Compassion in its most unexpected form

La version française, c’est par ici : La Compassion dans sa forme la plus inattendue.

When I was little, I identified with Ariel, the little mermaid. Like her I felt I had dreams my parents could not understand, and like her I felt I needed to “run way” from them to become my true self. In a way, I thought I was going to meet Prince Charming, I would save him, then he would save me, and take me to a brand new world and we would live happily ever after. Well… In reality, things turned out to be a little different.

I have met different “Princes” and my hypotheses, at this stage, are that either I have terrible intuition when it comes to finding THE ONE, or I struggle with being happy and my “true-self” in a relationship, which is an everyday commitment that you would sign up for again every single morning! From the top of my 31 years of age and the relationship I have been developing with Thomas, my partner for the last five years, I believe the second option is closer to my reality. In that sense, August 15th was a bad day, the kind of day that makes me want to quit. It started with a misunderstanding caused by poor communication which turned into a “who’s-right-who’s-wrong” conflict, and ended up with my leaving the apartment we were staying in full of bitterness and rage.

That day, I took a long stroll down the streets of San Francisco. As it happens, when I am down, all I can see is the negative around me, as if I need external reasons to mirror, amplify and justify how miserable I feel inside. And, on this occasion, I was spoiled because in downtown San Francisco there are lots of drunk and stoned homeless people, talking loudly to share their pain or lying on the ground as though all sense of dignity or hope had left their body and soul. After what felt like hours of aimless wandering, I reached the Embarcadero to face the Bay Bridge. By that stage, my emotions had gone from vivid anger to deep sadness. My throat was super tight, my breathing slow and difficult, my vision blurry. I don’t know if you’ve seen the double rainbow video with this man crying of happiness and screaming his gratitude for life (if not you can look it up here 😉) but what I felt then was the exact opposite: sorrow and despair. Looking at the Bay Bridge, an impressive double 7-kilometer long man-made bridge, like the rainbow man, I thought: “But what does this mean?” And that is exactly when the unexpected happened!

The Bay Bridge, San Francisco

There I was looking in the distance – busy contemplating my dark thoughts more than the bridge – when a voice called me back to reality. “Are you ok? It looks like you are having a hard day.” I turned around to discover my interlocutor’s face and… It was an old black homeless man! His words moved me so much, I took what seemed to be my first deep breath in a really long time and finally burst into tears. I was so touched, only the little girl inside of me found the words and strength to answer. “I am sad,” she said. The man then handed me one of the newspapers he was selling. With a shaking voice, I told him I could not take it because I had no money to give him. He answered, putting the paper in my hand, “No need to pay. I insist, it will make you feel better.” I had just enough time to take his gift and thank him. Like an angel, the man disappeared as fast as he had appeared. As I was trying to read through my tears, my breathing found a nice and profound regular pace, and after a few minutes, it felt like the cloud cluttering my mind had gone away and the sun was timidly shining again inside of me. I looked around me to find the man to give him a proper thank you, or even a hug, but he was gone.

Now, let me take you back in time again, a little closer than my childhood. Nine months ago, Thomas and I started our journey in an Ashram in India. It was the first time in my life I was being exposed to spirituality and most of the related concepts. Little did I know then the depth of the answers that were given to me by the master monk. On our first day there, only after a few minutes of exchanges, he taught me that a way to better see ourselves, and the other, was to make our wounds as little as possible by being capable of compassion, respect and humility. “Compassion is key,” he said, “It gives us power.”

But what is compassion? The question seemed so simple I did not dare to ask it, back then. Because it gives me power, maybe it is pity, I thought. So I wondered, “What was the difference between pity and compassion?,” and the master replied, “When you have pity, you feel superior. When you have compassion, you feel equal.” “What happens when my wounds are too strong for me to feel equal and have compassion for either myself or the other?,” I asked in return. He answered something that I finally came to experience and fully understand, almost a year later, facing the Bay Bridge, on Tuesday the 15th of August 2017; “When you want compassion, ask it from the divine mother. Because people have so many preoccupations, personal concerns and sorrows, you cannot expect somebody to be compassionate. If you see somebody being compassionate, see it as the divine mother and remember that she can also give it without the instrument.”

Eureka! Compassion is what this homeless man gave me that day. First he saw me, and by acknowledging my sadness, he helped me feel and accept it rather than just overthink it. Then he gave me knowledge. The newspaper he handed me was not just about common news; it was about the actions carried out by local homeless people, and minorities such as black, LGBTQ+, low-income or disabled people to improve their own situations. Can you believe it? I had been walking around the city taking the misery around me as additional reasons to feel desperate and small in regards to today’s society, and there this man handed me a paper telling stories about how less-privileged ones find ways to fight for themselves and for their rights! Beyond the compassion he gave me, the lesson he helped me understand that day was priceless.

Sick Mood at Sunset: Despair – 1982, by Edvard Munch.

Today, I am sitting in front of my computer knowing that the next time Thomas and I misunderstand each other or fall out, if I want to be in peace with the situation, I will need compassion, and I will need to find it from within, instead of expecting it from him. Truth is: I am only human! There is a world between theory and practice, and no witch to turn my legs into a mermaid tail to help me cross it. Tomorrow, I will wake up with a better vision of who and where I am, but with still the same wounds and challenges, in a relationship with a man who also has his own worries, struggles and need for compassion. So, how do I go, little me at the bottom of the Bay Bridge, from despair to compassion? How do I cross this seemingly infinite bridge that will take me from feeling like a powerless victim, to being a powerful compassionate woman? The Indian master says, “to learn anything you need ¼ of knowledge from an expert, ¼ of exchange with others, ¼ of practice and a ¼ of time.” I still have a long way to go, but the good news is: it looks as though I have the first 25% covered, and I am already working on the other ones.

7 comments

  1. joli article: il n’est pas facile de coucher ses emotions par écrit et encore moins de les partager; car on se dévoile et on montre ses faiblesses: bravo d’avoir réussi cet exercice et merci à toi de l’avoir fait! tel etait mon premier message!
    accepter l’autre tel qu’il est commence par s’accepter soi; c’est un exercice qui parfois prends toute la vie..; courage; et continues à partager!

  2. Aurelie, you deserved the attention given to you and the compassion offered you. Now it’s yours to pass on in your turn. You write so well I would love to read the book you will write one day. Take care, all my love.

  3. Belle lecture de bon matin ….J’ai eu un immense plaisir à vous lire et merci de partager vos découvertes ,vos envies et vos émotions …quelle belle expérience vous vivez ,je vous souhaite une bonne continuation et BON VENT….la puce

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