When speaking of compassion, one must also speak of suffering. The two seem to go hand in hand, the former a frequent consequence of the latter.
Many forms of suffering pervade the human condition: war, hunger, illness, crime, loneliness, imprisonment, enslavement, poverty, natural disaster. Where do we turn to ameliorate the suffering of others? Whose suffering do we choose to do something about and to whose condition do we turn a blind eye?
The entreating envelopes arrive in the mail almost daily: Amnesty International, The Human Rights Campaign, Oxfam, the list is endless. There is global suffering, local suffering, the plight of animals, of children, of women, of the sick, of the environment. Which envelopes do you throw in the trash? Which ones live on your desk for weeks or months? Which ones are returned immediately with a check? How does one decide where one's money is most needed? How does one not feel guilty about all of the worthy causes you just cannot afford to support?
For all the direct action in which an individual can take part, it seems that the soul, the very heart is the place for one to begin practicing compassion. One must first cultivate compassion for the self, learn to forgive ones self over and over again, assuage one's own suffering, and perhaps then extend that energy to others. I am often much quicker to excuse the behavior or actions of others while digging deep holes of self-blame and recrimination in my own heart and mind. Thus for me, the question is not necessarily how to cultivate compassion for others per se, but more how to simultaneously allow myself that same level of acceptance and peace. Perhaps from that place, one's actions towards the rest of the world come from a deeper, more grounded center built on self-love rather than guilt, on fullness rather than lack. Perhaps.
So, those envelopes that keep coming in the mail? I can guiltily drop them in the recycling box and hate myself for my shallow self-centeredness, I can send them each a pittance in an attempt to assuage my guilt, or I can simply send my money to the place to which I am guided by my heart, and continue to live a life driven by compassion, certain that what I produce and engender in this world will echo ever wider in ripples of compassion and love.
I think I'll choose to forgive myself and others, do what I can, release the guilt, release the pain, and wake up tomorrow and start again.