Discover more from Tattva | S.B. Keshava Swami
You may have seen the freezing child experiment. If not, take a look – it shows just how apathetic we can be. More unnerving than the video was the introspection it triggered within me - if I walked past a freezing child in the street would I stop to help? Of course, we could give a variety of excuses to justify why not to – it’s not practical, it could be a hoax, life is busy. The critical question, however, is the level of human sensibility we embody. As a kid, I religiously avoided trips into Central London because the sight of homeless people was too uncomfortable. Later on, as a university student, I moved there and it became a daily sight – I became desensitised and learnt to live with it. Is that acceptable? Is it good to be able to comfortably live with the pain of others? Nowadays I feel that kind of apathy is a major block to my spiritual progression.
Spirituality is a journey from selfishness to selflessness. Somewhere along the road we have to develop sensitivity – without sensitivity there is no selflessness. The insensitive see other people’s suffering but it doesn’t really register or move their heart – this is apathy. The desensitised look at other people’s suffering from a distance and learn to live with it – this is sympathy. When we manage to resensitise ourselves, however, we look upon other people’s suffering and feel impelled to act and assist – this is empathy. In Sanskrit, a true spiritualist is known as para dukha dukhi, or one who feels another’s pain to be their own. Scriptures are replete with stories of great souls who went above and beyond the call of duty to free others from their troubles.
But I have enough of my own problems to deal with! How can I take the weight of the world on my shoulders? Won’t this lead to compassion fatigue? Can we really make a difference anyway? No doubt, we have to be practical - self-care and self-compassion are foundational. Unless we’re well situated how can we really help others? That said, taking care of ourselves is not the end – we exist to make a beautiful contribution to the world and the souls in it. That opportunity to serve is what makes life worth living.
A guru and his disciple were walking along a coastline where thousands of shellfish had been washed ashore. Seeing them struggling, the guru periodically threw one in as he paced the ocean front. Seeing the sheer numbers of struggling fish, the disciple questioned whether his attempts would really make a difference – “it will make a difference to THAT particular fish” the guru said. The disciple realised that in the statistics, he had lost his sensitivity… perhaps the story of our life. From apathy, to sympathy, to empathy. Casting out insensitivity, going beyond de-sensitivity, and ultimately becoming re-sensitised. This is the journey of spiritual life. After all, only a sensitive heart can access the magical depths of spiritual connection, emotion and devotion.