"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

April 12, 2013

The Difference between Self-pity and Compassion for Oneself

Even as indifference is the "near enemy" of equanimity,  and clinging is the "near enemy" of love, self-pity is the near enemy of genuine compassion for oneself.   Why?  Because self-pity―as hard as it may be to understand when we have been actually wronged or had a terrible life―*always* involves our own complicity with our sense of being a helpless victim.  Self-pity fosters an egocentricity that reifies our victimhood and solidifies our self-identification as mere pawns of others or of the universe.

Genuine compassion is a kind of "tough love,"  Genuine compassion has insight and wisdom.  It looks into the *entirety* of our suffering, shining light on *everything* ― not only the wrong that's been done to us and injustices, but also how we may have consciously and unconsciously participated in that victimization.  Genuine compassion uncovers how we may have internalized being helpless and seeing ourselves as victims for others to use (often, this occurs when we were children). Genuine compassion brings light to how we are now living out and re-enacting again and again that original victimization, covered over and justified by our self-pity.

That said, self-pity is *not* to be ignored or rejected or put down, but looked into!  It's so easy to say to oneself, or to say to another, "Grow up!  Get over your self-pity!"  But such admonitions simply reveal that the person saying them simply hates the self-pity in himself or herself and can't stand to see it in another!  How unkind and lacking in compassion our own secret hates and secret guilts can make us!

The deeper reading is that self-pity is not some "childish" self-indulgence that we must scorn into submission!  Self-pity is a screaming red signpost saying, "Trauma here!  Something to look into!"  Genuine compassion knows that self-pity is a defense mechanism that our minds figured out as a way of defending itself.  The problem is, self-pity greatly cripples our life and our ability to actually break free of the past and to do good in the present.  Self-pity thwarts essential self, essential self-expression, creativity and a joyous openness to life.

We all have moments and times of self-pity; that's just human.  But when self-pity has solidified into a *way of being* and a habitual way of interacting with the world and others, then this is something to look into, finally, with genuine compassion, with curiosity ― "What is this habitual self-pity all about?" — and with great courage of heart and patience.

However we get stuck in patterns of self-identification, the fact is that each of wants to be all that we can potentially be, without fear and with no need to justify our humanity and human failing to anyone.  All that ever matters is that we are working at becoming a full human being, and nobody can judge that or tell us how that should be.


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