Many years ago, at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, my husband and I were slowly wandering from booth to booth soaking in the colors and bounty from local farms. My dearest friend, Connie, was with us as we paused in front of the booth of a local artist, Jim Hardesty. Before us were dozens of Chinese brush paintings….sinuous strokes of ink and pigment transformed into birds and flowers. And, Kwan Yin.
I felt like she was calling my name. Calling me to invite her into my life.
Kwan Yin, Quan Yin, Kuanyin, Guanyin, Padma-pâni. Her name means
One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World.
Many of us have felt compassion towards someone else. We feel the pain and suffering of others, especially of those we love deeply. We long, almost ache, to find a way to ease their suffering.
Life is a series of waves coming ashore. There are waves of love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. And right behind those waves are the waves of violence, division, indifference and cruelty. Lapping the shore. Pushing and pulling on our heart and our fears. Some days we may feel as if we are drowning in our own suffering or in the pain of someone we love. Barely, we keep our head above the waters churning and foaming. Some days we soften, relax, let go and float softly, cradled in a lullaby of the calm waters.
When we turn away from, run from, harden ourselves against that which is painful, we are turning away from that which is a part of life. We can become protective. We may begin to live in fear.
We can, instead, choose to look at that pain and fear and open our heart to compassion. Like a beautiful garden, tended with love from the heart, compassion grows from generosity, wisdom, loving kindness, empathy, equanimity and courage. The fruits and flowers from this garden have the power to heal suffering.
Compassion is a way, a path, of maneuvering through a world and life that brings each one of us beauty and love and well as pain and suffering.
Compassion is not reserved only for those we love and respect. It is also for those who may threaten or frighten us. This is a world full of billions of people we will never know, yet our compassion in thought, and deed must include these people too. There are human beings in the world facing intolerable suffering. Of such magnitude that I will venture to say no one reading this can even imagine the degree of suffering.
Somewhere in all this we have to think about and come to terms with the fact that our ability to heal through compassion walks side by side with our capacity to cause the suffering. And we choose…..we choose and then learn to heal or we increase the divides between us.
Enter Kwan Yin. She is sometimes holding a willow branch, flexible, able to bend and not break, even in the strongest of winds or fiercest of deluge. Other times she has a thousand arms and one, all seeing eye. She is in constant awareness and her response is all embracing. Sometimes she is a warrior brandishing weapons to root out suffering. Mine holds quince blossoms from time immemorial. Kwan Yin hears the cries of our suffering. The suffering of the people of the world. And she reaches out with compassion to heal that suffering.
I know I feel overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude and breadth of the suffering of people around the world. I don’t, and I don’t believe I can, have the answers. But, I can choose to hear the cries, to listen to the stories, to care. To not run or hid from the suffering of others. In so doing I begin to see “the rest of the story.” The loneliness and fear in and of others, the blame and anger, the mistrust, the intolerance and ignorance. Awareness teaches us how to be helpful through compassion, kindness, strength. It gives rise to understanding and and a desire to bring about the end of suffering.
We don’t have the power to change the hearts of others. We do, however, have the power and responsibility for our own state of mind, the values we carry within our heart. We make the choice to stand hand in hand with those who work endlessly to alleviate the pain of war, disease, hunger, oppression. Or, we walk hand in hand with those who spread fear, mistrust, violence, persecution, revenge.
In order to hear the cries of the world and to find the courage and strength to uplift through compassion we first have to allow our own hearts to be open. We have to look within. We have to close our eyes and listen. To the noise of the world, the cries of those in pain and who are suffering. When we have heard, we open our eyes to see, then we choose what we will do. We take action.
Who is listening?
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Who is listening?
Check out this week’s readings: This Week