Friday, September 4, 2020

What's all this noise about compassion?

  A little while back I posted two entries about mindfulness.  And, I said that we would re-visit it with an eye to an aspect of mindfulness that is now being overlooked: compassion.

  In Buddhism there are the Four Noble Truths. I am not intending this to be a history of Buddhism, or even a tutorial on its tenets, but the first of these Noble Truths is that there will always be suffering and pain.  It is a simple recognition of the fact that participating in life as a human being inevitably brings suffering.  And, I invite you to argue that this is not true.  Even the most privileged and blessed individuals suffer from all the difficulties that just being a mortal soul on Planet Earth entail.

   Of course, there is the crowning fact that we all die.  Nobody gets out alive.  When Howard Hughes was getting on, he realized that nothing he could do, no amount of money, influence or power could buy him immortality.  He sequestered himself in the penthouse of his hotel in Las Vegas, let his nails and his hair grow because he was apparently terrified that somebody cutting them could give him a lethal infection....of whatever.  He became reduced to a mere shadow of a human being because he was obsessed with the idea that there is no escape...other than death.

  Life on Earth has both exhilarating and depressing qualities.  We have the ability to choose which ones to focus on....but, this ability is hampered by our emotional, psychological and physical baggage....yes, the stuff we drag along as we navigate our lives.  So, we make bad choices with some predictable regularity.  These choices often involve using various substances to try and alter our perception of our life, to make it somehow more doable, more acceptable.  But, just getting drunk or high--despite their initial euphoria in most cases--doesn't help us to come to terms with the reality of the human condition. In fact, it's quite obvious that trying to use substances to either block or disguise our fear and our almost always counter-productive.  Addiction has been identified as a misapplied attempt to find relief from the suffering that the Buddhists have so long ago identified as the primary and constant presence for all mortals.

  But, there is another aspect of becoming more able to be fully present to life: compassion.  Let's first take a stab at defining this quality.  Dictionaries seem to pretty much agree that compassion is the ability to feel another person's pain.  It is the willingness to be present to another human being who is suffering, and to offer solace of whatever kind one is able, and seems appropriate.  The word 'empathy' is often used to define compassion...and vice versa.  Empathy is also the ability to understand and to feel the pain of others....deeply and without any attempt to buffer or deny it.

  So, as a person discovers the deep yearning for Peace in their life, and at some point, realizes that Mindfulness can play a central role in finding the calm and soothing feelings associated with being 'at peace'.....they move ahead with developing a new skill-set: tools for becoming mindful.  These include methods for keeping the Crazy Monkey too busy to keep interrupting your thoughts and feelings with chaotic and fearful interjections.  Yes, we're talking about the use of meditation, repetitive words and phrases usually referred to as 'mantra', and practices in which we continually remind ourselves that Being Present is a form of liberation from all that mind-mesh jabber that beats us up ongoing.

  A funny thing,...well, okay, not funny ha-ha....but kind of notably odd...happens when a person leaves the hustle and bustle of the too busy mind behind, and slides into a new level of just simply being Here, Now.  We begin to experience a form of clarity and insight.  Suddenly freed of all the crapola, the human consciousness can SEE and FEEL, without the imposition of judgement or all the other blather that the crazy monkey seems to think is 'reality'......but is NOT.

  On experiencing this 'freedom' for the first time, a person can see and identify what is really going on in the world, i.e. people are suffering, many of them at deeply disturbing, even heart-rending, levels.  You don't have to become an EMT, a nurse or doctor in an ER to see that there is suffering all around us.  Most people are so caught-up in solving the riddle of their daily life that they do not make the time or effort to either identify suffering, or they pass it off as, "Not my problem."

  But, when a person breaks free from all of that complexity and blather, and it becomes apparent that most people are indeed suffering, it is also possible to show them that you care and that you are 'there for them', and such caring gestures can make a powerful difference for both the people involved.  If you were able to do a very broad survey, I am certain that the great majority of people, in moments of candor, would admit that their worst fear and the most painful aspect of their the feeling that nobody cares, that they are all alone and destined to fade away in a state of deep loneliness.  Loneliness is a bleak feeling that nobody cares....about you or your suffering.

  Whether you call it compassion or empathy...or a host of similar terms...the willingness to be present to others is perhaps what truly defines our humanity....or our lack thereof.....more than any other quality.

  Why this is vitally all of a question peculiar to this time in our history, and with regard to the upcoming pivot point that we are approaching on November 3rd.

  Donald John Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, is back in the news for saying that the soldiers, sailors and marines who have given their lives for us all, are, "LOSERS and SUCKERS", for having made this ultimate sacrifice. He questioned not just the heroism of Sen. John McCain, but ALL OF THE VETS who have died in combat.  I don't believe a human being capable of even the smallest modicum of compassion could possibly make such odious statements.

  Another Donald, my father-in-law, Sgt. 1st Class, Donald Downs went ashore on D+1 in Normandy. Over the next month he fought in the hedgerows behind the beachhead--the 'Bocage'--and he was bestowed with TWO BRONZE and ONE SILVER stars.  Then he had his arm shot off by a German sniper and was out of the war.  I have read the medal citations.  He was in Company G, of the 175 Inf. Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division...look him up.  And, I believe if Don were alive today he would just shake his head in disgust at the specter of an American President making such despicable remarks.

The American Cemetery at Normandy

   There is no way I can adequately express my anger and disgust at this.  As a veteran myself, of the Army infantry, I know and knew many good men who either died in Vietnam or had their lives so deeply damaged that it's the primary ongoing challenge for them.....even a half-century later.  There is a long list of men I knew who died in of them my childhood friend, William Stanley Smoyer, 2nd Lt, USMC.  Billy was killed in a vicious firefight in July '68. All who knew Bill anticipated that he would go on to accomplish something outstanding and even magnificent.  He was the kind of human being that Donald J. Idiot cannot even aspire to being. In fact, he was a person who demonstrated compassion in everything he did.  His loss will be felt by me to the day I die.

  And, to hear this chicken-shit asshole, who dodged the draft with fake bone-spurs, disparaging the memory of Bill Smoyer, and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines who have died for our freedom.....JUST MAKES MY BLOOD BOIL!!!!

  Are you listening, Donny boy?  You have made some enemies you will regret making, you fucking asshole.

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