According to the stories told of his life, Jesus was a compassionate person.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is frequently described as having compassion (“splagchnizomai):

Matthew 9.36:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 14.14:

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Matthew 15.32:

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.’

Matthew 20.34:

Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Splagchnizomai is a curious word; it means literally “to be moved in one’s deep inner parts, in one’s bowels.” The bowels were understood to be the source of love and empathy, hence the place from which “compassion” came.

Colossians encourages us to adopt “Splagchnizomai in our own lives.

Colossians 3:12

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion.

But, as Pema Chodron acknowledges, “Splagchnizomai does not come easily for most of us. She acknowledges,

To relate to others compassionately is a challenge.

And the challenge of compassion becomes even greater when it is stretched to the dimensions of Chodron’s vision:

Really communicating to the heart and being there for someone else–our child, spouse, parent, client, patient, or the homeless woman on the street–means not shutting down on that person.

The path Chodron lays out to the place of compassion is surprising. Compassion starts she suggests with our relationship to ourselves; it

means, first of all, not shutting down on ourselves. This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away. It means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don’t like. To do this requires openness, which in Buddhism is sometimes called emptiness–not fixating or holding on to anything. Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.

– Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart (p. 78)

It is difficult for me to exercise compassion towards others because I fail to hold true and deep compassion for myself.

Anything I reject in myself, I will find it difficult to embrace in another person. I cannot be there for another person unless I am able to be there for myself. Being there for myself means allowing my feelings, thoughts, and attitudes to be as they are without judgment.

When I believe I am not good enough as I am, that “I should be better, do better, feel better,” I am exercising subtle violence towards myself. The violence I exercise against myself will always spill over onto others.

Compassion does not divide the world up into the good, the bad and the ugly. Compassion is the ability to hold all the broken bits of life no matter how painful. Compassion can only emerge in the “open space” where I am able to be with all the complexities of my own life and therefore have no need to reject any part of your life.

 

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