by Wendy Ford
Remember the little books we used to make with drawings stapled together that when flipped through rapidly seemed to create a moving picture? They were like the old cartoons made by drawing one cell at a time and combining them to make a moving picture.
That is what the holidays seemed like this year except instead of a moving picture effect, it was just a series of single snapshots that all ran together into one blurry ill-defined picture. The snapshots seemed to start around Halloween; perhaps it was because all the commercials for Christmas started after Halloween practically leaving out Thanksgiving altogether.
When the holidays approach the pace of people’s normally frenetic lives ramps up several notches and the pressures seem to increase to a fever pitch. Commercials in papers, magazines, billboards, radio, television and the incessant online popups are enough to drive any sane person a little nuts. The pressure is on to find the perfect gift, throw the perfect party, and adorn all rooms, yards, houses, even autos and trucks, with the perfect decorations. Of course all this must be done within a short period of time. Time is running out. Don’t be late. Don’t miss the great sales. Don’t’ be a Grinch. Be generous. Be happy. Be merry. My goodness the bubble has to be about to pop.
In an effort to relieve the pressure it seems some folks turn to trying to find a release by giving to others as if giving to others will in some way balance out or deflate the other pressures.
It appears that when the holidays (holy days) roll around some people want to demonstrate a more generous side of themselves by openly donating time, gifts and money to organizations and people in need. They walk up to the kettle with the expectation that dropping a bill in the kettle will make them feel good; the bill is dropped and they walk away with a smile on their face. They put forth the appearance of turning away from the me, me, me, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend by giving generously in order to feel good.
My observations tell me many people are doing this as a way to make themselves feel less guilty about not having done anything during any other part of the year; it makes them feel good or it is just because it is something they are supposed to do or it relieves the other pressures of the season. They say they are showing their compassion. I disagree.
Compassion1: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
Synonyms: pity, sympathy, empathy, care, concern, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, tolerance, kindness, charity
Compassion implies by its definition an absence of expectation of the return of something.
Too many give during the holidays because they are responding to and/or fulfilling an external or internal expectation: all office staff must donate to the boss’ gift, all staff must volunteer at the soup kitchen or to deliver meals, all residents of a retirement community are expected to donate to the employee fund, extra tips are given to seemingly everyone in our daily lives. We want to feel good about ourselves and giving to others can give us that feeling; when an external or internal expectation or need is the driving force, the giving is out of obligation with the expectation of recognition or of getting something back for the giving, this is not compassion.
True compassion is demonstrated by the volunteer who genuinely donates time without expecting anything in return, not even the feeling of satisfaction for having done a good thing. That is to say they are not driven to perform their actions by the need to have that “feel good feeling”. They go in even on the days they may be feeling blue or in the process of dealing with issues in their own lives. Their time is given freely without any strings attached, without any expectations—internal or external. They undoubtedly appreciate a thank you or a smile and may have a sense satisfaction, but they are not driven by the need for those responses or feelings. Those responses or feelings are not the reasons they are doing what they are doing.
True compassion is in action when the anonymous donor gives generously of money, gifts, food or needed items without being driven by the expectation of recognition or the need to feel good about having done something generous for the less fortunate. Should “feeling good about it” be a side effect it is certainly welcomed but it is not the driving force for the action or deed.
True compassion comes from the company that gives parents of ill children time off without requiring them to use their own sick time or vacation days or expecting them to make up for the “lost” time or expecting the community to recognize the company for its compassion. Should recognition be given that is great, but if it is the driving force, it is not true compassion.
As 2015 comes to a close we should all be willing to take the time to reflect inward and to review our actions and motivations over the past six months and during the holiday season. What were the driving forces for those actions? Were we acting in response to internal or external expectations? If so, we may have deluded ourselves into thinking or believing we were being oh so compassionate when the truth of the matter was we were being driven by our own needs for recognition, feeling good or responding to an expectation of society or an employer.
True Compassion is probably not very common because the human ego is generally looking for recognition and driven by “what’s in it for me” and “I need to feel good about this”. Ego is control, power and “I” based. True Compassion is not an ego based action. It is an aspect of Unconditional Love.
Ego is materially focused and of the realm of the “I”. Its composition is of emotions and thoughts, of beliefs, biases, prejudices, expectations and judgement. It is restrictive, limiting and limited by a very small and rigid filter. Unconditional Love resides in the heart where there are no expectations, no judgement, no strings attached, no motivations, no restrictions.
True Compassion is an aspect of Unconditional Love and therefore of the heart and of the Self. It is given freely and without limitation, which is easier said than done. It requires brutal self-examination to identify and discern the motivations and reasons for our actions and deeds. This examination requires a depth of courage most of us have never developed, because our egos don’t want us acting with our hearts and without its influence. With honest self-examination most of us will come to realize we too often fall short of acting with True Compassion.
With a new year on the horizon, many of us make the perfunctory New Year Resolutions. This year let’s work toward developing the courage to pause and ask ourselves why we are doing something for or giving to another. Honestly take note. Is the action fulfilling an internal or external need or expectation (from ego) or is it being given freely with no strings attached (from the heart, the Self)?
When True Compassion is in action and flowing, the good feelings, recognition, kudos and satisfaction are the byproduct, not the driving force.
True Compassion. Unconditional Love. Heart. Limitless.
The End – Spiritual Climate Newsletter, Winter 2015 Edition