Compassion Part 2: what Darla taught me
I was struggling with the notion of compassion. How, I wondered, does “may I be free of suffering” lead to compassion? I didn’t understand, how aspiring to alleviate my own suffering, could relieve the suffering of others.
Then one day, as I was sitting up by the Buddha on the hill, a lovely mutt with one floppy ear appeared.
She hung around for a couple of days, never leaving my side. Eventually I fed her a bowl of mild lentil dahl, which she gobbled up appreciatively – clearly a Buddhist dog, accepting whatever was placed in her bowl. And inevitably, I fell in love with her. But I was certain that on this small island someone would be missing her deeply, and I sternly instructed myself not to get “attached”. I started looking for her owner, and put up a poster at the store and on the local website. And I fed her and hugged her and secretly hoped no one would come to claim her.
But of course, soon enough, a nice man showed up in a pickup truck and Darla, wriggling and licking the man’s face, jumped into the truck and went home.
Fine, I said to myself, that’s good. So it goes. And I went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, Darla was not on the rug beside my bed. I felt a sharp tug of sadness in my gut and I started berating myself. You idiot, of course the dog is gone, you knew that would happent! Don’t be a baby! Buck up! Look at your beautiful life, people out there are starving and have lost their whole families, who are YOU to feel pain? Attachment, attachment, nyah nyah nyah…And then yet another “I” stepped in and said Hey – whoa! what the fuck, you’re human. You’re lonely. Loneliness is human, you are no different from anyone else. Go ahead. Feel it.
And so I jumped back into the pit, and let myself feel as lonely as can be. I felt that gaping empty unfillable place on the rug, no warm loving body beside the bed, no warm loving body in the bed. I felt as lonely as anyone who has ever lost a lover or a child. I cried and I cried, for myself and the world, feeling that simple lowest-common-denominator existential aloneness that connects all beings. And then finally I stopped sniffling and blew one last stream of snot into the bushes, and called up Darla’s owner and offered to dog-sit any time. He was very grateful, and said that in fact he needed to go on a trip to Victoria – and so Darla and I spent another great week together, and I felt (for the moment) so much less lonely.
I realized then, that the route to compassion is to look deep enough inside to find the true seed of commonality. Compassionate healing starts with simply accepting the base emotions that make us human, and connect us with all beings. In my moment of sadness and pain I was connected to every person who had ever been sad or hurt, to any degree, for any reason, at any time.
Connectedness is the seed that produces action. And conscious action reduces the sum total of suffering, for ourselves and for others, simultaneously. May I be free of suffering, may all beings be free.