Enlightened compassion

Acceptance of the range of human emotions and beginning the process of integration of what Carl Jung called the shadow means that the shadow is not so often projected or acted out. Such acceptance is akin to awareness and the realization of the existence of opposites that together contribute to the whole of the self. In psychotherapy this would be a growing acceptance of the rejected or denied parts of ourselves and the bringing of these parts into consciousness.

In an early book published in 1942 R. H. Blyth (1898-1964) the Zen practitioner and writer summarised the difficulties of life in this way:

‘How can we establish a harmony between ourselves and the outside world full of misunderstandings, deceit, and the suffering and death of those we love, when all the while we ourselves are full of that same stupidity, insincerity, cruelty and sloth?’

Alongside other spiritually minded Zen practitioners and indeed Christians he saw the solution as ‘an enlightened compassion’. The enlightened part means that what is happening in our inner world is no longer a mystery to us, so that we are no longer shocked or surprised by our reactions and the mistakes that we make; this is about developing awareness and getting to know our psyche. The compassion is that we can accept this and bring into the light all the different parts of ourselves. We can see our relationship to the pain we feel without denying it, so there is less and less need to defend ourselves and pander to the false self or the persona in the face of our own or indeed others expectations. In other words if we can have an enlightened compassion towards ourselves there will be enough of the true self able to be present in our relations with others and in the world.

As Aelred Graham asks: ‘How much of our conduct, how many of our attitudes, stem from the true self responding appropriately to the needs of the situation? How many, if carefully examined, would prove to be no more than postures, thoughtlessly or calculatedly adopted … conventions are to be recognised for what they are.’ The necessary enlightenment is to see beyond the surface and the self-deception, but not with shame or disapproval but rather with compassion. The path would be through contemplation though sometimes such awareness happens under stress or when the ordinary things of life no longer seem so relevant.

Cardinal Newman understood that when misfortunes came upon us, as they often do, then it was clearer that the real meaning lay beyond the things of the world including the conventions and conventional responses and what one might call false self organisation.

He writes of the illusions of the world and the way we mostly live in it in this way:

‘it floats before our eyes merely as some idle veil … and we begin, by degrees, to perceive that there are but two beings in the whole universe, our own soul, and the God who made it.’