Are you a compassionate person? Are you sure?
How do you know?
If you had asked me this question thirty years ago I would have answered, “Yes, of course I am”. If you ask me today, I would have to say, “I’m working on it”.
The difference in those two answers reflects years of insight and growth in self-awareness and years of work recognizing and taming the unconscious primitive ego of my inner-child.
Before you attempt to answer the question above, let’s take a brief look at the unconscious primitive ego of your inner-child, and then a brief look at the definition of compassion.
It could influence how you answer the question.
Your Primitive Ego – The Dualistic Thinking of Childhood
The primitive ego of your inner-child contains all of the insights, lessons, survival skills, beliefs, and experiences of the first six to seven years of your life. It is a real but unconscious part of your psyche that tends to be very self-focused, uses dualistic either-or / black-and-white thinking, and created childhood survival skills to deal with an often frightening and confusing adult world.
Everything your inner-child knows about the world came from your childhood experiences; what is safe, unsafe, hurtful, who you could trust and who you couldn’t, how to deal with pain and trauma, how to get your needs met, how to survive when they weren’t, the knowledge as to whether you were valuable, whether who you were was ok, and most importantly coping skills that were designed to deal with how well you were you seen, listened to, valued, and loved as a child.
Because there is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect childhood, most of us exit childhood having lived through one or more traumatic or painful life experiences. In other words, we all carry the ego wounds of childhood to some degree.
The more you experienced deprivation, violence, and trauma as a child, the more your primitive ego will tend to be fear based, defensive and inflexible.
The three most common traits or characteristics of your inner-child’s primitive ego are:
- Your tendency to be self-focused and narcissistic,
- Your tendency to use either-or / black-and-white dualistic thinking, and
- A self-identity that was created by the forms your childhood ego chose to attach itself to———-your beliefs, assumptions, certainties, and various illusions about life.
For example, to avoid criticism you learned to put great value on being right. As a result, your beliefs came to represent absolute truth. Because it was easier to be right and feel safe if you only had the dualistic categories of right and wrong to worry about, you quickly learned to divide the world into simplistic categories of you and me, good and bad, happy and unhappy, safe and dangerous, and hurtful and pleasurable.
You learned to judge every event, every experience, and every person you met by these dualistic categories. Anyone who challenged your beliefs or failed to live up to your expectations were labeled as bad and emotionally judged as being an enemy.
Of course you used the same judgmental categories to determine your own sense of “self”.
In order to have a solid, positive sense of “self”, your ego identified with those “parts of yourself” that you felt were right, safe, good, happy, and pleasurable. All the negative stuff, the stuff you didn’t like about yourself, got rejected and labeled as wrong, unsafe, bad, unhappy, and painful and was quietly relegated to the shadows of your unconscious.
The fuzzy stuff like paradox, uncertainty, and emptiness of ego or not-knowing were all studiously avoided.
Because letting go of absolute certainty felt too dangerous, the ability to embrace a more enlightened middlepath consciousness; an evolved consciousness that could actively search for the truths on both sides of an issue, made absolutely no sense to your primitive ego.
Your primitive ego learned to ignore anything that challenged or disagreed with your beliefs. It developed the ability to see only those things it already believed to be true.
The Unconscious Operating System of Your Brain: A Useful Computer Metaphor to Understand Your Primitive Ego
To understand your primitive ego, think about the operating system in your computer. Your operating system functions out of sight in the background, but without it your computer would be unable to function.
In the same way, the unconscious primitive ego of your inner-child psyche is your invisible human operating system. You don’t see it functioning in the background of your life, but until you learn to awaken and make this part of your psyche more visible and conscious through self-awareness, the choices you make in your adult life will continue to be unconsciously controlled by the self-focused, dualistic black-and-white thinking process of a seven-year-old child.
In order to a) answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, and b) fully understand the consequences of choosing to live your life through the unconscious primitive ego of your inner-child, we need to be clear on the meaning of the word compassion.
Compassion Is Not An Unconditional Love Of Hotdogs
Love and compassion are often used interchangeably. But they are not always the same thing. For example, you can love hotdogs but it’s hard to imagine having compassion for hotdogs, or ice cream, or your shiny new car.
So what is compassion? How do we define it? How does it relate to love?
Is it simply being nice to someone? If we take pity on another person is that a form of compassion? How about feeling sorry for, or having sympathy for, another person?
The dictionary defines compassion as a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve the suffering.
Pity, sympathy and feeling sorry “for” someone might lead to compassion, but those feelings more often tend to be feelings that look down on the other person. We feel pity, sympathy or sorry for them. Our ego is aware that they are suffering and need our pity or sympathy. But we are keeping our emotional distance.
Compassion is deeper than sorry, pity and sympathy.
Compassion is an empathic sharing “in” the suffering of another. It is our soul reaching out and touching the suffering of the other. Their tears are our tears. Their pain is our pain.
Compassion can encompass all of the categories listed above, but those categories alone cannot move deep enough to encompass true compassion.
Compassion has nothing to do with the head. It does not understand the suffering of another; it is feeling and sharing the suffering of the other person at the level of heart.
The difference between being nice to, feeling pity for, feeling sorry for, or having sympathy for, and a true heart level compassion, is the ability to offer ourselves unconditionally to the one who is suffering.
Of all the categories listed above, only compassion is unconditional.
Unlike the feelings of sorry for, pity, sympathy, and a garden-variety love, unconditional love and true compassion are more like grace; they don’t depend on what the suffering person deserves.
Unconditional love and compassion come from the heart, bypass the ego, and go directly to the heart of the one who is suffering. The person who is suffering has not earned, nor do they deserve, our love or compassion.
In other words, the one who is suffering cannot become undeserving of our compassion. There are no ego “conditions” that are necessary or that need to be met; our compassion comes from the heart of our essential or true self and is offered unconditionally.
Your Unawakened Primitive Ego May Mean Well but It Cannot Offer True Compassion
The love and compassion offered by our primitive ego is very limited because it’s conditional.
For example, who hasn’t had the experience of trying to be nice to someone only to have him or her suddenly turn on us and reject our offer of “niceness”? What happened to our feelings at that moment?
If we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we probably experienced a rising irritation. We undoubtedly found ourselves becoming angry and offended by the other person’s rejecting and aggressive behavior. Our primitive ego tried to be nice, but it could only sustain its “niceness” as long as the other person was being appreciative and “nice” back to us.
In other words, our judgmental primitive ego manifests what it thinks is true compassion, but in reality, the moment the object of our “compassion” becomes rude, sarcastic, rejecting, critical, embarrassing, shaming, hurtful, aggressive, or controlling, or otherwise undeserving, our unconscious primitive ego will have a powerful negative knee-jerk emotional response that shuts down our “compassion”.
Stated simply, our primitive ego can sustain a limited or conditional form of “compassion” only as long as the object of our “compassion” is deserving. Because our primitive ego is so narcissistic, it is literally unable to offer unconditional love or unconditional compassion to others——unless virtually all of its own needs are also being met.
We might have remained “nice” on the outside, but inside we were probably feeling anything “but” nice or compassionate towards them. In that moment, we were not manifesting a true unconditional compassion because our impulse of compassion was conditionally shaped by our primitive ego, not offered unconditionally by our essential true self.
Summary: So Am I Compassionate? My Answer is “I’m Working On It”
This is about the best answer I can offer to the question I posed at the beginning of this article. I struggle every day to awaken my primitive ego to a more evolved consciousness; a consciousness able to sustain a true unconditional compassion.
- I work to come back to the present moment when I find myself worrying about the future or obsessing about the past. I do that by paying attention to my breathing.
- I pay attention to the negative knee jerk energy my primitive ego tries to unconsciously send into the world. I look for the judgmental dualistic belief behind the negative energy.
- I recognize that my primitive ego’s judgmental either/or dualistic thinking creates the negative knee jerk energy I unconsciously send into the world. I try to embrace the oneness of all creation and pay attention to the illusion that I am separate from the oneness.
- I try to let reality be what it is without letting my primitive ego attempt to change it or control it. When I experience myself struggling with the universe, I try hard to drop my resistance to “what is” and accept reality.
- I remind myself daily that growth in self-awareness and authentic spiritual growth are one in the same subject. To claim authentic spiritual growth without growth in self-awareness is an unconscious primitive ego illusion.
I do this work because I know that taming my primitive ego and learning to manifest true compassion through growth in self-awareness is essential if my goal is to a) create healthy relationships with those around me, and b) become more fully human.
My goal is not enlightenment, but rather to continue awakening my consciousness and increasing my ability to offer a more unconditional open hearted compassion to the world.
My answer to the question is “I’m working on it”. How would you answer?
Relationships are the foundation of marriages, families, communities, and our global human culture. When our relationships are healthy they promote happiness, bring a sense of meaning into our lives, and increase our ability to be loving and compassionate. When our relationships are unhealthy, they are a primary source of conflict and unhappiness.
The insights included in this book come from Dick Rauscher’s twenty-five years in private practice as a NYS licensed mental health counselor, relationship insights drawn from the nondual thinking found in ancient Eastern spiritual practices, and from his own personal life experiences.
The author shows how virtually all relationship conflict is created when our dualistic primitive childhood ego unconsciously distorted reality by building “ego maps” that reflected how we thought the universe should work. The maps we created to navigate childhood are almost always based on our early childhood experiences and social conditioning, our unconscious fears around intimacy, our unrealistic expectations, and those life beliefs we assumed reflected absolute truth.
Unfortunately, the maps our ego constructed in childhood were not based on reality. They were merely a collection of “maps that reflected our “personality”.
The material contained in this book are powerful spiritual practices designed to help you drop dualistic thinking and awaken to a nondual consciousness, intentionally grow in self-awareness, and begin building healthy relationship with those around you.