Separation and Interconnectedness
Christina Feldman

Compassion is essentially simple.  We share with all life the capacity for feeling, the experience of having a body, mind, and heart in continual interface with countless other bodies, minds, and hearts.  Our capacity to feel deeply means we share with all life the possibility of experiencing delight, joy, trust, and intimacy, just as we share in the capacity to experience pain, sorrow, grief, and fear.  Living within a physical body, we all share the experience of aging, frailty, illness, and death, just as we share the precious times of strength, health, safety, and vitality.  Through our minds we share the capacity to experience confusion, agitation, and complexity, just as we share the possibilities of serenity, clarity, and balance.  An understanding of this profound interconnectedness of all life is at the root of the compassionate heart dedicated to alleviating suffering without reservation or exception.

What happens when we lose touch with our capacity for compassion?  In the loss of compassion, a gulf of separation emerges, an apparently unbridgeable gap between "self" and "other," "I" and "you," "us" and "them."  This is not an empty divide--the gulf of separation holds an ocean of feeling.  In the loss of compassion this gulf fills with feelings of anger, blame, fear, hatred, and resentment; painful feelings that serve to widen and solidify the division.

In the loss of our heartfelt capacity to receive and embrace sorrow and distress, we lose one of the most precious and liberating gifts it is possible for us to know.  We lose our understanding of interconnectedness and in doing so we lose the most true, authentic core of our being.  Cast adrift from an understanding of interconnectedness, we become captives of the complexity of fear, anger, blame, and isolation.  This is the greatest of all suffering.

We can find ourselves feasting on a daily diet of isolation and separation.  Take a moment to reflect on a person from your past or present whom you struggle with, who may have harmed or hurt you with words of rejection, with abuse or blame, and notice the feelings and responses that emerge.  Perhaps you can sense a slight hardening of the heart, feelings of resistance or tension, or a flood of memories, past conversations, and events.  Connecting with that person even from a distance may open the door to such powerful feelings of agitation, fear, or anger that we instinctively flee from them into fantasies or daydreams.

We are strangely close to the people in our lives we struggle with, fear, or resent, just as we are close to the difficult places in our own hearts and minds--our tendencies towards self-abasement, greed, or feelings of inadequacy.  These difficult places and relationships occupy a pivotal role in our lives and hearts.  We think about them endlessly; we obsess far more about the difficult people in our lives, analyzing their imperfections, replaying the historical and familiar story of resentment, than we think about the people we love and enjoy.  Endless time is spent dwelling upon, judging, and analyzing our own imperfections, the many ways in which we disappoint ourselves.  How much time do we give to appreciating and celebrating our own tenderness, generosity, and sensitivity?  Tremendous energy is consumed in planning our strategies of avoidance, modifying or eliminating the relationships we struggle with, endeavoring to perfect ourselves by rejecting everything we deem imperfect.  In all of these endeavors we tend the garden of separation and sorrow.  Who are the real enemies in our lives?  Mostly they are the people who we are no longer willing to listen to and the places in ourselves we deny.

The difficult people in our lives, the difficult places in ourselves, appear to hold so much power, but it is a power we have given to them.  As we become captivated by the complexity of resentment, anxiety, and judgment, we delegate the authority to define our well-being, happiness, and freedom to the difficult person or part of ourselves.  We also believe that once we have removed the difficult person from our lives or once we have improved or perfected ourselves we will be happy, compassionate, and free, not understanding the futility of this quest.  Ram Dass once put it, "I'd rather be happy, than right."  We could ask ourselves, "Would we rather flounder in the waves of resentment or find the compassion to forgive and move on in our lives?  Would we rather pursue the desperate dream of perfection or find the wisdom and compassion of acceptance and understanding?

Moments of peace and stillness
give us a glimpse of how extraordinary our lives could
be. Yet this sense of meaning
and wonder is so easy to lose
sight of in the hectic pace of
modern living. In The Buddhist
Path to Simplicity
, Christina
Feldman, an internationally
renowned Buddhist teacher,
shows you how to find harmony
and balance by applying
ancient Buddhist wisdom
to the here and now.


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