In June, I wrote a post Judgment or Compassion about the negative judgments I have whenever panhandlers approach me asking for money. Many readers commented on that post. Their responses were interesting and helpful to me, and hopefully to each other as well.
I decided to try Oliana’s suggestion of putting some dollars in my pocket and to generally give when asked, without thinking about it. I liked the experience of being free from negative judgments a lot. Feeling compassionate brought a smile to my face. On the days I did that, there was only one time that I didn’t give anything, and that was when the person was obviously very drunk. I used my discrimination and chose to withhold the gift in that instance.
About a month ago, I had an experience that I considered not writing about but have decided to share it. There have been two times in my life when I have felt “tested” on this issue in a way that felt very mystical. In the first instance, I believed I failed the test. The second time was this recent occurrence.
I started that day doing the morning prayer walk that has become my practice. During that time, I read/chant the Sri Lalitha Sahasranama which contains 1000 characteristics of the Divine Mother. (Many eastern religions recognize the Divine Mother as well as the Divine Father). I walk fairly slow as I chant so I don’t trip over anything.
On that day, I thought about my Judgment or Compassion post and my panhandler issue towards the end of the chant. As I walked back home, my heart felt full of compassion. It had started to rain as I was finishing the chant and by the time I got home it was raining harder. When I arrived at my house and was walking towards the door, a woman got out of her car and said “Neighbor, may I talk to you?” “Sure,” I responded.
She told me she lived in the next block and that she had finally got the nerve to leave her husband after years of abuse. She told me his name and said he was the man who is always outside fixing his car. She went on to say that she was going to a safe house on one of the islands and asked me if I would be willing to give her the $29 for the ferry. She said she would pay me back the following week. I don’t know the people that live in the next block so had no way of knowing if she actually lived there.
I was aware that if I heard this same story in front of the grocery store, I would have had a lot of judgments and suspicions. While I did not feel that negativity in this instance, I knew I needed to use my discrimination. Even after thinking about the situation, I continued to feel compassion.
I told her I would give her the money. It was still raining so I invited her into my house, something I would normally never do, especially since we have been having burglaries in the neighborhood fairly regularly. I had been feeling frightened of a possible burglary so my lack of fear and willingness to have her come inside was very significant. I was aware that I was taking a risk and was willing to accept that risk, out of compassion.
I continued to assess the situation though. She didn’t look anything like the couple that was believed to be responsible for the burglaries and her energy felt authentic to me.
I had trouble finding my purse and she followed me as I looked. I was a bit nervous about that but giving her the money still felt right. I did not feel inclined to tell her to stay in a particular place. When she left, she again said she would pay me back and I told her she didn’t need to do that.
After she was gone, I reviewed what I had done. Was I stupid? Had I set myself up to be robbed? I still sensed that I had done the right thing. I decided to call my ex-husband who has a life time of working with the homeless. I was interested in hearing what he would think about my actions.
We talked for quite a while. A short summary is that he said the most important thing was to not worry about it, i.e. not to spend time obsessing and over-analyzing! I had acted out of compassion and that was good. He thought what I had experienced was not only a life lesson in compassion but also a lesson that I need to put important items that can be easily found, such as legal documents, in a more secure location. He said if the woman came back and asked for more money not to give it to her.
It was helpful to have his opinion and I continued to believe that I had made the right choice. I did take precautions though. For example, when I went to my Sanskrit class and to the group I lead in Bellevue that day, I carried my laptop with me. And I stopped leaving the laptop and other valuables in plain sight.
There were a few times over the next week when I felt fear about my choice, but the fear dissipated quite quickly. Normally, in a situation where the consequences of my actions could be as dangerous as this one had the potential to be, I would have been constantly reviewing what I had done and immersed in fear.
I will never know if her story was true. It doesn’t matter. I had chosen compassion over fear, and if it was a test “I Passed!”
10 thoughts on “Compassion Wins!”
That would probably freak me out as well. However, I often feel compelled to give or to feed or to help. What if that one person REALLY does need something. It’s always a gamble and there’s no way to ever really know. Good for you. The world could use some more compassion 😉
Thanks. It feels good to move out of the judgments. I’m very aware how much writing the original post and reading the comments people made helped create that shift.
That’s really great 😉 there is nothing better than self worth and self discovery.
I once had a similar experience myself when I was in a foreign land. Late one night, in a darkened open space, I went towards a couple who from a distance claimed to be in need. Two local people who were with me advised me not to do so. It was fine, I handed over some money after first listening to and accepting their story as told.
I felt good as a result of the action, not in any self-congratulatory way, but just in connecting with strangers across what would conventionally be thought of as an apparently dangerous and, for this reason, unbridgeable divide. I happen to think that harmlessness can be intuitively sensed; though its confirmation is not an overtly conscious one.
I really appreciate you sharing your story! So much to think about…. or rather “be with” ….. in this.
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I think your story shows you are learning that discretion is wise. It’s OK to take care of yourself – like not leaving valuables in plain sight and taking your laptop with you – and to not judge yourself as a non-compassionate person.
What a lovely post and great experience! I am choosy too however when it doesn’t feel Kosher, I don’t give. It gets tricky, I admit. But what you did for that woman is very kind, Karuna. I’m glad you checked with Al to pick his brain on this and that you are practising safer habits. My son gets angry with me when he finds out that I read posts on my phone on the bus. But I don’t get my tablet out.