obviously, to this day. I was an angry young man, I will admit, but his expectation of harm from me, even if subconscious, melted me. He seemed gruff, impatient, hard, but he was the kind of man who, if a child broke something, he would say, "Did you break that? Well, we'll just keep that our secret and we'll fix it, okay?" A man who faced immense hardships and the terror of war, he also stood against others to offer compassion with strength. My ego … my ego … In this complex world, the complexities of human interactions on the individual level all the way up to the international, inter-governmental, can truly be boiled down like equations. Human suffering, individually, comes from the individual's mind in the simplest terms. Desire and ignorance … attachments in an existence where change is the only constant … if we look deeply into the roots of the world's problems, it's nearly all rooted in ignorance -- ignorance and desperation, ignorance and desire. So we have established quite large themes, but they all reduce to us. When we display positive qualities -- not preaching them as much as showing them -- we spread the positive qualities. Imagine the melting in you when you have wronged a good person, and you see their despair, or their hurt with loving for you even in the midst of your injuring them. Turning the other cheek has power, but a power that reaches hearts. I speak and write a great deal about Hinduism and Buddhism, but the model of Jesus -- please throw out the conflicting mortal machinations placed around this figure -- can be brought to very easy, but seemingly difficult for many people, basic ideas. The Golden Rule, clinging to love as a guiding force and feeling more as servant to the greater force through God's creation. How so much anger and violence comes from such a paragon of peace can only speak to base mortal impulse and my hopes that we can all achieve our personal victories towards our collective evolution. We, of course, have a curriculum for this book, and I must consider a broad spectrum of individual belief and life, but I have a background listening to many stories from many lives, and I assure we share common experiences. There are points of commonality, while there will be differences. Some will encounter the course work and wonder why I ask something, as it doesn't apply, but one is perfectly justified in addressing the question as, "I already believe this," or, "I am horrified that human beings would act like this." Chances are, you're either understanding yourself better, or you're reinforcing something we want to reinforce. We will begin by focusing on compassion as an abstract, a concept, before we move in to ready ourselves. Week one is next.
2 WEEK ONE: EXAMINATION
Compassion, by the dictionary, is a sympathetic concern for the sufferings of others.
Set off by itself, we'll let that stand right there, because we both know that is the distillation of many ideas into one concept. There are natural concerns about defense of self, defense of those close, and, honestly, defense of expectation within your field, or immediate environment. We'll work on these issues, but they jump ahead in our path.
There is tremendous study and tremendous disagreement over the neurological component generating compassion and even the definitions of compassion. The above definition suits the state well. Not only that, but it specifies the exact emotional response: empathy is becoming one with another person's sufferings. Sympathy is recognizing and being sorrowed or having pity for another's sufferings. This is an important distinction to make, because one is a matter of self (sympathy) and one can destroy self (empathy). Empathy can become a rabbit hole, and lack of self-preservation prevents you from being the vehicle of compassion to enric
h the world.
Let's start with Self. This is where it begins for us all. We must use devices of emotion to challenge ourselves to things, and there very well could be a concept that excess forgiveness could lead to laziness or complacency that feels dangerous to anyone who wants to accomplish anything. If you combined anger with desire to generate energy for action, you know that you can suit any emotion while reaching forward. We'll discuss this in non-attachment, but compassion can fold into accomplishment like so: my most successful efforts involved one factor, and that is self-forgiveness, or self-compassion. This can be the hardest to achieve, because we can be hardest on ourselves, but my most unsuccessful efforts involved punitive self-coaching. There is an effort, there is a slip, the failure is berated and focused on, there is shame, and if that effort is new, that shame can have you looking for anything to make you feel better, and those old ways feel better and more comfortable, therefore the shame of failure sending you back, not forward. I've set myself back like that more often than not, subject to conventional ideas of self-motivation, but in later years and understanding how the human mind works, implementing self-forgiveness leaves you the only opti
on but going forward in your new path. Think another way: if someone wants something from you, and they scream in your face, a brick wall can immediately slam down between you and that person immediately. We even have built-in self-defensive mechanisms against negativity like that. Berating oneself also shuts off finding the roots of any recidivism. Part of our work deals with self-compassion, but also we have to look at attitudes we've learned over our lives that can sabotage our efforts at inner peace.
The people in our view can range from those for whom we have tremendous compassion, instant, easy sympathy, there are others about whom we feel neutral because as humans we are deletion creatures, taking attention off of things that seemingly don't bother our existence, and there are people who plead for sympathy for things they've done or things happening to them, and one of the most famous lines just about any human hears: "I have no sympathy for [that person]." This is a declaration that follows along the lines of most judgments. A person's judgment of another usually tells more about them than the person they're judging. This statement is a form of humble-bragging. "I lived my life better than this person, I make better decisions than that," and this is sometimes a person stating something hopeful, as in they hope to continue to make such decisions. This sort of narcissism also follows a facet of group mentality where many gang up on one, hoping the attention of the group never falls onto them. Compassion is a feature of love, and love is so complex that the Greeks had many words for love, but love for all things in their various types can be a difficult concept to swallow from the beginning. Another stage of our work will look at compassion for our immediate environment.
Community compassion … this is where we move on from a relatively safe environment to one that can pose da
ngers. This is also where the greatest self-opposition can come from. Compassion for the people you see at grocery stores, the people in traffic -- these are the greatest potentials for deletion or groupthink redirection/deflection. The only way to really confront this issue is through the work, but in this analysis, it is vital we understand one fact about this. It is easy to dismiss someone who commits an upsetting sin in traffic, or laugh at someone with an unusual appearance at the store, but knowing that a person in traffic is operating out of hurt or internal discord is much more peaceful to your being than to take the poison of anger, and that anger comes from us internally to eat our own souls.
We will expand this notion of compassion to the larger arena. As of this writing, the political invective and division throughout the world is a game of raging one-upmanship -- one thoughtcrime deserves another, disagreement means one must -- absolutely -- agree by the end of things. Why? Investing e
nergy, vitriol, taking the poison -- all this pervades the messages of those who speak in public forum. They have something unsettled -- something hurting in their hearts -- and they're sharing it with the world. Let me give you a strange example that I've seen the same people say: "Those people are coming here and taking our jobs," one says. Immediately, another person says, "I'm a native here, and I can't get a job." "Well, you're a bum. Go into debt on student loans to make yourself more valuable in the job marketplace." They're an
gry the world asked of them what it did, and they're self-seeking to malignancy, but also they're hurt inside. They're confused -- contradiction shows that -- and angry at the world that the world did not conform to their hopes and views. Knowing this is out of injury and expectation -- desire and ignorance -- can melt the vitriol. And please note what ignorance means: stupidity can be organic, but ignorance is ignoring, or knowing better and ignoring the facts.
Compassion has its potentials everywhere. But, again, it begins with a single decision in a single person, and the only person we control is us.