Walking You Home

“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

I was flattered when I was invited to take part in #1000Speak, and I’m honored to be here. As much as I myself suck at it sometimes, I’m all about compassion, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of something even bigger than the blogosphere, to be a drop in the rolling wave of human kindness, to be a part of being the village.
Then I thought about what I wanted to write about compassion. What did I want to say? What is the point that I want to make?
I can effortlessly write a bonkzillion words about domestic abuse, about bullying, about homelessness, about energy reform and caring for this beautiful blue sphere we call home. I can rant about racism and intolerance, because my loathing for bigotry probably makes me a bigot about bigots. I have a lot of topics that are absolutely deserving. But which one? They were all so tempting.

I had to bark my mental shins on the coffee table about a dozen times before I finally had the sense to see it.

Everything I’d thought of, the ones that came easily and immediately to my mind, none of them counted. Not for this post.
It’s easy to be compassionate when it involves a cause we care about, something we have a personal stake in for whatever reason. I’m an endless well of compassion for targets of bullying or abuse. I’ve been there. Poverty and homelessness are causes that come naturally to me as well. Bigotry, as I said.
But those things aren’t a challenge. And what I can’t help feeling about #1000Speak is that while it should be humane and uplifting and inspiring, it should also be just a little bit hard. It’s like the parable about the rich man and the beggar who both give a silver penny: which one gave more?
The answer, then, is to look in a place where it’s not so easy.
It can be hard to admit that there is a certain someone, a certain class of people, whether it’s the homeless, or battered women, or a particular race, or illegal immigrants, or fat people, or addicts, or people who like peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches, whom we think are not as entitled as we are to…anything, really. It’s the people we consider to be pathetic wastes of oxygen at the least (Kim Kardashian, anyone?) or consider to be evil personified at the worst (such as The Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell). And those hard places that I’m loathe to even admit exist, those are the places I should be looking.

Go ahead. Set aside the justification, and you know it’s there. They’re only homeless because they don’t want to get off their lazy asses. They must like being knocked around or they wouldn’t stay. They can stop if they really want to. They have no right to mooch off of honest hard-working people. Their skin is a different color from mine or they worship the wrong god or they love different people than I do, and that makes them evil and it’s my duty to hate them. You know how the tune goes.

That’s the one. That one, there. The one that really makes you wrinkle up your nose, brings disgust welling up out of your gut, really makes you feel like that doesn’t belong in my face, in my space, on my planet. The one that you just can’t find it in yourself to be kind about, no matter how hard you try.
It’s time to get past that “no matter how hard you try” part. In the words of the great Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
And looking, I see it. Just scroll up a few paragraphs and it’s right there. The ones I ultimately have no patience with, no sympathy for, would like to see jettisoned off into cold blue space, are the abusers and the bullies. If I’m going to be a part of this movement that’s worth anything, if I’m going to walk the walk like I talk the talk, then I have to own it. Bullies and abusers: I fucking hate those people. (And yes, the expletive is necessary. It is a small verbal indicator of my abhorrence, and it means something here. That’s what words are for.)
The Queen of Digression now digresses. Several years ago, I had taken my children and left an abusive husband. I was living paycheck-to-not-even-paycheck, anxiety and depression threatening to overwhelm me amidst the stalking and death threats and his suicide/manipulation attempt in my living room. I was determined in spite of it all not to give in to my natural Scorpio tendency to lash out in a fury of righteous vengefulness and utterly decimate him – legally, in open court. I was determined not to sink to his level and to keep to the high road. I kept reminding myself that he hurt me because he himself was hurting and empty. I took more deep breaths and counted to 10 more times than I can count. I deflected, I cast protection, I cried myself to sleep, I prayed. And as I slogged through day after changeless day, I had never felt so alone.
Until the night, after several months of this, I had one of the most realistic dreams I have ever had.
I was looking down at myself, watching from above as a flower and words that I knew to be poetry, in a language I couldn’t read, were tattooed onto my lower back. I felt the needles, I saw the vibrant colors, I could smell the scent of the living flower being embroidered into my flesh. I didn’t need to understand the poetry to know it was the lyrics of the cosmos. The whole dream was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I felt at peace as I never had in my life. I woke weeping, tears of comfort and release, with the sure knowledge that everything would be all right, that I was loved and Someone Up There was seeing me through all of this. Along with the images, I had a sounds-like in my head. I called in sick to work (sorry, John) and fired up the computer and consulted the Great Google with my sounds-like, and there she was.
Kwan Yin, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in Sanskrit. Kwan Yin is a Buddhist goddess of the sea and of compassion, the Mother of Mercy. A bodhisattva, she is often shown sitting on a lotus blossom, symbolizing the purifying of the soul as it struggles through suffering up to the godhead. One of her epithets is She Who Hears the Cries of the World. She is said to have 10,000 arms, to comfort all who suffer. If you call her in need, she will answer.
I learned some time later that the tattoo on the base of my spine was meaningful too. That is where kundalini energy is coiled inside us like a snake, the spiritual energy that purifies our spirits and helps to unite us with truth and divinity.
That dream is one of the most profound things that has ever happened to me. I’d had virtually no knowledge of Buddhist practices and had never heard of Kwan Yin. I did not doubt at all that she was there, that she had answered a call I hadn’t even consciously sent, and that she was calling me in return. Because one truth I was left with was that I was very right to have compassion for a man who had treated me as though I was merely a possession and not even fully human. As hard as it had been, and would continue to be, that was the only right way to treat him, because in the grand Universal end, it matters. And the other truth I was left with was that it matters because what I give for others, for him, was also there for me. As alone and broken as I felt, I was cared for. We are all children of the Universe, and we are all worthy of kindness.
All. Even Kim Kardashian. Even The Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell. Perhaps especially her. This is where it gets so very hard, for me.
Back to #1000Speak and the point of this whole post. Compassion is impossible alongside judgment and condemnation, and to refrain from judging and condemning can be one of the hardest things ever. As I think back to the cruelty I’ve seen people exhibit, and the satisfaction some of them seem to take in it, I am certainly not inspired to want to be compassionate toward them. It actually makes my stomach roil a little just to think about them. And this is the part where I stub my toe and hop around on one foot, cussing at the Universe. Who am I to call them pots without making myself into a kettle? I’ve been a waste of oxygen many times. I’ve been cruel to others in order to feel better about myself, too. Oh, yes I have. And that makes my stomach roil even more, to admit that I am one of them.
But there is compassion for me. I am getting better at being compassionate toward myself, and I know why I behaved as I did, and if everyone else is just as human as I, then anyone else is entitled to be imperfect as I was. If I am entitled to compassion, so are they. I am reminded that I need to grant all of these people the same grace I extended to my now-ex, the same grace Kwan Yin gifted to me that night. I need to remember that people abuse other people because they are trying to feed their own hunger for love, trying to fill their own voids of emptiness and lift themselves up. Their reasons were my reasons.
This is what it all comes down to. My experience is theirs, and theirs is mine. If I look closely enough at them, I will realize that I am gazing into a mirror, and will see my own self yearning back at me. We are all walking different paths to the top of the same mountain.
Make no mistake, this does not mean I have to invite these people into my life. Just because I recognize the need to save an endangered species doesn’t mean I’m foolish enough to share my house with one, like, say, an alligator. I deserve better than The Boss Who Shall Not Be Named, and I’m not going to stop reading Ronald Takaki so I’ll have time to be a Kardashian groupie. I cannot link to my ex (“Throw Your Darts HERE!”) because he has been excised from my life, and rightfully so. But that doesn’t have to keep me from looking upon them with something more than derision or venom. For some, it is even possible for me to say the few words or perform the one small act that can help them see, help them feel, help them know that they are not alone and that solace and and empathy and a twining upward to the Sun are there for them, too.
It is true that what we put out is what we get back, that we reap what we sow, that like attracts like. When we extend ourselves to others, we create a ripple in a Universal pond of energy, and add mojo to the big circle of connection that runs like the strands of a silvery web, one to the other.

And we are all just walking each other home.

 Daniel Racovitan, used under Creative Commons license