Why I took a class about compassion

and what I learned

Part 3: Acceptance of your humanity is a first step towards compassion

In meditation class, they teach you how to meditate and it was then that I quickly realized how misunderstood meditating really is. Some believe that it is about hearing repetitive mantras to change a belief system, and yes, that is one approach and a type of meditating. Another that we often hear about is how during meditation you should focus your mind and always bring it back to the breath when it wanders. Basically, learn how to stay on target. In class we did this and discussed it within a broader context. But what I learned from the experience was how it is human and natural for your mind to wander during meditation. The best perspective I have heard about this comes from meditation master, Sharon Salzberg from the Insight Meditation Society, who said during a broadcast meditation session something to the effect of, in the middle of meditating you may start planning a vacation. She chuckled. And then she said that’s okay. It happens to all of us. Just come back to the breath.

Acceptance of who other are

This mind wandering teaches you to be patient and forgiving to yourself to bring your conscious mind back to observing breathing and be present. Ultimately, you learn to accept what is happening in the moment. That no matter what it is, that 's a human response. And you need to address it. 

I realized that I never was a fan of meditating because I didn’t really understand why it was a practice. Rather than practice focusing on breathing, I would try to be a perfect meditator. And no one is perfect. I have been reflecting as to why I saw it that way and I’d keep returning to the influence of Catholicism (my birth faith) on my life. I’d say that many Catholics, especially leadership, misinterpreted the Christian tradition as it being a path to “perfection” to gain admission into heaven. We are born with original sin, get that cleared through baptism, and then try to live in the “right way,” whatever that means, to make it to heaven. I came from a world where there is “right and wrong” rather than “better” human choices. With a focus on perfectionism, Christians at-large have built a culture that doesn’t leave room for experimentation or human error. If you don’t make the “right” choice according to someone’s interpretation of the Bible, a 2000 year old book translated countless times, or for some reason you can’t do something "perfectly," you might as well just give up. However, more often than not, this belief system encourages people to hide their imperfections so deeply that many blatantly lie about them. You punish yourself for not achieving that legendary perfection. The paradox is that you have a goal of achieving perfection when you know in your heart that you and no human will ever achieve that. Imperfection is synonymous with being human.

Does this excuse poor behavior and decisions? No. Does this blame a person for their existence? No. The pressure we feel in this quest for perfection drives us to perceive our mistakes as catastrophic and feel shame and blame. To compensate for this, we lie. We gaslight. We do all sorts of crazy things to avoid our humanity. I have found that I don’t do the “white lie” anymore now that I accept my humanity. I tell it like it is, no matter who it is and what they want to hear.

(Note that this is excluding serious violent crimes. That’s not what I’m addressing here.)

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