Find A Way To Open The Valve

A friend spoke of her professional development and how recent feedback suggested she needs to be more compassionate with her colleagues. For many people this may seem a rather lofty goal. Compassion, like forgiveness, appears to be one of those traits we idealise but rarely strive for because they are the property of the enlightened few and, therefore, out of reach for the rest of us. I disagree.

I saw an editorial on a German news programme following the recent death of Nelson Mandela. The commentator rightly praised Mandela for his readiness and ability to forgive, but ended by suggesting we are all insignificant by comparison. That says little for the human race. Unfortunately, instead of forgiving him, I shouted at the television, possibly proving his point, but also stating my own: we all have these qualities within us, it’s just a matter of finding a way to let them out.

Be compassionate, be forgiving. How? Find a way. Sakyong Mipham, in his book ‘Turning The Mind Into An Ally‘ (2003), talks about equanimity, offering a suggestion for its encouragement:

The point of invoking equanimity is to release our attachment to opinions, to let go of our notions of like and dislike. To encourage it, we can take the attitude that everyone we encounter, directly or indirectly, has been kind to us.

Imagine the person in front of you has helped you in some way; in another lifetime, perhaps. Imagine an infinite Universe in which you and the other person have shared a more positive experience than a cold, rainy bus queue. Or imagine that the dawdling pedestrian, delaying your homeward journey as you walk behind him along a busy street, is wrestling with a personal problem and delaying his own arrival somewhere because he knows what awaits him. Or consider this: maybe he’s doing you a favour by slowing you down and confronting you with your own frustration.

Know that everyone has their problems and everyone is behaving in the best way they know how, based on their life experiences, their survival strategies and their level of awareness.

My friend’s compassion is there. I know because I have seen it and I have felt it. And I know it will become more perceptible to others around her because I have also seen her commitment to her development process. It’s just a matter of finding a way to open the valve, because all the characteristics we see in the good and the great are human ones. They are not reserved for the few; they are accessible to us all.

4 Responses

  1. Very true. We often forget how dynamic everyone is in their personality and life experiences, that there is always a reason to feel compassion and empathy, opening the valve to our best selves to respond in any situation. Frankl reminds us that our response is a choice every time, and now Lewis…the only thing we control sometimes is the valve, but we always control that. A great reminder, Jonathan. Thank you.

  2. An apt reminder at this time of year, especially. However, one that should be with me the whole year round, yet it is easy to forget when someone hampers my progress.Good to have a reminder. Thanks, as ever.

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