Category Archives: Compassion

Crisis of Conscience

The current case of Asia Bibi’s unsuccessful appeal for asylum in the UK is a blatant example of the tragic consequences of abandoning our heart-felt truth and individually held principles of compassion in favour of pragmatic, fear-based ‘damage limitation’.

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman persecuted for blasphemy in her home country, having quarreled with some Muslim women who then brought allegations against her. As a result she was imprisoned and placed on death row. Eventually, after eight years, she was pardoned, but this very act triggered rioting in Pakistan as radical Muslims continued to call for her punishment. To escape with her life she is seeking asylum in the Christian nations of the West, but the UK authorities have declined her appeal, on the basis that it would cause civil unrest among our own Islamic population.

Writers such as Douglas Murray and Melanie Phillips dedicate themselves to highlighting the increasing regularity of this kind of politicking  on our shores. They articulate the issues far better than me, so I’m not going to even try to embellish their argument.

Instead, I’m going to express the thing that really angers me about this whole issue – namely the careless abandonment of our own courage and conviction in the face of religious and political dogma and ideology.

How can we continue to allow our individually held heart-felt knowing of what is right to be drowned out by the external moralising conscience of fanaticism?

We each have our own conscience, our own still small voice which whispers to our heart to guide us and set us right. The trouble is we do not learn to listen to it keenly enough. We do not know how to tune in to it. It is therefore vulnerable to the cacophonous rantings of ideological groups.

It is easier to follow the mob than to pay close attention to our own consciousness. It is easier to adopt the conscience of our society than to speak up for ourselves. We do not learn how to interact with our own inner voice of conscience.

When we think of conscience as morality, or as the teachings of dogmatic religion, our own interaction with its voice becomes limited. We curb our courage to question those teachings, and our conscience becomes the voice of others’ expectations around us rather than the truth of our own heart.

All along the desperate arc of Asia Bibi’s plight there are points at which the true conscience of individuals has been denied and drowned out by dogmatic moralising and ideologies. Religion and politics and media echo chambers drive out our awareness and acknowledgement of individual experiences – and paradoxically as a result we end up aggravating multiple collectives in society, rather than appealing wholeheartedly to other individuals’ sense of what is right.

It’s difficult to argue in truth that it is better to leave an innocent person to a cruel fate than to do the right thing and offer them safe haven. National authorities have abandoned the principles of compassion and justice in favour of keeping the peace among ideologues and religious fanaticists. This is yet again a huge international crisis of conscience.

The antidote to this is first to learn better how to differentiate between the individually perceived voice of kindness and the loud drumming of dogma, and then to choose to act from individual courage rather than the so-called conscience of the mob.

I fervently believe that reflective writing in a journal contributes to this nurturing of our own individual awareness of truth and possibility and what is right.

This is not a political post. This is an appeal for us all to connect more deeply and consciously with our own courageous truth.

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Compassion fatigue?

I don’t think I’ve properly understood what compassion is before this year.

Do you know what it is? And how to practice it?

All the gurus and spiritual teachers from the Dalai Lama to Mother Teresa either talk about or practice compassion – yet to the intellectual mind it’s just another word or concept that’s open to a lot of misinterpretation.

For example, how do you feel when you watch Children in Need?

Until recently I would typically sit and sob, or leave the room, or conveniently forget that it’s on in the first place so I don’t have to put myself through the self-flagellating guilt and shame that others are suffering sooo damn much and all I can do is pledge a paltry donation. Surely compassion is more than a conscience-salving monetary promise?

And when I encounter  people huddled on the street and hear that quiet plea “Got any change love?” my whole system is sent into a momentary crisis, helpless in front of the injustice and the uncertainty over what might be the right and ethical thing to do. Finding a way that feels proper to me is still a work in progress. And giving a sympathetic, conciliatory smile along with a pound coin doesn’t feel proper at all.

One day I heard a thud against the picture window in the kitchen. My heart flipped: I recognised the sound of a bird’s doom. I found the stricken gold-crest quivering on the ground by the window. I almost couldn’t confront the animal’s pain. I almost left it to its fate.

But something within me gave me courage. I remembered that keeping stunned birds warm while they recover will save them. So I gingerly, shakily scooped up the small life and held it. Tears flowed. And then joy as after about ten minutes the little creature shook itself off and flew away.

I admit that I have been woefully ill-equipped to deal with heartbreak and suffering. But maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Because this year, maybe inspired by the gold-crest, I’ve taken a different view. You might say I’ve understood how to turn the question of compassion on its head and I have gained a new, less exhausting perspective.

Seems that ‘compassion’ is not the effort required to put myself in someone else’s shoes and feel their pain, with an added dose of self-berating over my own comparative good fortune.

No. Beating ourselves up and trying to ‘feel for’ those struggling, or try and feel what they’re feeling is actually impossible.

We can’t feel what others feel. We cannot step into another person’s reality and experience. It’s arrogant to think we can. And trying to adopt another’s suffering as our own is phony and ineffective and knackering. It’s what leads to so much virtue-signalling and hypocrisy.

And if we try hard to make ourselves suffer in the face of someone else’s pain all we do is introduce more suffering. It doesn’t help anyone and it totally depletes us, making us less available to the person or creature who needs us.

The neat alternative I’ve learned to this is to “feel with” instead.

This means allowing ourselves to feel whatever is going on within us, without judging or analysing or interpreting; and allowing the emotion or the tension to move through our own system until we become neutral again. When we are calm we can be more resourceful, and we can tap into our own source of wisdom to discover the next right step.

This takes a certain degree of self-knowledge and self-awareness. We need to learn how to feel what we feel and to love ourselves through our own pain. We also need to acknowledge that calm neutrality and wisdom are constantly, albeit very quietly, available to us. We have to quieten our mind to hear it.

Journaling can help with this, but we also need to do some body work to accompany it, and perhaps some meditation. Reflective writing ought to draw on mind, body and spirit as the resources to achieve neutrality, calmness and inner peace. Then the next right step will present itself. And the gold-crest will survive.


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