When I'm feeling battered and bruised by life, one of the first things that happens is that my inner walls go up. My objective in those moments is self-protection because I'm feeling fragile and wounded, but the result is that my ability to feel and express compassion to others becomes stunted as well.
This is even more pronounced when the cause of the bruising is criticism of my way of being in the world, particularly the messages that tell me that my ways of relating to others are damaging or harmful. (And haven't we all received these messages at one time or another?)
Those messages send my walls even higher in the attempt to protect myself from others and to simultaneously protect others from me. Feeling like others need to be protected from me makes it particularly hard to express compassion well out of fear that my very way of being will inflict damage upon those who most need kindness.
I dreamed recently of a better approach.
In my dream, I came upon a small clearing in a forest. In the clearing was a stone statue of the goddess Kuan Yin (also sometimes spelled Kwan Yin or Guanyin), who is known as the goddess of compassion.
The statue was a pure milky white—similar to the one in the image, but the one in my dream was softer and plainer. Her look and attire reminded me more of many statues of Mary. She was holding the jar that is often seen with Kuan Yin, though, and a continual stream of water poured from her jar to splash in a pool at her feet.
I wasn't sure what to make of this unexpected discovery in the forest, so I withdrew to one side of the clearing to hide in the edge of the woods and watch. Soon, a steady stream of local villagers began to arrive to spend time with the statue.
Each one arrived looking weighed down, disheartened, and worn by the griefs of life. Some would come close and dip their hands into the water streaming from her jar to splash it upon themselves as if anointing themselves with liquid compassion. Others sat or knelt nearby and just soaked in the compassion of her presence.
Sometimes when a person was in particular pain, tears would drip from the eyes of the statue, raining down upon the grieving one knelt at her feet.
After a short time in her presence, the people would depart looking comforted and as if their load had been lightened without Kuan Yin ever moving to "do" a thing. Being in the presence of such powerful compassion was all they needed.
This flow of people visiting her in the clearing continued for some time before being rudely interrupted by a gang of angry men who appeared with clubs. They proceeded to beat the statue, breaking it into pieces, as they yelled at her about how she was doing harm with her presence.
They accused her of taking the people away from their work, of not doing enough to help people in concrete ways, of being too sensitive and emotional, of encouraging people to wallow in their hurts, and more.
Throughout this beating and breaking of the statue, the water continued to flow from her jar and even from her broken body out onto the ground where the pieces lay. The water even splashed generously upon those that were attacking her.
Once the angry mob left, the villagers (who had fled into the woods at their arrival) returned and began to reassembled the goddess. I couldn't see exactly what they were doing, but the reassembled goddess had kintsugi-like seams of gold where the pieces were joined together.
These seams of gold shone in the sunlight, making the repaired statue even more dazzling than the original had been.
And still the water continued to flow from her jar.
Only now, the water itself appeared golden as if it was liquid sunlight, and it filled the air with a sweet, honeyed aroma that made her compassionate presence even more palpable.
Once again, a constant stream of hurting people resumed their visits to sit for a few moments at her feet to allow her compassion to comfort and ease their griefs, and the healing effect of her presence on them was even more powerful in her repaired state.
There are several things that strike me about this dream.
The first is that the statue of the goddess never stopped pouring out her water of compassion—even in the midst of being attacked for her very expression of that compassion! She had compassion in that moment even for her attackers.
She allowed nothing to stop her from pouring out her compassionate presence because that is the essence of who she is.
Secondly, it was striking how great the impact of just her offering of compassionate presence was for the hurting people who visited her without her ever moving or "doing" a thing. People are desperately thirsty just to be offered compassion and kindness without any attempt to "fix" them.
The third is, of course, the impact that her brokenness and healing (repair) had on her ability to offer healing compassion to others. The power of what poured from her jar was greater and sweeter, and the people knew that she knew their pain and brokenness from personal experience as she showered them with compassion.
I am clearly not a goddess of any kind, but this dream does inspire me to work toward a healthier way of reacting to my own bruised and broken moments. What if I could let compassion pour out even upon those who are criticizing and hurting me (not to mention continuing to allow it to pour out on all around me) instead of putting up walls of protection?
What if I could do better at pouring out compassionate presence without fear that my presence is itself harmful and damaging by feeling less need to "do" and "fix" (which is often where the damage is done)?
How do you maintain a flow of compassion even in moments when you feel bruised and broken by life? How have the wounds you have sustained over the years improved your ability to offer compassionate presence to others who are in pain?