Hard Compassion: A Way of Seeing and Being

By Adam J. Pearson

Compassion isn’t always a shoulder to cry on or a word of support. Sometimes it’s pulling your friend’s  face out of the toilet in which they have been vomiting up their drugs and asking them, “is this the life you want to live?” Sometimes it’s helping a drunken friend walk when they can barely stand. Sometimes it’s taking a punch when you’d really like to throw one.

Compassion can be soft and tender and it can be hard and shocking. It can be expected and it can be surprising like a blow from a Zen master to a student who has fallen asleep. It can be peaceful and it can be violent. It can be strikingly improvised and it can be ordinary and regular. It can be different and it can be the same. The fabric of compassion is as diverse and varied as the complicated tapestry of life for which it cares.

Compassion is grounded in a way of seeing situations in which something is needed to recognize the most loving response in that moment and taking action to do what is needed. It’s built on addressing suffering through action rather than apathy. It’s love embodied in motion. Ultimately, it’s not only a way of seeing, but also a way of being.

Compassion is something we practice and something we are. Our challenge is to stay rooted in it and not let the irritations, frustrations, and preoccupations of life tear us out of the deep, centered presence that makes it flow naturally. In the end, compassion is not a luxury, but a necessity, for as the Dalai Lama once said, without it “humanity cannot survive.”


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