Act Compassionately When You Can
I have a friend who is plagued by panhandlers when he walks to work. For a while he ignored them, but it was impossible. After wrestling with his anger and guilt – for he did want to do the right thing – he collected change in his pockets, and no matter who asked him, he gave something. Immediately his anger vanished. And then his eyes opened, he saw that these people really are lost and alone, and it is an act of cruelty for him to withhold the meager amount they want.
It feels remarkable when petty anger can be transformed to so noble a feeling as compassion. Yet in this case it happened in a moment, thanks to a simple shift in perception. The true self doesn’t goad us into being good. It takes our existing impulses and views them in a new light. Insight opens the gates of the heart.
Many times a day each of us feels the impulse, however, faint, of saintliness. Walk down a city street for ten minutes and you see all around you reasons to give, to help, to offer charity and compassion, to forgive, and perhaps even to love.
In each situation, the need to cut oneself off is present, because that has been a long habit, but a fresher impulse also arises. The true self is sending these new signals.
Notice and feel them. Dwell on them instead of pushing them down. Avoid your habit of turning away or being too afraid to act. Act when you can. Appreciate your own goodness and congratulate yourself whenever you move closer, if by an inch, to your true self. That’s the program, and it is a simple one.
The credo of the true self is joy with detachment. The joy comes from no longer having to cling to a small, defended territory. The detachment comes from having such wide awareness that everything is at once yours and not yours.
Adapted from The Deeper Wound: Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2001).