I recently read a Blog post by an Animal Rights activist named Piper Hoffman from Ourhenhouse.org. Piper talks about heading toward burnout, and what coping mechanisms she has learned to apply in her work and remain compassionate. But this immediately got me to thinking about compassion fatigue in my own practice. And most recently, some personal circumstances have truly been an example of me feeling as though I have run out of compassion. Often losing my temper at the most uncalled-for times, and even feeling like I could lose my mind from complete exhaustion. Patience seeming to expire, and leaving me nothing but a grasping for self-preservation. Selflessness turned sour becomes selfishness, which is simply a complete absence of compassion and equanimity (upekkha).
How does this happen to someone who is strong in his practice, and a good student of the Dhamma?
Because I am still human, my friends. There is kamma at play that I have yet to see clearly, and therefore repeat this cycle until I can break the mirror that continues to reflect these unwholesome actions. And once again, I am reminded that loving myself is still my most difficult challenge. Because clearly, with unconditional love and acceptance of the self I could hold no animosity or hostility toward any other being or situation.
So while I do forgive myself and let go of my transgressions, I also grow in the fundamental knowledge that equanimity must begin at home. Cultivating greater mindfulness for my thoughts, words and actions. Not in some hindsight regrets, or forward-looking wishes, but in present moment awareness with complete understanding and comprehension (sati-sampajañña). And clearly, there is much work that has yet be done.
But in this moment, I can clearly be grateful for my teachers. Not just the Buddha, or those who wear the robes, but each living being who has offered me so much by their presence in my life. Whether by their smiles and laughter or anger and tears. Their joy and suffering were shared openly with me and have always served to awaken me to a greater reality than anytime prior. So many having shown me such great compassion, while others perhaps showing none, but both have given to me equally. Compassion fatigue is merely a desire to control, and to put an end to suffering. But that simply means that I am forgetting the First Noble Truth. Which simply means there is suffering, and that it’s time for me to get back to basics.