“Compassion is the anti-toxin of the soul. Where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.” - Eric Hoffer
“Charity begins at home, but it should not end there.” - Thomas Fuller
While working on a story about the heroin addiction epidemic in New England, I sat talking with a man who works in an emergency room environment. Prior to his career in primary care he had worked for a decade as a counselor in a drug and alcohol detox ward. He was explaining that in the case of heroin there are no “casual users” as there are with other drugs like alcohol. He said that of the people who become addicted to opiates (whether OxyContin prescribed by a Dr. or heroin from a dealer) less than one percent will see long term recovery. I inquired what long term recovery means, and he said ten years or more.
I then asked him what is different about what that one percent do. He said that opiates take over a person mind, body and spirit. If all three areas are not addressed the person doesn’t have a chance. It takes five weeks of abstinence for the physical to be overcome, but the obsession of the mind and the craving of the soul will linger for the rest of the person’s life if they don’t address those issues. When I inquired about what that involved, he said that about one percent of addicts choose to follow a rigorous path of spiritual growth, and a by-product of those efforts seem to be relief of the mental and spiritual aspects of staying clean.
I further inquired if the medical establishment has any vehicle to help folks find this spiritual solution. He responded that in this country the medical field as a whole is based on profit motives and pretty much devoid of any spiritual understanding. In fact he said it seems to scare most medical establishment people when you bring it up. They immediately take an arrogant posture, and he stated that arrogance is always the product of ignorance. But then he corrected himself – he said there are strong level of compassion surrounding two areas of medicine – hospice and neonatal.
“So, they love you when you are born and dying, but the rest of the time you aren’t much besides a potential profit center?” I asked. We talked for a while about how it isn’t just the medical field that seems to only have genuine compassion for babies and the dying, it seems to be sort of a norm in our society as a whole.
This segment of that interview has been weighing on my mind since. As usual, my ego wants to make some kind of indictment of others so that I can judge them and deem myself superior. But the reality is that I cannot change anyone but myself, and even changing myself is a tall order.
I brought it up with a friend that has an interesting perspective. He said that yes, we have ceremonies to celebrate new life and to celebrate one’s life after they pass on. But we as individuals have the option to fully live a day at a time, and in doing that we celebrate every day of life. In doing that we find a spiritual connection that works. And in doing that we celebrate our fellow’s lives each and every day.
It took some decades of my life to realize that changing the world is unrealistic, and beyond that it doesn’t need changing. If this indeed is simply a place we come as spirits to face adversities so that we can learn lessons there is only one thing we are capable of “fixing” here in the first place. Ourselves.
If we are to have compassion for our fellows we must first have compassion for ourselves. If we are to have enough compassion for ourselves to allow ourselves to be human we have to come to truly know ourselves. And the only way to truly know ourselves is through rigorous self-examination. If we choose to do that work we can finally give ourselves permission to be ok just as we are, and we can finally be “ok” enough to relax and live life a moment at a time. And only when we allow ourselves to “be” can we grant our fellows the respect to appreciate them for exactly who and what they are.
No matter what issue I face in life, it always seems to come back to that. Maybe someday I will mature enough that I won’t keep wasting the effort to find “another solution.”
Today, may I keep it simple.
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