Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Antecedent of Compassion


 Twenty years since my last entry into the Orlando Florida hotel and conference scene, I entered the Marriott Hotel this week to attend the North American Veterinary Conference.  What a huge undertaking – possibly the largest in the world with over 16,000 attendees.  I was astounded at the amount of business and wealth in the veterinary profession.  My last major foray in veterinary medicine had been as a wildlife veterinarian in Latin America and I’m still getting use to the privileged life our communities of all species enjoy here.  May I never take it for granted and always question it.  My primary goal in Orlando though was not to question.  Instead I desired connection with veterinary colleagues in our hope for the flourishing of all life. 


One lecture addressed the syndrome and in my mind, tragedy, of feather picking in captive birds.  Medical and behavioral approaches exist to curb this destructive behavior, so aptly taught to us by the presenter. What struck me though as profoundly indicative of our human culture was how the instructor spoke of causes of the feather picking in birds, termed the “antecedent.”  The list was rather long but did not include the primary ones that I hold in my heart in my combined approach as both avian veterinarian and minister.  Way back before we get into behavior or telos that is thwarted by captive situations, we need to look at the initiating cause, captivity.  Clearly if we removed captivity from the history of the bird, we’d not see feather picking for it barely exists in wild birds.


Even before captivity though we can follow the chain of antecedents into our hearts, minds, and human biology and culture.  There we might come up with a host of initiating causes.  What might you suggest?


Here are a few of mine.


  • We desire beauty and companionship.

  • We humans center ourselves and our needs in the web of life and objectivity other life forms, including ourselves.

  • We orient towards dominations as a way to meet our basic needs as opposed to the consideration of all beings needs and the earth communities needs as a whole.

  • We struggle to face the tragedy and harm of our decisions, leading to denial and disconnection relationships for ourselves.

 Even further then these is an even more fundamental antecedent.  We yearn for connection and a sense of belonging on this planet, and suffer ourselves and bring it onto others when we think we are separate from the whole of existence.  If we could but just see how we are so precious with the conduit of life flowing through us in our uniqueness, and also how insignificant we are, we might temper our actions and be able to face the consequences of our life on earth.  We could do this with a deep awareness of interconnection, and with the mantra that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, and the beauty and flourishing of all, is the beauty that never leaves us – it is behind us, in front of us, flying overhead, under us, and in us.  These embodied knowing then is the antecedent of compassion and seems to me to be the primary treatment for most dis-ease in ourselves and in the life around us.  As veterinarians, as lover of birds, as conservationists, and as humans, may we heal ourselves so that we may be healers of the world.





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