Compassion for Self

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Here we are, thrust into an existence we do not understand, and with a death sentence hanging over our heads. For most of us, the will-to-life is tyrannical, causing us to strive to maintain our existence at almost any cost. This is the cause of anxiety and much suffering – a “vale of tears” as it is called in the Bible. This is not an exercise in self-pity, but just an objective statement of the facts. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If we can really see our situation, and that of all other creatures, then we need to mitigate its effects if we are not to be at the mercy of random circumstances that might either work for us or against us. An essential ingredient in this mitigation is self-compassion. I repeat this is not self-pity. We want to reduce our suffering, not increase it, and self-pity would surely increase our suffering. Self-compassion is wholly different.

To have compassion for self means we understand that we live in a seemingly indifferent universe and that it is our task to make our lives as pleasant as possible. This is the greatness of Spinoza. He wrote his magnus opus, The Ethics, with the stated aim of helping humankind reduce its “sad passions” – it was a work of great compassion. And so we too need to work to reduce the “sad passions” in our lives. To bring pleasure into our lives is not an invitation to indulgence, this will only bring pain – sooner or later. It simply means we find activities that bring us pleasure and focus on those. Spinoza claims that the only real pleasure is that of understanding. For myself, this is certainly a major component in creating a pleasurable life, but it isn’t the only thing. I enjoy meditation, relaxation and other things that reduce the harmful effects on my psyche created by the ever-present will-to-life. More detail is contained in free the short book called “The Dark Way”.

Out of compassion for self we can make efforts to understand ourselves and the world. This understanding will, on its own, bring relief from suffering. We should not live a life governed by the incessant desires produced by the will-to-life. And I should add that subtlety is needed here. We cannot control or dominate in any way the will-to-life as it manifests through us. But we can observe it and give it expression while understanding it and seeking short breaks from endless desiring. This would be an act of self-compassion. This is the best we can do, but the benefits are enormous. Instead of being an unconscious slave of the will-to-life we become a conscious slave, and so there is something of our own in there.

To live a life without compassion for self is a tragedy – a life lived as a “thing” as Gurdjieff would say. Don’t live the life of a thing. You owe it to yourself to understand your own nature and that of the world and to take time out from the incessant demands of the will-to-life

By MB

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