Monday, March 15, 2010

A glimpse at Compassion

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy practice compassion."
Dalai Lama
Mother-in-law looked sweet, sitting there waiting to win and constantly calling out her winning numbers, forgetting someone else had already won. Otherwise, she was quiet, possibly because she was not quite able to follow the gist of the conversations around her. The Lotto game is the highlight of her activities - actually pretty much her only activity. She loves it and only gets to play every few months when I invite her brother and sister-in-law over. They love it too, as does my mother. My husband tolerates it and I hate it.
It was nice watching mother-in-law this time though. She seemed different to me. She was almost radiant, her smile was genuine and the lines of her face relaxed. Dare I say she almost looked beautiful. She could be the poster child for old ladies. It's amazing how a little fun can transform a person and bring out their innocent, childlike qualities. What was even more amazing was that for a moment, a glimpse in time, my heart went out to her.
There have been occasions in the last few years when I honestly asked myself the meaning of compassion. I thought I had conquered that quality within my repertoire of virtues, yet I discovered that I had been deluding myself. Yes, I felt empathy, sympathy for those in distress. Easily I could muster up tears and feelings of warmth and understanding over the lives of disaster, crime, disease victims, for those having really hard financial troubles, for characters in books and movies who suffer over lost or forbidden loves, even for characters in commercials, indeed for all kinds of characters who endured any kind of hardship - but never for mother-in-law.
Instead, she has been the recipient of my emotional sludge. Gradually, my mind convinced me of my righteousness in rejecting, ignoring and most of all disliking this woman who, due to her incessant demands for attention, was interfering with my plans, my life, my peace. Beware (be aware of) the mind. I began to see her as my daily enemy and thus evolved one of my most challenging and still on-going internal struggles. Since I am on a path to enlightenment, nirvana, heaven or whatever is at the end of the tunnel, it is imperative that I subjugate this kind of thinking. But as much as I pray, meditate, try to increase my "good" feelings towards her, mother-in-law remains the symbol of my Spirit's failure to thrive.
Someone once said to me that when you lock your doors at night you lock yourself in with your worst enemies. I considered that to mean that often we treat the people we live with as if they are our enemies, not our loved ones. But recently, a new interpretation has come to mind and never has this seemed more true to me. I never even thought I had an enemy yet I realize now that I do, and she is within... locked behind the doors in my mind, my ego, my fear.
Jesus commanded us to "Love your enemies." What a daunting and radical task! As I sat at the kitchen table, observing my enemy - the gentle old woman waiting playfully to get a winning number - I felt compassion, I understood perfectly what it means. It's closely related to Love, which when pure is unconditional, it's a feeling, though much more than that. It's a recognition. Mother-in-law is hardly my true enemy; she is just who she is. She is and I am. We both exist within the mystery of Being. We are One.

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