Pagan Blog Project Week 3: Compassion

I’m a little late to the party on this, but I thought I would join in as a way to get used to blogging.

Compassion is sneaky. Its one of those things that we never can quite define, but are oh so quick to point out when its lacking. Compassion demands that we dig into ideas like sympathy vs empathy and toe the line at outright pity. And compassion demands that we dissect the reasons for our actions. Am I making this move/speaking to this person/any other of a million things because I actually want to be a good person and help? Or is there a hidden agenda here which is motivating me?

Its difficult sometimes to reconcile this idea of compassion with what we know of the ancient Gods. The major players were not necessarily known for having compassion, but instead seemed to be motivated by internal drives to achieve specific ends, often ending in death and heartbreak for the myriads involved. My own patrons seem not to have much compassion, Lady Death and the Seeker of Knowledge. But underneath their stories is a common thread of service and compassion. You just have to dig a little deeper.

Because compassion is, at its core, a call to service. Sympathy and empathy ask nothing more than standing around, maybe patting someones hand. They are emotional states that exist without any external drive. I can be sympathetic to the cry of the child next door to me without ever leaving the safety of my couch. I can have empathy for a starving homeless woman on the side of the road and continue to drive by her every day. It is compassion that demands that we actively do something about it, that we stop the car, that we knock on the door. This is not to decry any other emotion that we might experience. Each emotion has its use. Empathy is usually my trigger, the emotion that pushes me to interact compassionately and do something about whatever it is I encounter.

So how can Lady Death possibly be seen as compassionate? Its simple, She values life to the point where suffering is an insult. How many times have we said to each other “At least so-and-so is no longer suffering”? Compassion is what allows us to accept death as an option.

The forms of compassion that directly affect Lady Hela include but are not limited to:

  • Euthanasia and the choice of when and how people are allowed to die
  •  Abortion and the right of every man and woman to chose for themselves how to live their lives
  • Hunger and the people who are trapped in poverty cycles against their will
  • War and violence and ideas of capitalistic superiority
  • Racism, misogyny, elitism, eco-politics, environmentalism

When all of life is sacred, then no act goes without scrutiny. No act lives within a vacuum. Every thing that we encounter demands that we approach it with compassion and make a choice based on that springboard. And usually that’s the hardest part, deciding how to act from compassion. It is difficult to choose to let something run its natural course without intervening, because it would be presumptuous of us to step in and “save” the participants. Some people know this without thinking. A parent who does not step in and save their child, allows them to struggle because they can see the lesson their child needs to learn, is acting from compassion. Outside observers might balk at this and wonder what kind of parent wont help their child. But the parent knows they do the child a disservice every time they “rescue” them from a struggle. Compassion says I don’t feed my three cats the hamburger they are desperately trying to convince me really does belong to them, because I know its not good for them and will lead to health issues.

These are all well and good, these examples of inaction, but compassion also compels us to action, to get off of our collective asses and do something about whatever it is we are faced with. I can no longer sit idly by. I am compelled to confront the demons. This is our test, doing something when others would sit in silence. And there are so many opportunities to do something that it can be a little overwhelming. My Lady demands service of me. Trance work and devotions before the altar are all well and good but She very much wants me to face the demons head on. This means I no longer have the luxury of silence and inaction. This means that I can feel Her force behind me, compelling me to speak up against the everyday racism and sexism in my workplace. I have to stop and help strangers when I can, even if its awkward and they think I am crazy.  I have to work a little harder in order to send money to people I have never met.

Service to the gods comes in a million different forms, each one specific to the servee. My constant quest for truth and knowledge is my service to Odin, though I know that will change in the future. My actions from a foundation of compassion are how I serve Hela. Each and ever choice I make gets filtered through the lens of compassion in Her service. It makes my every day sacred and allows me to walk the path She has chosen for me.

So how does compassion manifest in your daily life? And what can you do to bring more compassion in?

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2 thoughts on “Pagan Blog Project Week 3: Compassion

  1. Cat says:

    I can’t really answer your questions, but I do like the part about compassion being a call to service. I’m not sure I would have put it that way, but I know what you mean. It’s the difference between only thinking “oh, the poor people!” and doing something about it, even if it’s a small thing.
    Thank you also for mentioning that helping others really makes us look weird sometimes, even to the people we’re helping. But yes, there are these situations where you look at yourself doing a strange act of helping a stranger, shaking your head at yourself and at the same time knowing that this is just what you’re supposed to do right now. (I don’t associate these urges with a specific deity, but I still feel them, at least sometimes.)

    And since this is the third comment I’m leaving on as many posts I read I think I’ll just subscribe to your blog now…

    • lcward says:

      It should be a gut feeling that drives us to help others. I think in my own life having a Goddess push me to help means I’m going far enough out on a limb to make most people balk. But thats ok, I am pretty sure she won’t ever ask me to go too far.
      I often ask myself if I am making enough of a difference, doing enough to help. Its hard to watch the stupid “send money now and change a life” commercials on TV without looking around at my house and feeling slightly guilty. But I think as long as we do something, anything, then we have the ball rolling and it will bring big changes in the end.

      Yeah, but at least we look silly together, lol. And if we do it long enough? Maybe silly will become commonplace.

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