It’s funny how important insights strike you at the oddest moments. I was at a Hatha yoga class a couple of weeks ago when I became aware of my skeleton. I can’t recall paying my skeleton any attention before, although sure enough it has been around with me all this time. Instead of looking at the image I hold in my mind of what my body looks like, I imagined instead that a pristine white skeleton was sitting in my place. And then I extended this thought out to all my peers in the room. Imagine how strange it would be to walk in and see half a dozen skeletons practising yoga!
And yet, of course, this is exactly what is happening, week after week ~ bunch of skeletons get together and practice yoga. But on top of those pristine bones there are layers of other things: tissues, muscle, blood, organs, fat and so on; but also so much more. Many of us judge ourselves and others by outward appearances (we all know how our own internal dialogue goes) – we layer upon the skeleton & bodily tissues all these other meanings, judgements and values which have no intrinsic worth. For a fleeting moment I was able to see those judgements for what they were – partial, biased, wrong, and serving only to separate me from others -and often from compassion for myself too.
I was just thinking about the skeletons today when I opened up Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Peace is Every Step’ on a page with this quote:
“The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognise the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other. We “go inside” their body, feelings and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the object of our observation. When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally “to suffer with”.
Yet, if there is ‘separation’ from others, if we are unable or unwilling to ‘go within’ and see their suffering, any compassion we can show them is truly limited. Perhaps seeing ourselves and those around as the skeletons they truly are is one tool to use to get beyond the notion of separation, to make the essential connection, and facilitate the possibility of compassion.