Compassion and Pity Speak:
Pity says, "I feel sorry for you."
Compassion says, "I lovingly stand witness to your pain while you walk your path."
Pity says, "This is not right."
Compassion says, "It will be all right."
Pity says, "I wish this wasn't happening to you."
Compassion says, "You were born for this."
Pity says, "You don't deserve this."
Compassion says, "To your credit, this has come to you."
Pity says, "You poor thing."
Compassion says, "In you I see absolute potential for triumph."
Pity says, "If only I could fix this for you."
Compassion says, "You got this."
Pity says, "Thank God it's not me."
Compassion says, "I have been where you are, I am here with you now, and I will be again in the place you now stand.”
Photograph by Brea Fisher
I saw her arm coming toward me in slow motion, her fist nearing my chest. I suddenly sent my palm up, sliding across her forearm and sticking on it. I pulled my palm down the length of her arm and caught her wrist firmly. Stepping in close to her body, I rooted into the earth and turned my waist, holding her with my other palm to the crevice of her shoulder blade.
I drew her down and held her there, her face inches from the ground, her arm twisted in the socket, and lifted awkwardly upward.
This was an act of love.
For a full minute we remained like this, until we had had enough time to soak into the responses of being in this position.
Then we switched, and it was me who found my face so near to the ground, pinned there by this person who had just been there herself, and who held me there past the point of impulse to release.
In the MogaDao Heartmind Warrior Training Program we practice partnering to learn not only applications of the forms, but to learn pyschospiritual applications for life.
The exercise I just described teaches us compassion in a very potent way.
To be held down for a prolonged amount of time brings up some pretty intense things, but to be the one holding down is often the more challenging of the two roles.
The amount of compassion this exercise cultivates is heart swelling. And there is absolutely zero space for pity.
Even though the dictionary usually includes the word compassion within its definition of the word pity, the difference between the two is great.
Even though we often feel pity with the intention of showing kindness toward another, pity weighs so heavily on the one feeling it, we’re left unable to truly support that person.
We think we’re being helpful by feeling sorry for someone who is in pain. In truth, our pity communicates to that person the image of themselves as poor, lacking, and apart from those not suffering.
Compassion moves from Love, is born of Spirit, and holds true that we are all One in essence.
One who bears the torch of Compassion stays reliable and radiates strength.
There was no room for pity while holding my gongfu sister to the ground because I knew how it felt to be there, and I knew I would be there again— not just physically, but in life in general.
We were the same.
“You were born for this.” —Master Zhenzan Dao
My sifu, Zhenzan Dao, passionately declares this one statement when my gongfu sisters and brothers and I show signs of letting the mind tell the body it cannot go on. When we feel weak, lacking, or uncomfortable during practice, we hear these words.
You were born for this.
It is a proclamation of compassion. No where in it does pity exist. It recognizes our struggle, it stands beside us in solidarity, and it sees in us the potential to rise above.
As a homework assignment Zhenzan asked us to write on the difference between pity and compassion. The passage at the beginning of this article is what I presented to my gongfu sisters and brothers.
To give you a closer sense of the experience of witnessing me read it aloud, as I did for my fellow MogaDao Heartmind Warriors, I’ve made an audio recording for you.
Close your eyes and imagine someone you know who is having a hard time— someone whose life is throwing them challenge of whatever kind, whether they are suffering from a physical illness, or another circumstance of outward misfortune.
Hold this person in your mind’s eye, and then draw them into your heart for a moment.
Now see that person’s soul standing witness to their suffering, also.
Their soul, their non-physical self, the broader part of that person, the part of that person who is spirit, who is the higher self, who is their inner being— this is who stands beside the one who is suffering in their physical reality.
Does this higher self frown and wince while standing witness?
Or does the spirit of this person stand in knowingness that this pain has significance for the one standing there embodied?
Does not the inner being of this person gaze upon her or him with eyes of pure love and respect and honor of where they stand? Can you not see well that the non-physical aspect of this person fully trusts that by experiencing whatever it is bringing the person suffering, they are given the catalyst toward reaching their own enlightenment?
Now release the two aspects of the person you brought into your heart.
And bring your own inner being to sit with you there.
See your two selves, the broader, non-physical you, the spirit you, the higher self you. And see the you you see in the mirror. Watch the scenes of yourself stumbling, crumbling, failing.
Your inner being does not falter in her compassion for you. She stands in loving empathy for your pain and simultaneously nods her head in approval and gratitude of the circumstances that brought you such suffering.
For those times of pain had as much to do with who you have become as the times of joy.
When you pity your friend, your brother, or your neighbor, you do more destruction than you realize. It is not an act of love to feel sorry for someone, and this includes feeling sorry for yourself.
To pity another is to pity yourself.
To pity yourself is to deny the truth that you are made of the same essence that creates worlds.
With compassion in your heart as you look upon a suffering sister, you embrace the knowingness that you are your sister and that no suffering happens to one person alone.
Compassion is the potent dose of light administered from— and equally to— those standing witness to the cycles of life.
May you find compassionate eyes on you when you again stumble, and may you gaze upon your fellow with compassion when they again fall.
What were you born for? How do you hold space for those suffering? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
Leave me a comment below!