I find that I do not feel very much compassion for the less fortunate, the victims of terrorism and so on. Perhaps I have no heart?
If you find compassion in your life, it will be in your immediate surroundings, among the beings you meet, not events on the news. Compassion is shared feeling, not just shock or pity.
Before you can have a heart, you must expose your heartlessness. Before you can have compassion, you must see your hatred and intolerance. To have success on this path, we must go ‘by way of the negative’, not asserting what we want but rather exploring what is. To find compassion, explore its opposite because that is something you can know with certainty, as you are.
The ancient masters said: “The undesirable must be relinquished before the desirable can be attained.” We would all like to set out on a wonderful journey to remake ourselves in the image of our ideal. The journey must begin where we are.
I cannot make compassion. It arises naturally in a heart which is not preoccupied with me, my wants, my thoughts, my reactions and, especially, my ideals. There is nothing less compassionate than an idealist.
What do you mean?
Idealists want the world to conform to their ideas. By its nature, idealism has the arrogance of prejudice and judgment. It looks to the future rather than the present. It makes the perfect the enemy of the good.
What does it mean to relinquish?
To relinquish is to voluntarily cease to keep or claim…to give up. This is the key. The problem is that we involuntarily hold on to the things we most want to change. With one hand we reject them, but with the other we hold them fast. This struggle occurs in the nervous system, electrically and chemically, the result of conditioning. It’s an addiction of sorts. Who would we be without this struggle?
Relinquish the undesirable, it is said. Begin by observing yourself, not afterwards or analytically but in real time. Learn to adopt an impartial attitude—it is more important to see what arises in you than to influence it, judge it or defend it.
You will begin to see the habitual linkages of sensation and thought that hold you together as you are. You will begin to uncover the self-images and personal narratives that get you through the day. They have been there all along, running in the background, influencing nearly every thought and action, nearly every posture and gesture. When you have seen one such pattern long enough, when you have exhausted all your emotional reactions to it, when all that’s left is a subtle distaste for what you see, you will be ready to relinquish. It is a death of self, one of many on the way. In my understanding, this work is never finished.
Does something desirable arise after an undesirable thing has been relinquished? Surprisingly, it does.