The conditions for compassion (or, Personal Manifesto #3,594)

While I was walking to the park with the twins today (after purchasing them new boots, a froggy pair and a blue “explorer pattern” pair), I thought about the oft-used phrase, “You did/are doing your best” which is a reason given for why one should extend compassion to oneself or other people. The thing is, that sentiment often doesn’t help me particularly, because my internal response to it is, “No I didn’t/am not.” To a certain part of myself, that is indisputably true, because it is always possible to be doing better. And thus, as became clear in the two conversations that followed, I never rate my own self-compassion, because I’m never doing my best. In this frame of mind, all I can see when I look at my life is a string of failures which constitute incontrovertible evidence against me.

What I am finally coming to, at the ripe age of 46, is that this way just simply doesn’t work. Endless self-flagellation is ineffective as a path to or method of self-improvement. It is not practical. It is born of fear. And it is the opposite of love.

I think I’ve finally arrived at a genuine desire to love myself, and thus, I need to give myself the gift of unconditional compassion. I must allow for a learning curve, for mistakes, for basic human nature. And so when I find that I am being harsh with myself, I have to try to remember that forgetting to be compassionate is a pattern that also requires a compassionate response. And if I can’t find it in the moment, I need to cultivate trust that I will later.

One mistake I’ve made is to assume that certain (critical/impatient) behavior patterns define me, who I am, what kind of person I am, what worth I have. Partly, that’s because those patterns have their roots in my very early childhood, and so have been with me for almost my entire life, and can therefore seem to cover the entire sky. I have to remember that I possess both imagination and will, and can look beyond these patterns to see other possibilities, as well as looking right at them to understand and move away from them. I can make choices. I can make changes. And that capacity, rather than robbing me of any eligibility for compassion or love, is something to celebrate.

If I can offer myself compassion, I can also have more flexibility, more margin, more understanding, more love, and more happiness, both internally and in relationship to others. That seems both practical and desirable.

Compassion doesn’t require justification, reasons, or any particular circumstance. It is the love of the universe, and I hereby choose to receive it.

And that is the heart of the Sufi mediations I have been getting back to, “Ya Ghaffar,” and “Ya Ghafur”. From the book, “Physicians of the Heart,” here are relevant quotes.

The form of al-Ghaffar in the sound-code of Arabic grammar gives it a quality that is both continuous and repetitive. You may make the same mistake over and over again, a hundred or a thousand times a day. Every day. But such repeated errors never place you outside the realm of divine forgiveness. Repetitiveness is no problem for al-Ghaffar. Its nature makes it repetitive. Al-Ghaffar’s forgiveness is continuous and repetitive.


Both al-Ghaffar and al-Ghafur have this same root meaning of covering over in a healing kind of way. One of the physical plane variations of the root of these Names refers to covering over the cracks in a leather water skin using the sticky substance that bees use to repair their hives. In a desert culture, a whole tribe could die of thirst from a leaky waterskin. This is a very earthy image that helps us understand the importance of this basic kind of forgiveness.

By calling on these two sacred Names we can actively moisturize and heal the cracks in our being that allow the water of life to dissipate and our hearts to dry up. Repetition of Ya Ghaffar, Ya Ghafur brings a pliability that allows us to overcome brittleness of character. It is a soothing balm to our woundedness. It begins to ease the pain that has caused us to isolate ourselves in our relationships in life.

In order to receive love, I must also believe that I deserve it. I am deeply motivated to continue making progress with this life lesson, partly because I’m frankly tired of all the flogging, and partly because I don’t want to pass this along to my kids if I can help it. Let them pick up their own burdens rather than taking on mine!

I am so grateful to have all the resources I do; friends and family who love me, excellent people to talk with and learn from, people who reflect back to me and help me right the ship when I need that.

Life is a rich tapestry, indeed.


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