Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


My new BFF Colleen Patrick-Goudreau runs a vegetarian/vegan dynasty she calls Compassionate Cooks.

It made me think of the essence of compassion.

How some people have lots of it, others have none.

Or if they do have it, it's only for certain people or types of people. You have to qualify to receive a shred of compassion from those folks.

To me compassion does not mean simply letting others do what they want, no matter their destructive effect on themselves or other others. Allowing a little dog to go untrained is not a compassionate, kind or humane thing to do to the wee creature, for example.

It also does not mean "feeling sorry" or sympathetic for someone - because to do so means that we place ourselves above the object of our sympathy.

A truly compassionate person is by no means "whimpy." It takes more strength to be honest with someone in a kind and compassionate way than to either say nothing or thump them using a false sense of "honesty" as a weapon.

The art of compassion, I have discovered, begins inside.

That is, being compassionate with ourselves. Without that awareness we don't know how to be truly and completely compassionate with others.

If we devote ourselves to being good to others but don't insist that they be kind and compassionate to us - or that we be compassionate with ourselves, we're missing out on half the joy of living a compassionate life.

If we tolerate treatment that is not compassionate - it's time to move on, creating a vacuum that will be filled by people who are compassionate, kind and thoughtful. And who knows, perhaps the non-compassionate people from whom we separate themselves may actually decide to become compassionate and return with their new awareness.

We only set the compassion bar as high for others as we do for ourselves.

So what is compassion?

It's an emotion evoked by the awareness of suffering others endure. And emotion strong enough to tell ourselves we want to take action - no matter how minor - to lessen or stop that suffering. We want to help those suffering, perhaps even protect them to some degree without taking away their ability to take care of themselves.

I was shocked at how much compassion I believed I felt for others - I've often been described as compassionate - until I realized how little compassion I've had for myself.

When I understood that we can only be truly as compassionate for others as we are for ourselves, my emotional doors, windows and floodgates opened, creating an internal dynamic that I can only describe as thrilling and inspiring.

Like an "aha" moment on steroids.

If you don't understand what I'm writing about, you may want to check your compassion meter.

Someone actually told me he didn't understand why I have devoted so much compassion - so much of my energy and life time to caring for animals - my many pets, volunteering for two years at the Seattle Animal Shelter, caring for rescued horses and (for several years) running a website called petcalmer.com, devoted to helping people care for their pets.

The reason he didn't understand my emotional dedication? Why he called it a "waste of time?"

I'll never forget his response: "They can't give anything back."

I was stunned.

The animals in my life have given me back far, far more than I have given them in life's lessons, unconditional love and devotion, companionship, cold night foot warmers, insights, unique perceptions, fairness, the importance of being a leader in the lives of creatures whose reasoning powers don't exceed that of a human toddler, and compassion. They've also shown compassion for one another and for me.

And unlike so many people in my life, they've never lied to me, misrepresented themselves, betrayed me, tried to take advantage of me, bullied me, insulted or belittled me or insisted I share their interpretation of theology.

But the fact is, if we have a sense of compassion, we're not looking for a return on our "investment." I'd still take care of animals even if they didn't give me all those benefits. Heck, they have yet to take out the garbage or wash a dish and I don't care.

An act of compassion is its own reward.

I couldn't help but think, "This guy's missing a compassion gene," even though he considers himself quite compassionate.

I bet a lot of people who leave horrific, cruel "feedback" on news stories consider themselves compassionate, too. Without. A. Clue.

Good parents expand their compassion quotient farther than they ever thought possible -

But again, having compassion for ourselves is crucial to that expansion.

Be good to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself credit for all the good stuff you do and have done. For yourself and everyone else.

As long as you're not hurting yourself or others? Give yourself a break.

If you are hurting yourself or others (the very definition of an addict, btw) - grow up. Get help. Learn about compassion - how to have it for others and yourself.

I wish all of us a much more compassionate year.

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