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  • Writer's pictureGreg Graber

Idiot Compassion

When people realize you practice mindfulness and meditation, they often automatically assume that you are a positive Polyanna at all times, and you are incapable of of feeling or acting on any emotion that is not synonymous with rainbows and unicorns. I hear this from time to time, as most people I interact with are aware that I teach mindfulness and meditation. For instance, just the other day when talking with a relative, I disagreed politely on a point this individual was making, and her response was, "That's not very mindful. I thought meditation was supposed to chill you out." I laughed, because I wasn't acting "un-chilled." I wasn't being rude. Nor was I angry. I just happened to disagree with what she was saying.

People who do not understand mindfulness believe that the practice of meditation is supposed to make you some kind of blissed-out happy zombie incapable of dissent, disagreement, or a contrary thought or opinion. This, of course, is ridiculous. As Dan Harris, Co-Host of ABC News's Good Morning America, has pointed out over the years, "Meditation has a PR problem." I could not agree more. While more people than ever before are practicing it, meditation and mindfulness still has somewhat of a PR problem. Here is what they don't understand: A mindfulness practice teaches us how to deal with our thoughts and emotions. We still feel them and process them. Through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we learn to let go of the unhelpful thoughts and feelings sooner rather than later.

Compassion is an important concept in the Buddhist tradition. In fact, mindfulness, which comes out of the Buddhist tradition, is centered around the concept of compassion. We are taught that before we can have compassion for others, we must first cultivate com

passion for ourselves. On the surface, under our Western mindset, this may seem selfish or even self-indulgent. However, if we lack self-compassion, we suffer from inner-turmoil, and this type of emotional distress renders us emotionally unavailable to others. Once we take care of ourselves, and tend to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, we are better suited to give kindness, compassion, and gratitude to others.

Being compassionate to others does not mean we agree with every thing others do or say. Furthermore, if we pose a contrary opinion to someone, it does not make us mindless, as some would suggest. If your intention is to make a situation better or lessen someone's suffering, then speaking up or disagreeing in a respectable manner is the most mindful thing you can do.

The whole notion behind compassion is to free beings from suffering. However, we must be careful not to add to our own suffering by doing so. The late Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche coined the term "Idiot Compassion." Idiot Compassion takes place when during times of trying to display compassion to others we end up letting them walk all over us. This often happens when we try to avoid conflict. In these instances, we learn quickly that this is not compassion at all, because it actually increases suffering. Sometimes people need to be told they are wrong. There are even instances when people need to be given a hard time.

So next time when someone proclaims that you are not being mindful because you refuse to enable their self-induced suffering, let them know that by disagreeing you are employing genuine compassion over idiot compassion. There's no need to suffer fools gladly at your own expense.

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