(Morning sky photo by me)
When I woke up this morning the sky was yellowy-pink and blue. The leaves on the trees were blocking or filtering the colors. The leaves themselves were a hundred shades of green. Some of them were dancing and singing to the rhythm of the breeze. I thought for awhile about the the current events around the world. Of all the suffering and fear. I thought about all I have been taught about religion, spirituality, being kind and moral. I thought about my family, people I love. I thought about fears, worries and feeling secure and safe. I thought about the power of compassion to be trasnformative. Here is my pondering.
True compassion does. not come from wanting to help those less fortunate than ourselves
but from realizing our kinship with all beings.
— Pema Chodron in Start Where You Are
Every day we read a story in the newspaper, or hear something on the news that opens in us the feeling of compassion. Something tugs at our heart: a father looses a battle with cancer, a young mother dies in a car crash, children starving, a house destroyed by a tornado. We find comfort in calling in a donation…we want to help ease the suffering.
For some of us it is a little harder to feel compassion when we impart a personal judgment on other types of stories: “They must have deserved that”, “That was their choice”, “Well, they should have known better”.
Make no judgment in which there is no compassion.
— Traditional Saying quoted in The Fragrance of Faith by Jamal Rahman
Pema Chodron reminds us compassion isn’t just about wanting to relieve the suffering of others, but of “realizing our kinship with all beings.”
How do we internalize that so that we shut down the need to judge and condemn and look deeper into others to see the whole story? In an earlier post I quoted Joan Tollifson who responded to my cry for help in understanding the tensions and violence in Gaza and Israel. She wrote, “Love doesn’t turn away. It doesn’t blame or hate. It is the open heart, willing to be completely broken. And from that place, intelligent action (or non-action) can arise. Love is the real nonduality…love sees that this is how it is right now…bombs are falling, children are hurting, this is what the universe is doing…Love doesn’t try to avoid the pain or explain it away.”
Isn’t that the way of compassion too? To not turn away. To put aside blame or hate. To allow “intelligent” action to grow.
The nectar of compassion is so wonderful. If you are committed to keeping it alive, then you are protected. What the other person says will not touch off the anger and irritation in you, because compassion is the real antidote to anger. Nothing can heal anger except compassion. That is why the practice of compassion is a very wonderful practice.
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
Can we learn to keep anger at bay, keep irritation silent and be open to compassion? Could we learn to keep our hearts open and to understand the suffering of the” other”? Perhaps we will not always be able to understand the choices others make, but does that prevent us from understanding that there is a person, a human being, who is suffering?
My father used to remind me of the parable of walking in another person’s shoes. Harper Lee recalls it in To Kill A Mockingbird:
“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view,
until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.
It is very uncomfortable to do that….we sometimes see things we don’t want to see, don’t want to understand, don’t want to accept. Sometimes we begin to question our own choices and values. We might even begin to feel uncomfortable thinking about things we most likely take for granted: health, security, running water, food, a dry bed, clothes…… When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, someone perhaps we have made a judgement about, we may discover they love others, someone loves them, they are afraid, there is no security in their lives: they may not know where they will sleep at night, or when they will eat again, or when a bomb will drop next to them, or who will be the next family member they will bury from drug overdose, domestic or gun violence, when they will be sexually abused again……
If we go back to the beginning….realizing we have a kinship with all beings, where do we find ourselves then? What kinship do I have with the residents of Ferguson, Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guinea, Columbia, North Korea or Honduras? With someone who has cancer , is a victim of rape or abuse, or is gay or transgendered? Someone who is Black, Vietnamese, Arab, or Philipino? Someone who is handicapped, mentally ill, homeless, a convicted felon, a prisoner of war, a deserter, a meth addict? A Kurd or Yazidi, Rakhine, Choctaw or Roma? With someone who is Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Taoist, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Baha’i? Someone wearing a burka, hijab, or a turbin? Someone with full body tattoos or an eye patch? With anyone who is not me ?? How do I manifest compassion to and for those who are not me?
We are always beginners in the art of compassion. No matter how advanced or refined we believe our understanding to be, life is sure to present us with some new experience or encounter with pain we feel unprepared for.Your partner betrays you, your teacher disappoints you, some event of unimaginable cruelty happens in the world, and once more you are asked to open your heart and receive it. “This also, this also” is the essence of compassion. Over and over you are asked to meet change, loss, injustice, and over and over you are asked to find the strength to open when you are most inclined to shut down.
— Christina Feldman in Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World
The nectar of compassion is wonderful. We are always beginners in the art of compassion, and we can always choose to begin to practice compassion. We can find the strength to be open. If we can accept our kinship with one another, perhaps then we can begin the process of alleviating suffering and begin to spread compassion. There isn’t always a monetary donation we can make to improve something or to make us feel better. We can begin discussion for intelligent action that might actually create positive change.