First off, thank you to everyone who’s commented so far on my previous posts! I greatly appreciate comments and feedback. Now, onward!
“Fierce compassion” is a concept I think I first learned about from Thorn Coyle. The idea with fierce compassion is that you have compassion, but don’t let it make you put up with things you shouldn’t. As with a lot of things in my studies with Thorn, the trick is finding the middle ground — in this case, between idiot compassion on one hand (aka being a codependent doormat) and strictness or discipline without compassion on the other.
Compassion can mean seeing the weakness in others and empathizing with it, because I have weakness myself — and fierce compassion means not letting the weakness of others run roughshod over me. A related aphorism Thorn often quotes from Victor Anderson, one of her teachers, is “neither punish nor coddle weakness.”
The way I see it, fierce compassion comes from having compassion for others but being fierce about my boundaries.
Boundaries are vital to mental, physical, and spiritual health. Boundaries are what let me make my own decisions rather than letting my parents, manager, friends, or partner choose for me. Boundaries are what help me say “no” to plans that would overextend me and damage my health. Boundaries are what help me spot hypocritical or otherwise unhealthy spiritual leaders and avoid them.
Fierce compassion helps me behind the wheel on my way to and from work every day — I have compassion for the other drivers on the road, which helps me not get really angry at them when they drive badly. I mean, I can remember lots of times I’ve been absent-minded or distracted (or pissed off!) behind the wheel. Fiercely defending my boundaries means that I expect other people to merge properly, that I take my turn when I have the right of way at a stop sign, that I call 911 when I see someone driving unsafely. It helps on a lot of fronts — my stress level is reduced, the stress level of my passengers is reduced, and hopefully the road is a little safer. Every time I let someone in ahead of me and they wave back, I imagine that they’ll be less likely to drive like a douchebag later.
Of course, as I mentioned in my integrity post, I have to apply the same approach to myself as I do toward others. I have to have self-compassion as well as compassion for others. I can’t be harder on myself than on other people. As a recovering perfectionist, this is really difficult. I know how to be cruel and nasty to myself, to punish myself — that’s how I got fabulous grades for years and years. It’s also how I wound up with fibromyalgia.
I can’t coddle myself, either. That’s a good way for me to just stay in bed all day — which, appropriately, is just as bad for my fibro as trying to be perfect all the damn time. Again, it’s the balance that makes for the best outcome. Compassion means not being nasty to myself, and fierceness means having enough discipline to do the things I need to get done.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, between compassion and fierceness. Obviously, I don’t get it right all day, every day. It’s an ongoing process — and one I have to bring fierce compassion for myself to. There’s no sense beating myself up for failing to act with enough fierce compassion!