Compassion without Attachment

Compassion without Attachment

By feeling compassion for others, our own suffering becomes manageable.

–The Dalai Lama (2016, http://www.lionsroar.com)

Today I want to talk about compassion.  I spent the last five days helping my daughter, as she had neck surgery and began her recuperation.  I have so many thoughts and impressions about how compassion showed up during this time and seeing them through the lens of mindfulness will help me to better understand and grow from the experience.

According to the Dalai Lama (2016), compassion and love can be seen as two aspects of the same thing; compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness.  I had the wonderful opportunity to observe compassion up close in the hospital where Katrina, my daughter, underwent surgery.  The entire nursing staff on her floor were models of professionalism but one nurse in particular struck me as having a unique capacity for compassion.  That nurse, Cassia, only had one thought on her mind – to do whatever she could to alleviate Katrina’s pain and suffering.  What interested me most was how she confidently and efficiently went about her tasks, but was never too busy to stop and engage with Katrina about any aspect of her needs.  At one point, I told her that she seemed to like her job.  She replied, “It’s often not easy but what makes me happiest is when I know that something I’ve done makes the patient feel better.”

Contrast Cassia’s dedication to alleviating suffering with Katrina’s observations of the staff in “post-op.”  Katrina told me that when she awoke from anesthesia in the post-op room, she immediately felt alone, frightened and in extreme pain.  She started to cry and yell for help.  Instead of showing compassion, the staff yelled back, “Please be quiet.  You’re disturbing the other patients.”  The Dalai Lama explains how compassion is replaced by emotional attachment when our feelings and behaviors are motivated more by personal need than by genuine care for others.  In the case of the post-op staff, the need for “success” in the staff’s management of their responsibilities led to expectations for how a patient should behave.  According to the Dalai Lama, genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other person.  As mindfulness practitioners, our goal is to develop this genuine compassion for the well-being of others.  However, no one said it is easy!

I was faced with my own default to attachment instead of compassion while carrying out my care-giving role this week.  I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed with anybody else who tried to meet Katrina’s needs.  Upon reflection, I think that I was defending  my status as “mom” and I viewed anyone else “on the scene” as competing with me in my care-giving responsibilities   As I reflect on my interactions with others, I know that at that moment, I was much more concerned about feeling powerful and needed than I was about others’ needs.  To be honest, that includes Katrina’s needs.  She certainly didn’t need to witness any kind of unpleasantness when what she needs right now is comfort and love.

I will be returning to Katrina’s home in a couple of days.  Her recuperation is slow but steady and I want to help her all I can.  Learning how to let go of attachments will help me to do just that and offer me the opportunity to be more compassionate.  It’s a critical part of my mindful retirement!

The Beauty of Non-Attachment

(Sandra Pawula, http://www.alwayswellwithin.com, 2013)

When you understand the true meaning of non-attachment:

  • Expectations no longer rule your life.
  • Emotions arise, but you have space.  You have perspective. Emotions don’t catch and torment you every time.
  • You relate to the world as it is rather than to your concepts about it, which never bring lasting happiness.
  • You have a clarity of mind so you’re able to see through to the truth of things.
  • You’re not bothered by much, but that doesn’t mean you tolerate harmful behavior.
  • The problems of this world evoke compassion rather than anger.
  • You don’t chase after happiness.  You just enjoy it when it’s present, and release it when it dissolves.
  • You’re able to allow life to unfold without needing to control everything.
  • You don’t stop loving.  You love even more.
  • Your heart only grows bigger and bigger, when you see all the unnecessary suffering in this world.
  • You feel naturally compelled to help, but you’re not attached to the outcome.
  • The sense of spaciousness and freedom you feel bring a genuine contentment that can never be found in temporary experiences.

How are you showing compassion in your life?  I’d love to hear your stories!

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