Michael Ortiz Hill


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The Craft of Compassion
A Video Essay

Michael Ortiz Hill
(310) 455-0301

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In my work The Craft of Compassion I draw on the work of Dr Aura Glaser, A Call to Compassion. I translate her reflection on the "quintessence" of the practice of compassion to four steps – from self-compassion to living compassion. In living compassion one sets the self to the side so compassion can move with its radiant intelligence.    


     Living compassion is in fact the liberation of the soul.

     How does one come to such freedom?  

With each step the opportunity to love is always now.


Not a new and improved "now" but merely this very moment.

Or as the Zen teacher Cheri Huber puts it, "love as much as you can from wherever you are with what youíve got.  Thatís the best you can ever do."  




How do we accept our radiant imperfection?  How does humiliation transform into humble acceptance and tenderness for ourselves?


Latin offers the phrase amor fati, to "love ones fate." which I would argue describes the foundational stratum of self-love.  Ones fate – not you have chosen but what has been chosen for you.  These parents, siblings, ancestors.  This body and gender.  The delights and terrors of your childhood and the hard wiring of your character. 


What awakens love of ones fate and the sustaining of self- compassion?  A spontaneous song of gratitude comes from recognizing that waking or sleeping we forever bask in gift.


Everything, every moment presents as gift – from the vastness of the universe to this very small life to your very next breath.


In the call and response between oneself and the world, one perceives the gift nature of everything and sings "thank you."  This simple thank you makes it possible to love ones fate and provides the most reliable source of self-compassion.


It is gratitude that allows one to love the gamut of oneself without judgement, unfettered.


In the years I was recovering from homelessness I kept a "GRATITUDE JOURNAL" in which I wrote ten things at the end of each day for which I was grateful. My little girls laughter; the striations of red and magenta in a sunset; the small ways I was learning to be a human being. As I continued, learning gratitude became a spiritual practice in its own right. As I advanced into the complexities of living an adult life off the street, learning to love my fate became key to broadening and deepening gratitude and self-compassion.


So which came first – the chicken (gratitude) – or the egg (self- compassion)? Well gratitude does give birth to self-compassion.  There is no self-compassion until one can say "thank you" for being alive.  And self-compassion undeniably gives birth to gratitude, truly and profoundly.


Our ideas of causality are confused by the radiant truth of love. 

Which came first?

Emphatically both – which makes the love of ones fate vibrant and durable.  Whether one enters the door of gratitude or self- compassion one arrives in the same place.


The authenticity of loving ones fate arises in any circumstance where ones undone by the unforeseen.  Youíve lost your job.  The father of your children has left you for another man.

You grandmother who you thought would live forever has suddenly died.


Your doctor has just informed you that you have multiple sclerosis.


I have sometimes asked friends or patients "what have you learned from your heart condition (or cancer or AIDS or addiction and recovery, etc) that you could not have learned any other way? A pregnant question, to be sure, that invites the ethos of loving ones fate. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years ago it was my turn to ask that question of myself and ask it fully and completely.


Time to walk my walk.


MS found me a stubbornly young and arrogant man when a range of "symptoms" Iíd seen from the outside as a nurse now took my body.  Falling down in public and unable to get up, incontinent of urine and shit, a unreliable set of legs, sleepless and out of my mind on steroid therapy, losing my eyesight not knowing if it was mine to be blind.




Early on, not yet recovered from my first exacerbation, I hiked to my refuge on the Big Sur coast to spend two weeks alone in prayer and reflection. It took eight hours to hike what I knew to be an hour walk and I didnít know if Iíd be able to walk out.  This was amor fati proper.


"Let go and let God."  I had to give up the fetish of certainty.  For twenty years Iíd assumed it would be mine to see my older wife through the end of her life but that was suddenly far from certain.


Everything – everything – was far from certain.


To my knees.

To my knees.


Now, these years later. only gratitude remains of my passage through MS.  Indeed the medicine of gratitude, of embracing my fate, seems tied up with my healing. Itís been two years since my last exacerbation and I donít anticipate another. As I wrote this essay my neurologist, Dr. Russ Shimizu, was shocked at my recent MRI.  


Iíam free of MS. Few would recognize me as someone with an "incurable" neuromuscular disease.


The transformation of humiliation to humility was, like with so many, a passage through dis-ease.  The catalyst of that transformation was gratitude.


That is how the light of self-compassion gets in.   

Nick Vujicic exemplifies amor fati and by his very being demonstrates how self-compassion is continuous with compassion for others.  Nick was born without arms or legs and learned as a child that he had to live by gratitude or simply sink into the despair of what he could not do.

Copyright © Michael Ortiz Hill.  All rights reserved.