Compassion and the Warrior’s Heart
I often talk about living a warrior’s life, but for the most part, this has nothing to do with fighting. I believe everyone can benefit from the ancient wisdom of the Bushido code, which asks us to live with courage and honor—but also with compassion. For me, this last virtue is at the heart of what it means to be a warrior.
We often think of compassion as selfless, but in truth, we must begin with ourselves. In my work as a therapist, I have rare access to the internal monologues of others. What I find over and over again—particularly in dealing with clients who are suffering from depression or anxiety—is that we speak to ourselves in ways we would never speak to another person. Our inner monologues may tell us that we’re stupid, lazy, worthless, undeserving of love and happiness. Even if we never put it into these words, the voice of our shame holds us down and won’t allow us to forgive ourselves for even the tiniest mistake. But being human is a fallible experience; it demands that we learn how to forgive ourselves for our trespasses.
Once we’ve learned to detach from our missteps and negative thoughts, we all find it easier to show compassion to others. Even when it doesn’t come naturally.
Most of us don’t find it challenging to feel sympathy and compassion for a victim. What’s much more difficult—and therefore in some ways even more vital—is to forgive someone who we feel has victimized us.
I see this all the time when I’m working with couples who are negotiating their way through a divorce. It’s a time in a family’s life when emotions are raw, and compassion often seems to fly out the window just when it’s needed the most.
Just as we should hold back from judging ourselves when we make a mistake, we should refrain from vilifying those around us: people are complex and can be many things at once. This doesn’t mean letting everything go, but we must learn to judge an action as bad or wrong rather than the person as bad or wrong. When times are tough, we tend to see people as all or nothing: they become liars and cheaters and manipulators instead of human beings who’ve made mistakes or behaved badly—or who may be in as much pain as we are.
The compassionate warrior has love for his friends and enemies alike. Compassion isn’t a zero-sum game; the more you have, the more expansive your heart can become.
While being compassionate toward yourself, also be forgiving of others and strive to make the positive adjustment in the future.