Disclaimer – This dialogue is neither a figment of imagination nor a real one; and the same applies to the characters as well. The character MAnvi is one I see myself in, though at times different. Her thAthA is one who seems much familiar. Much of these dialogues are a trigger from a book or a discourse by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Any error in the way I have blogged upon, on any aspect is due to an error in my understanding alone.
MAnvi knew that her thAthA was expected to be back home that day, after being away for a few days. She wanted to hear from her thAthA about his trip and wanted to share what she learnt during the time he was away.
A few hours later, after he shared about his trip and had rested, he called her to hear what she had to say. MANvi’s expression of happiness when she met her thAthA in his room, was seen in the way ran and gave a peck on his cheeks and sat in front of him, her eyes glowing. The slight lift of his eyebrows, was all she needed to begin her sharing.
MAnvi: thAthA, I have always had his question about being empathetic. The one meaning that I always hear of empathy is – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; which means understanding what someone is going thru. Unfortunately though thAthA, when we do that I think we also literally put ourselves in their shoes. We take on what they feel and that causes more pain.
It was a different meaning to the term empathy that I heard and this made me think. ‘Empathy is picking up the pain of others and without subjecting oneself to the pain, acting upon it. This action could also be in the form of a physical help, a mental support or a prayer.
thAthA: Can you explain more on this, MAnvi?
MAnvi: thAthA, I have my own addition to this meaning of empathy. To me, empathy is picking up someone else’s pain without subjecting ourselves to it. The moment we act upon it to help them out, physically, mentally or thru a prayer, it becomes compassion. Compassion in my view is far more powerful than empathy.
Let me explain this thAthA..
When we empathise with others and pick their pain, we sometimes just mull and mull and mull over their situation and don’t do anything about it. We take no action which is ‘Passive empathy’. This creates a helplessness and along with it, an additional pain within us. We wear someone else’s shoes and walk with it. This shoe was causing pain for them when they walked in it, and it hurt them so much. We see their pain and decide to wear the shoes they were wearing and to walk in it also. It is causing its own different pain within us. So we are neither able to take it off our feet nor walk in it any further. Therefore, we become helpless and this creates its own pain within us.
Assuming that we move from empathy to being compassionate towards others, many times we expect others to be the same towards us. We give and so we expect others to also give to us. That may not happen thAthA. Our compassion starts with us and stops with us.
thAthA: What is meant by the last sentence, MAnvi?
MAnvi: While our compassion starts with us towards others, we have no control over others’ compassion. Hence it starts with us and stops with us – starts with us showing compassion toward others; and handling our expectations when others do not show a similar compassion towards us. This is what strikes me thAthA, though I think there is more to that sentence than I understand.
thAthA: MAnvi, let me also think on that sentence and come back to you, as and when I understand from my perspective. But do go on with your sharing..
MAnvi: thAthA, there are some of us who keep giving compassion to others and we don’rt know where to stop. This is dangerous. So we see others going thru their pain and while we may not subject ourselves to that pain but oh my!! we act upon it so much, helping them with any which way possible and we are completely lost. Are they satisfied? The need of others is also such that they are not satiated with whatever we give. So we melt ourselves to such a state that we are not in a state to give anymore to anyone. Sad, isn’t it thAthA?
thAthA: What does one do then? One also wants to satiate one’s own sense of need / adequacy / being complete, isn’t it, MAnvi?
MAnvi was about to continue her sharing when she suddenly halted, realising that her thAthA was saying something that had a deeper meaning. She parked it in her mind knowing well that it will surface itself when she was alone.
MAnvi: I loved this when I heard it – ‘Edited compassion’ – keeping compassion within a range and not feeling guilty about it. What is ‘edited compassion’? It is picking the pain of others without subjecting ourselves to the pain and if we can’t help through time, money or effort, just offer a prayer for them; and accept that it is their lot to face their pain.
The problem begins when we are unable to ‘edit the compassion’.
Sometimes we feel the pain of others and we feel helpless not being able to do anything about it. So we mull over their pain, lament to ourselves and to them. What also happens is that we pick their pain. What frustrates is that they seem to live their life as though nothing has really happened and when we lament to them the next time, they say, “It is ok. I have learnt to live with it.”. They seem to have either become indifferent or moved on but we are stuck in their pain which we have subjected ourselves to. We can’t keep lamenting over their pain. When all other ways of helping fails, just pray for that person and leave it. Perhaps it is their lot for them to face.
Last thing I want to share thAthA – In all this melee of being compassionate toward others, I think we forget being compassionate to ourselves? When we keep giving to the others to the extent that there is barely anything left of us, are we being compassionate to ourselves? Isn’t it important to be compassionate to ourselves? Charity begins at home, isn’t it? I would say ‘Edited Compassion’ starts with us and if we don’t take care of the source, no one will..
As the room fell silent for the next hour or so, MAnvi’s thAthA saw that she had delivered the final statement to herself, with a tone of finality.