Seeing with the eyes of compassion (Day 44)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

We can see beings with the eyes of compassion, or with the eyes of utility. We almost literally live in different worlds depending on which eyes we use to see with.

When we see with the eyes of utility we gauge beings by their usefulness to us.

If the checkout clerk performs smoothly we’ll remain neutral, maybe even friendly, but if he or she has trouble looking up the code for an item, or — heaven forbid — has to call in a supervisor for help, we’ll quickly become irritable. This person has become an obstacle to the smooth functioning of our life.

When the child is slow getting ready for bed, succumbing to a seemingly endless stream of distractions, we yell, because the child being awake is an impediment to us getting on with our next activity.

If there’s a insect buzzing around in the house, this is an impediment to our living in a relatively annoyance-free zone, and offends our sensibilities, since bugs are dirty. The bug’s very existence is an impediment to our well-being and so we’re quick to reach for a newspaper or can of fly-spray.

The lambs in the field are cute, but we like the taste of meat. The lamb dead is of more utility to us than the lamb being alive.

Seeing with the eyes of compassion changes everything.

With the eyes of compassion, we only see one thing. We see that others’ happiness and suffering are as real to them as our own are to us. We see that others want and seek happiness, but don’t find it as often as they would like. We see that others want to be free from suffering, and yet keep suffering.

We feel for the checkout clerk because, for all we know, they are just learning the job, or are under-trained, or the systems have been changed, or they’re having to deal with someone else’s errors, or they have personal problems that are making it hard to stay focused. We don’t know that any of these things is the case, but we’re open to the possibilities. We may feel the frustration of being in a slow-moving queue, but we don’t just jump to blaming the clerk. He or she is a human being.

When we see, with the eyes of compassion, the child getting distracted while getting ready for bed, we may recall that self-control is one of the first cognitive abilities to go when we’re tired. So the child is literally unable at that point to control him or her self. What, then, is the point of getting mad? More kindly directing is needed.

The fly turns out to be just a fly. Sure, it has a dubious sense of hygiene and likes to walk over our food, and it makes an annoying sound, but it’s another living thing. Many an insect has been given safe passage to our front porch with the help of a glass and an envelope.

And the lambs? I’d rather have tempeh or tofu. After 31 years of vegetarianism I can no longer think of animals as food, any more than I can think of people as food.

With the eyes of compassion we see the most essential thing about any being: their deepest drives for life and wholeness and safety. With the eyes of utility we see only our own need. We don’t really see anything beyond ourselves. With the eyes of compassion we see beyond ourselves and are open to the magical and mysterious reality that is another life.

When we see with the eyes of compassion, recognizing that others’ happiness and suffering are as real to them as our own are to us, we don’t want to do anything to obstruct their happiness or to cause them harm. It just doesn’t happen.

And when we see in this way, and connect in this way, and respect in this way, every connection becomes a source of joy, for self-preoccupation imprisons and limits us like a birdcage, while leaving behind self-preoccupation is like flying free. It’s more than flying free, it’s like soaring with others.

Of course we can’t just switch from seeing with the eyes of utility to seeing with the eyes of compassion all at once. We’ll bounce from one perspective to another, perhaps many times in a day. Perhaps we’ll only see through compassion’s eyes for a few minutes or a few seconds, before we start to see the world in utilitarian terms once again. But it’s a training. It’s a practice.

Just keep coming gently back to the thought: “This person suffers just as I suffer. This person, just like me, doesn’t want to suffer.”

And if we keep gently reminding ourselves to see with the eyes of compassion in this way, that perspective will more and more become part of who we are.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Patricia Hughes
    May 25, 2013 9:23 am

    I keep an empty matchbox by the bed for those pesky mosquitoes and other insects. Once caught I take them to another room’s window to send them on their way. But sleeping with the whine of a mosquito is still beyond me, I’m afraid.

    Ants, however….. They give me real trouble – you can’t live with them and you can’t kill ’em!

  • The only insects that troubled me so far are mosquitoes! Especially when i was in bed. Every moments where i almost fall asleep, one or two mosquitoes will come wake me up. And more eerie about it was that all the time they don’t come disturbing while i closed my eyes & enjoying the silence preparing to fall asleep (about 20minutes), but they came disturbing just at the right moment the force of pulling me to sleep! I know it sounds ridiculous but it happens to me every night when there’re mosquitoes. The sudden disturb caused me to get awake again, and is super awake! I couldn’t get myself calm to sleep again in 3-4hours. And that bring a lot of bad effects to my life until one day i said enough & spray them down.(i have not been using sprays for my past years i swear! But now it’s just impossible not to kill them!) Btw, the eerie part doesn’t end yet, they come visiting me when i was feeling sick & needed lots of rests. P.s i endured for months until I got really out of control & used the spray. P.p.s now that i even got some paranoid falling asleep, each time i was wary for any mosquitoes around me. I don’t know how compassion could on this. Please advice me!

  • Melody Peters
    May 26, 2013 11:59 am

    this was a beautiful read. Much if my initial struggle with compassion included the difficulty I had with seeing myself as a person who sees the utility of others without compassion. When I could accept that was once a true thing but did not have to continue to be it became so much easier. I appreciate, I am grateful and I am learning to be patient with myself first so as to see more clearly the reality of the need to feel compassion fo all beings.

  • […] that exact thing that helps shift me into the moment, into a better mood, speaks straight to me. – Things to remember when I’m annoyed by other people: “With the eyes of compassion, we only see one thing. We see that others’ happiness and […]


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