When there isn’t enough compassion being generated (either for ourselves as individuals or in the world in general), we become unbalanced; we suffer from it as we would from a lack of fresh air and clean water. It is not an incidental element, it is mandatory. We will not survive without it.
– Patricia Anderson, “Real or Pretend?”
There was a man, once, who wanted to walk a labyrinth that I had helped create in a public place. He had a reputation in this community for being a difficult person to deal with. I was there the day he showed up and rather announced that he wanted to “do this thing.”
This was a very large Chartres style labyrinth. I explained that there was one opening, and one path. He only needed to remember one thing: stay on the path and enjoy the walk. He could pray or meditate or simply breathe as he moved toward the center. Once in the center, he could pause for a while and see if there were any insights that came to him. Then, he could walk out just as he walked in.
From the beginning the man walked as if he were in a hurry. Invariably, at some turning point, he would step over a line. Very soon, he found himself back at the entrance. When you step over a line in a labyrinth, it spits you back out at the entrance. After this happened to him for the third time, I could see that he was very frustrated, and he was muttering under his breath. I offered to walk with him, just behind him, which he allowed. Each time he began to step over a line, I reminded him to stay on the path. He muttered and cursed under his breath, all the way in. Once in the center, he stayed a moment and announced that he was done with this thing. He walked across the lines, out to his car, and left.
I suspect that we come to the Labyrinth as we do our lives. This man generated very little compassion for himself or others. Suffering resulted. He was off balance. His lack of balance frustrated him. The Labyrinth showed this to him, but he was so out of balance that he could not hear the message–at least not that day.
The Labyrinth calls us to balance, and the heart of balance is compassion. It begins with compassion for ourselves. If we cannot manage to generate a little compassion for ourselves, what makes us think we can really do it for others? Those acts of attempted compassion for others while we refrain from showing it to ourselves, can become sources of suffering.