Last night I watched part of a video that Netflix suggested I'd like to stream to my TV -- "Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater." I enjoyed his style of ironic/cynical comedy. Often he reminded me of me.
Like when Louis C.K. said that he believes in being kind to people. He gets pleasure out of knowing that he believes this. Doesn't mean that he actually does kind things, compassionate things, caring things. He just enjoys the feeling of believing that these would be good things to do, were he ever to do them.
I can relate to this.
I'm a better person inside my own mind than I am in observable reality. At least, I think I am. How can I be sure? There's no way for me to get outside myself and view myself as others see me. And even if I could, then I'd be seeing myself through their eyes.
Maybe more objective than my own. Maybe not.
Anyway, I seem to be stuck with my own crap -- the mixed-up blend of good and bad, kindness and uncaring, compassion and who-gives-a-shit, etc. and etc. that inhabits the 100 billion or so neurons I fondly call "me."
How to deal with it... that's the question. I like the approach Shauna Shapiro talks about in "Does Mindfulness Make You More Compassionate?"
The monk explained to me that mindfulness is not just about paying attention, but also about how you pay attention. He described a compassionate, kind attention, where instead of becoming frustrated when my mind wandered, I could actually become curious about my mind meandering about, holding this experience in compassionate awareness. Instead of being angry at my mind, or impatient with myself, I could inquire gently and benevolently into what it felt like to be frustrated or impatient.
...I think it is important to clarify, however, that self-compassion doesn’t mean we are always filled with happiness and lovingkindness. Simply put, what it means is that our awareness of what’s happening is always kind, always compassionate. So even if I’m feeling angry or frustrated, I am embracing my experience with a compassionate awareness. When we begin to welcome our experience in this way, we are better able to be with it, see it clearly, and respond appropriately to it—and, research suggests, we’ll be strengthening the skills that help us extend compassion toward others.
In this way, I like to think of mindfulness as a big cooking pot. I put all of my experiences into this pot. This pot is always kind, always welcoming, even if the stuff I put into it is not (e.g., anger, sadness, confusion). I cook all of it—the pain, the confusion, the anger, the joy—steadily, consistently holding it in this kind, compassionate pot of mindfulness. By relating to my experiences in this way, I am better able to digest and receive nourishment from them, just as when you put a raw potato in a pot and cook it for many hours, it becomes tasty and nourishing.
I also liked how Shapiro takes a simple non-preachy, non-religious approach to being nice to other people. It isn't about being virtuous; it's just common sense.
Another way that mindfulness cultivates compassion is that it helps us see our interconnectedness. For example, let’s say that the left hand has a splinter in it. The right hand would naturally pull out the splinter, right? The left hand wouldn’t say to the right hand, “Oh, thank you so much! You’re so compassionate and generous!” The right hand removing the splinter is simply the appropriate response—it’s just what the right hand does, because the two hands are part of the same body.
The more you practice mindfulness, the more you begin to see that we’re all part of the same body—that I as the right hand actually feel you, the left hand’s pain, and I naturally want to help. Mindfulness cultivates this interconnectedness and clear seeing, which leads to greater compassion and understanding of the mysterious web in which we all are woven.