What are you waiting for?

Two people are deep in conversation, sharing what they are up to, moving beyond the small talk, exploring something that has moved one and then both of them.  It doesn’t have to be a big something big to be something deep.  In this mutuality of sharing there is a waiting on each other, giving and receiving.

‘We must remain attentive in order to be able to receive.’*

John O’Donohue is suggesting there needs to be openness for this kind of interaction to take place.  A conversation yesterday explored compassion in which we considered compassion for self.  Was this the in-thing it appears to have become?  My memory went to some graffiti I’d spotted on a bridge spanning the Arno river as it flowed through Florence: “I am mine, before I am ever anyone else’s.”

‘Every day each one of us is given the gift of new neutrons and plastic cortical cells; only we can decide what our brains will become.’**

Jonah Lehrer is writing about how we are codes needing contexts:

‘Our human DNA is defined by its malleability of possible meanings, it is a code that requires context.’**

We are who we are in interaction with our environments, and I think particularly of human environments:

‘What makes is human and what makes each of us his or her own human is […] how our cells, in dialogue with out environment, feed back to our DNA, changing the way we read ourselves.’**

This context people includes strangers.  Our interactions with those around us, Kio Stark argues, may be some of the most hopeful things that happen in our experience in this world.  She’s helping me to understand compassion in a different way: compassion is what happens between me and my context, especially with people:

‘Everything really interesting that happens between strangers begins when you bend invisible rules in positive ways.’^

These rules are how we may stare, gaze, and pay civil inattention and attention to one another.  One such bending of these rules is in the use of triangulation.  Instead of directly interacting with someone, we use something else to test the waters:

‘A point of triangulation such as a funny child, a musician playing […] can prompt an exchange […].  Suddenly its a space of interaction.’

Stark continues:

‘Learning to see what has been hidden from you carries the thrill of secret knowledge.  It’s also practical knowledge. […] It helps you to pull yourself into a transformed social landscape, one that is open and rich with surprising, fleeting, affirming connections.’^

Some might say that this positing of compassion being everywhere is to demean it.  Others believe compassion to be something too soft as to be useful in their work of thinking and actioning.  Stark brings the truth home, that it’s only invisible, but it’s a basic way of operating for all of us:

‘So much of this happens beneath the level of logic and reason.  It’s all gut, instinct, memory. sensory information, and fantastically subtle cues.’^

This also carries a warning about the dangers we meet though our technology:

‘In networked spaces – online, in apps, in games – this all goes to hell.  The body is missing.’^

Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber underline the impossibility of separating ourselves from what I am suggesting is an existence we can only experience through compassion:

‘even if it were possible to maintain a disembodied brain, that brain would not be able to think


“far from being a cold engine for processing information, neural connections are shaped by emotion”‘.^^

If I go back to the original conversation I mention, there seems to be no possibility of compassion for self without compassion from others.  In my understanding of my talents, my teacher for an amazing day of discovery, Chip Anderson, taught us as a group that there is no understanding of our own talents without an understanding of one another’s.  Berg and Seeber tell of how,

‘it is not an illusion when a class goes well, we all think better; recent research agrees that weare all more clever’.^^

My understanding and experience is, openness is a key skill to becoming more aware of, and developing, our compassion: opening our mind, our heart, and our will.

Then I read this from Karen Armstrong:

‘Compassion requires us to open our hearts and minds to all others.’*^

It does appear to be that increasing our openness is the key.

(*John O’Donohue, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist.)
(^From Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)
(^^From Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor, including a quote from David Brooks.)
(*^From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)


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