Compassion, Truth & Healing by Dr Will Tuttle
Can you remember times in your life when you’ve been blessed by someone’s compassion? I remember times when I’ve been under the weather or stressed out, and received the compassion of a loving touch, when I’ve been on stage in front of a large crowd and received the compassion of an encouraging, smiling face, and I think we all know we would never survive our early months and years without the loving compassion of our mothers.
What is compassion?
Compassion is an inherent potential within us all. It is not simply a sense of caring and kindness toward the being before us. It isn’t merely a warm-hearted feeling of empathy for the suffering of others. It is also the determined and practical resolve to do whatever is possible to relieve their suffering, the sustained urge to reduce and eliminate the suffering they are experiencing.
For this reason, compassion is often referred to as the highest form of love, and flows out of the truth of our felt interconnectedness with others. Not confined merely to the realm of feeling, compassion rouses us to action, in much the same way we are instinctively roused to action to defend our own lives, well-being, and interests. What a blessed miracle compassion is, and though it’s virtually unexplainable by our culture’s materialistic orientation, it is a vital and unrecognized key to social harmony, to spiritual growth, to fulfilling relationships, to living a meaningful life, and to healing of all kinds.
As newborn infants, we are deeply identified with our mothers, and as we develop, we gradually become aware of ourselves as separate from her, and go through a stage of being quite self-absorbed, and then we gradually develop to be able to relate to others as independent beings. So it is in our early years that we develop the foundation for compassion through the models we see around us, and learning to imagine and understand the perspective of others. This is basic moral development.
This natural development of compassion is unfortunately short-circuited, though, by forcing young children to participate in meat-based meals. What we don’t realize as a culture is that we desensitize children and all of us through our daily meals. The subtext of these meals is one of systematically excluding certain animals from the sphere of our compassion and moral concern. In our daily food rituals, beings are systematically reduced to things, and these rituals instill in all of us the mentality of exclusion and reductionism that is the antithesis of compassion. This is the hidden root of disease, the underlying disaster churning at the core of our culture that causes so much of the physical, social, psychological, and environmental illness that we see proliferating around us.
Compassion brings healing, because whenever we wake up from this acculturated consensus trance that sees beings merely as things to be used, we become more alive, more aware, and more filled with what the ancients called Sophia: the wisdom of intuiting the interconnectedness that underlies the apparent outward separateness. This is a wisdom that is actually lived, not merely
intellectualized. There is a pithy and illuminating proverb: “To know, and not to do, is not to know.”
As Sophia awakens in us, bringing wisdom, compassion, and healing, we are relentlessly confronted with our acculturated food habits, and as we eat more living, plant-based foods, and less of the inherently cruel animal-based foods, we experience healing, both physically and on the deeper causal levels of our being. Our bodies function better and begin to cleanse and purify, our mind is clearer, our emotions are more positive, our relationships become more harmonious, our buying patterns are more ecologically constructive, we begin to care more deeply about the Earth, others, and ourselves, and we evolve spiritually to a felt awareness that there is much more to life than our cultural programming has revealed. In short, we become a threat to the established order!
We might find people saying to us, “Hey, you can eat how you like, but don’t tell me what to eat!” We realize how ironic this is. The only reason anyone in our culture eats animal-based foods is because they’ve been told to do so since birth by every institution in our culture: family, media, religion, government, education, and business. It’s never a freely-arrived-at choice: we’ve all been, and continue to be, inundated with messages that eating animal derived foods is a natural, normal, and essential characteristic of human behavior.
I don’t remember my parents telling me that I could freely choose whether to eat the first little blobs of meat they presented to me, or that they explained to me that they were the flesh of pigs and turkeys who had been confined their entire lives and killed in terror and pain. I don’t remember my schoolteachers helping me to understand that fish are highly intelligent, social creatures with the same pain receptors we have, and I don’t remember my minister pontificating about the suffering of dairy cows, whose babies are serially stolen from them so we can steal their milk, or the TV informing me of the nightmarish conditions endured by chickens on egg-production facilities. I was never given a choice and was forced into complicity, completely oblivious to the repercussions of my actions. Without knowing the truth, how could I ever practice compassion? The exquisite beauty and potential of our brief adventure on this Earth is that we can grow, evolve, and awaken to greater capacities of love and wisdom. This is the underlying message of the yogic tradition, which is founded, at its core on ahimsa, non-violence, the universal spiritual wisdom that we reap what we sow, and that we’re all interconnected. By deepening our understanding of ahimsa and vegan living, we can become a force for spreading freedom, peace, and healing. With any inner healing, there will be outer healing, and with any healing, there will be change. With any meaningful change, there will be risk. We may find ourselves alone, losing cherished relationships because we no longer eat the same way, and no longer respond unquestioningly to the pervasive social conditioning.
We find, though, that we are connected to a deeper source of joy and inner peace. As we bring our lives into alignment with the truth we have discovered, and the compassion that has grown in our heart, we realize that the rewards are worth infinitely more than what we risked. At a deep level, our self-esteem returns, and we realize how participating in the violence pervading our culture’s meals had reduced our awareness and sense of self-worth. Newfound joyfulness blossoms in our heart and we intuit it all directly: truth, compassion, healing—these three are inseparable sisters. Cultivating one cultivates the others. We are all connected, and the more deeply we heal ourselves, the more we bless others. Cultivating compassion is an essential and often unrecognized key to authentic healing. It’s never too late to begin practicing it! The more we bless others, the more we are blessed.