Last week at my meditation class we were talking about compassion; how we experience it, how we can work on feeling more of it, and the kind of people we're able to generate compassion for.
So first off: what is compassion? It's described as a feeling of empathy for others; it's the emotion we feel in response to another's suffering that motivates a desire to help.
It's quite easy for me to feel compassion for people I think really deserve it; starving children in Africa, people suffering the trauma of a natural disaster, people grieving the loss of a loved one. I want to help those people, so I can feel compassion for them. But how about people we don't really, in our heart of hearts, actually genuinely believe even deserve our compassion?
This made for some uncomfortable thinking. And some pretty raw up-close-and-personal time with my own prejudices.
How do I feel about giving compassion to murderers, paedophiles, terrorists, thieves, swindlers, and people who bring about devastating destruction and hurt the people around them in all sorts of ways? Do I think they need help? Am I prepared to give it? Do I want to empathise with them?
I don't know about you but it's harder for me to feel compassion for those people; I find it harder to accept the reality of their suffering and consequently I find it harder to generate a feeling of loving kindness for them and their situation.
And what about the people in our everyday lives who just get on our nerves? The person who cuts us up on the motorway, the guy in the office who has the annoying laugh, the family member who seems intent on shutting us out? What about them?
It occurred to me that I have different 'grades' of compassion I'm prepared to give people. I can give huge, rich dollops of it to those whose pain is clear to me and chimes with a definite wish to help them...but for those who challenge my values, my world view...well, I find it really hard.
What I want to do is reach a point where my compassion isn't selective. Where it's genuinely, deeply universal, for everyone no matter what or who they are.
Now that is a helluva tall order. And I have a lot of meditating to do before I can even come close to that.