I was hitchhiking through West Africa with my future, now ex, wife when I came down with hepatitis. That knocked the wind out of my sails enough to return to California to see my folks, after seven years abroad.
Happily, I recovered within a few months, but sadly, my girl friend and I broke up and she returned to her home in Sweden.
Out of that breakup arose a desire — a cry really — to feel a deeper sense of compassion. While I felt I lacked compassion, realistically I was no different from other males my age. Why did this sudden yearning for compassion sweep over me? Surely, this breakup and this quest for compassion was no coincidence.
A key source of human happiness is the sense of being connected: to the group; to the tribe; to another; to something beyond self, and my breakup disconnected me big time. Compassion is essentially the experience of being connected. I assume that my cry for compassion was actually a cry for connection.
Circumstances changed and my cry for compassion eased up considerably. As it turned out, we married and spent eight years ‘working on the marriage’. In other words, helping each other grow up. Our final breakup and divorce was painful enough to awaken enough compassion and connection within me to persevere. (photo; reunion in sweden. reconnection lets the good times roll again.)
As the years passed, the compassion and sense of connection I sought deepened. Interestingly, back when I desired compassion, I had no idea that it would be as painful as it is. Feeling compassion involves feeling connected to both the joys and the sorrows of all life everywhere, and frankly, this entails more sorrow than joy, vis-à-vis Buddha’s First Noble Truth and correlations (see Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations).
There’s no yin without a yang. Everything comes with a price. Compassion is no different. Even so, I’d not give up the compassion to escape the pain and sorrow. Why? As I said, the more compassion I feel, the more connected to all — all — I feel. That fully outweighs the sorrow. The connection benefit is worth the cost. Also fortunate, compassion continues to deepen over time. As chapter 51 notes, Circumstances bring us to maturity; maturity is key to how impartial, connected, and compassionate we can truly feel.