on compassion.

“compassion is the space between judgment and care-taking”

i don’t know about you, but as a recovering co-dependent, among other things, compassion has been a tough concept for me to grasp, let alone apply in my every day life. recently it occurred to me that i kept coming up against two very different yet equally uncomfortable and unproductive modes of operation – utterly hateful and destructive judgment OR desperate, soul-sucking people pleasing. yeah – not exactly the most functional ways to move about the world, not to mention one leaves me with that icky feeling in my gut, while the other is wholly exhausting.

and then it occurred to me – i don’t need to hate someone, or completely eviscerate them in my mind IF i’m going to choose to NOT care-take them, even in the mildest sense. and i don’t need to be a “yes woman” simply to avoid my mental mean girl committee. you see, somewhere along the way i learned that if we didn’t agree or like the same things, i needed to hate you, or at least completely invalidate your choices by judging them to death so that i could simultaneously find justification and safety around my own choices. i also seem to have internalized the notion that the only indication i was a “good” friend, a nice friend, a caring friend, was to completely agree with, unequivocally, all of your life decisions, regardless of my own interests and opinions. so here i’ve been, vacillating between complete contempt and complete approbation for my fellow humans. no wonder i’d feel icky or exhausted!

but this, i suspected [and have since come to understand], is where compassion comes in. compassion, it seems, can be that place in between the judgment and the care-taking. it can be the starting point for this great big expansive notion that maybe we’re all equally valid, no matter how different. maybe i don’t have to tend to everyone’s emotions or take responsibility for their experiences, but maybe also in choosing not to do that, my only other option is NOT to completely shut others out with a blockade of judgments just to protect myself from feeling like my choices aren’t acceptable because they are different.

much like what recovery has given me in the larger sense, compassion is teaching me how to pause amidst the insanity of the feverish people-pleaser dance or the crazy-making aforementioned mean girl committee. and there, too, there is beauty, because i’ve come to know these less than ideal mental states as opportunities to flex my compassion muscles. to take a beat, and a breath, and remember. remember that we are all doing the best we can, that your choices are no better or worse than mine, and vice versa. remember that we are all in this together, no matter how different our paths may be. and that i get to choose today what participating or lending a hand may look like. and, perhaps ultimately, compassion, in rooting me in the present, gives me the opportunity to recognize the humanity – of my fellow humans, and myself.

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