Thursday, March 10, 2011

Connecting with Compassion

My last two posts were about a negative view and a positive view of choice and behavior. I find that I am extraordinarily drawn to the negative view. It seems to have quite a hold over me. I find myself feeling beaten down by the idea that there is some innate badness at my core that spoils any "good" I might do and makes my every action "bad." Therefore, it is best that I find an isolated niche in this world where I can do as little harm as possible. As fear-based, as life-destroying, as nuts as this view is, I find it quite gripping.

Now, let us apply Karen Armstrong's idea about the neocortex to this. I discussed Karen Armstrong's idea about the neocortex in my previous post.

First, I would like to consider the progression of creation. We have non-animate entities: the mineral kingdom, if you will. We have the elements: earth, air, fire, water. I think of rocks, particularly - very much there, enduring, being. All four elements are beautiful, all are powerful. This speaks of something important at the heart of God - beauty, power, endurance, being - and the capacity to support and provide a home for life.

Then, we have the non-sentient life forms: one-celled organisms, plants, insects. And we have life-forms where I am not sure how sentient the creatures are: reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds. Here, I would add to the heart of God abundance, diversity, proliferation, and more beauty - a sort of divine extravagance.

Hmmmm - God is creative, extravagant, beautiful, and joyful.

Next, we arrive at the mammals, particularly the higher intelligent mammals: horses, whales, dogs, cats, chimpanzees, and others. These animals, it seems, do not have the capacity of self-reflection, but do they perhaps have the beginnings of compassion? I know that rhesus monkeys who are deprived of food and made to see that they will receive food as a reward for giving a painful electric shock to another rhesus monkey, will refuse to give the shock (especially if they have previously experienced such a shock) even though this means enduring hunger. These monkeys will refuse to cause pain to another monkey, even though this means that they won't be fed. Here we can add to the heart of God love and loyalty.

And then we arrive at human beings with our neocortex - self-reflection, reason, compassion. Karen Armstrong says that the precarious situation of today's world comes from the use of our reasoning powers (our neocortex) in the service of our selfish survival instincts (our hypothalamus). This gives us weapons of mass destruction (created with the reasoning power of our neocortex) to use in keeping ourselves on top (a survival goal of our hypothalamus). Nonetheless, we also have the capacity to align ourselves consciously with the compassionate heart of God.

God - compassionate, creative, extravagant, beautiful, joyful.

SO - here is a solution to my impulse toward the innate badness view. The solution is to acknowledge the impulse, to recognize it, to stand aside from it, and to choose something else. To choose compassion for myself. To choose to act for good in the world, knowing that I make a difference, whether that difference is immediately apparent or not. Every compassionate thought, word, or act makes a difference.

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