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 real yearning to feel a deeper sense of compassion. Why did this sudden hunger for compassion sweep over me? Realistically I was no different from other less compassionate males my age. I suspect my breakup and this quest for compassion were not coincidental.
A key source of human happiness is the sense of connection to something beyond oneself, and my breakup disconnected me big time. Compassion is essentially a deep sense of connection. My search 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 seven 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.
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 honestly, the sorrow is harder to deal with than the joys, i.e., we instinctively want to avoid pain. Simply put, life is work. See Buddha’s First Noble Truth (p.604).
There’s no yin without a yang. Everything comes with a price and compassion is no different. Even so, I’d not give up the compassion I feel to escape the added sorrow I sense. Why? The more compassion I experience, the more connected to all life I feel. That fully outweighs the sorrow. In addition, compassion has continued to deepen over time. As chapter 51 notes, Circumstances bring us to maturity… and our maturity is the key to how impartial, connected, and compassionate we can truly feel.