Blog 9: Living the Compassionate Life

In Christianity we discuss compassion but usually in the context of acts of mercy and are discrete actions rather than a way of life. (This is a good thing, too, but not what I am focusing on in this blog.)  I have found a lot of practical guidance in living the life path of compassion from Buddhist and psychological sources.  In particular, I have found one practice that is a good beginning on the contemplative compassion journey.  That is Loving-Kindness (L-K) practice and there are many Buddhist authors and teachers who can lead you in this practice. Pema Chodron calls this Bodhicitta Practice[1].

For our purposes, I thought I’d share my modified L-K practice.  For me it is a prayer.  The language of the practice that I use is:

May you know happiness (compassion, or whatever their need might be)

And the roots of happiness (compassion);

May you be free of suffering

And the roots of suffering;

May you be peaceful and at ease;

May you know love and joy in your heart.

In Buddhist training, the direction is to start with yourself but many Westerners find expressing Loving-Kindness for yourself to be difficult.  So, the best way to begin this practice is by thinking of a person whose suffering you feel strongly and whose happiness is very important to you. This could be someone you know or have known, or someone you’ve seen on the street or read about in the newspaper. If people are too difficult, start with a beloved pet.

To expand your prayer practice to others, a typical progression might be[2]:

  • a beloved friend;
  • a benefactor or mentor;
  • a neutral person, who is someone who we neither like or dislike (like someone you meet while grocery shopping);
  • a difficult person, who is someone with whom we have experienced irritation or conflict;
  • and for all beings everywhere, without exception or distinction.

This can be part of your daily prayer practice and may arise from or lead you into contemplative practices such as Centering Prayer or Christian mediation.  It opens one’s heart to the God of Infinite Love and Compassion.

 

[1] Chodron, P.  (2013)  Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications and “Noble Heart Study Guide” (1995). Boulder, CO: Sounds True, p. 15.

[2] “Loving Kindness Practice.” Downloaded from: http://www.mindfulnet.org/Loving%20Kindness%20Practice.pdf on July 25, 2018.

Blog 8: Fearless Compassion

Compassion has become more important to me over the years because I see so much fear in our culture. I see compassion as the opposite of fear. “Unfortunately, dualistic and oppositional energies cannot bring the change we so desperately need; we cannot fight angry power with more angry power. Only the contemplative mind has the ability to hold the reality of what is and the possibility of what could be.” (R. Rohr from a 2016 unpublished letter posted in Daily Meditations on July 10, 2018.)

Fear is suffering.  Fear as an underlying motive for action and decisions creates more suffering.  Fear-based beliefs inhibit our vision of a world of dignity and respect where the Core Self, one with the God of Infinite Love and Compassion, sees and identifies with the Core Self in you.   This is my “I have a Dream” speech where hearts and minds are creatively “for” a life-giving vision rather than a life of fear and opposition. Are we calling forth life and what is life-giving or are we reacting to a life we are afraid to live?

Each of us has a call, a vocation, to live from our Core Self created in the image of God.  We all have well-developed Constructed Selves, the ego that interfaces with the world around us, and this may be healthy or wounded, but we are called to live from our Core Self as well.  We can get so caught up in the Constructed or False Self that we think that is all there is.  As I’ve said in earlier blogs I use Constructed Self to get away from the idea of a false or bad, egoic self. This Constructed Self does not have the power to separate us from the Core Self one with God but our Constructed Self can seem so real at times that we forget that Divine Love lives inside us.

Can we live out of our Core Self today and call that forth from one another?  Rather than spend our time and energy focused on what is bad and what we are opposed to or afraid of, can we work to create environments that call forth the compassionate self?  We can identify with our Core Self, see with Christ consciousness, and live a life of compassion. This is how compassion is an agent of transformation—the transformation of our heart, mind and life.

Blog 7: Surrender to Infinite Love

I am late this week submitting this post for your consideration; so just some brief comments.

I’ve been reading a book by David Benner, Ph.D. called Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality[1].  He presents the following scripture from Luke 6:36 (NLT), “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”[2]  I was raised on the KJV Bible which substituted “perfect” where compassion is in this verse.  That always sounded impossible to me.  But can we be perfect in compassion?

Benner asks, “How do we move beyond self-interest as our number 1 priority?”[3] He continues with, “The conversion of the heart that lies at the core of Christian spiritual transformation begins at the cross. It involves meeting God’s love in the cross, not simply encountering some judicial solution for the problem of human sin.”[4]  The self-emptying love of Jesus enables us to realize that in suffering we participate “in the mystery of the Incarnate One and the healing of the world.” [5] Compassion as the primary response to suffering is participating in the atonement of the cross.  Infinite Love loves us into this moment and every moment. Realizing this begins the path that cures self-interest. This is the way of living a compassionate life.

 

 

 

 

[1] Benner, D. (2015) Surrender to Love Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Expanded edition). Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

[2] Ibid, p. 85

[3] Ibid, p. 86

[4] Ibid, p.87

[5] Rohr, R. and Morrell, M. (2016) The Divine Dance: The Trinity and your Transformation. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

Compassion is not a feeling.

Blog 6: Compassion is not a feeling

Compassion is not a feeling, yet we may have feelings and emotions while in the midst of its awareness. I find that the tender/kind aspect of compassion does create warm feelings inside me but that is not its motivation.  Yes, compassion is a motivation not a feeling[1].  It is a manifestation of the divine spark within us. Feelings too often are egocentric rather than a joining with and manifesting the divine spark in our daily lives. This is why compassion can be a way of life, a way of being in our daily lives.  It becomes the manifestation of all we do.

Even saying that, I know that we get distracted from this motivation.  In western culture we are very focused on the individual.  Our first response to everything tends to be, “what impact will this have on me and mine?” We are conditioned into this from a very early age.  When compassion is our motivation it asks more of us. It asks us to be aware of our competing motivations and to have the courage to choose compassion even in difficult circumstances.  Jesus tells us to “Love our enemies,”[2]  and to “Love our neighbor as ourselves,”[3] yet this is very different from the dominant values and motivations in our culture and as humans it seems to be weaned out of us.

Yet, every religion has some language that encourages the follower to love their neighbor.  Since it is such a dominant theme it must be possible for us to live compassionately.  In order to set out on the Path of Compassion, one must first be aware and conscious of how often we are not compassionate; not as a way to judge ourselves or create shame, but to see the opportunities when we can choose a compassionate response.  If you’ve ever wanted, like me, to be “non-judgmental” isn’t it amazing how it seems like all we do is judge! Yet, this is the silver lining of the cloud, to have the gift of sight so that one can see a way forward.  Even to consider that there is a different response, a response of compassion, in any situation is a step on the path.

This week let us pause and consider our motivations.  Is it an egocentric motivation or is another option available to us? And in this step, practice compassion for all our wayward ways knowing that God writes straight with crooked lines.[4]

 

 

[1] Gilbert, P.  and Choden (2014) Mindful Compassion. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, p. 59.

[2] Luke 6:27

[3] Mark 12:31

[4] Attributed as an old Portuguese saying; I first became aware of this through a talk given by James Finley, Ph.D.

Courageous Compassion Part 2

Blog 5: Courageous Compassion Part 2: Enlightened Power

The courageous or fierce compassion was the most difficult facet of compassion for me to learn, since there is so much more to say I decided to write a second entry.  It does require effort to coalesce fierce with wisdom and tenderness. Jesus provides many examples of this when he interacted with others in the Gospels and today I will highlight a few, including his temptation in the desert; clearing the temple; and casting the demons into the pigs.

Both Matthew and Luke[1] record the temptation of Jesus after his baptism.  The devil tempted Jesus with appeals to his ego (humanness) with food, power and authority, and a challenge to prove Scripture.  Jesus denied the appeals to his ego and responded fiercely and with clarity.  He demonstrated the need to set boundaries on our egocentricity.  He responded from his core self one with God.

We have another example in the Gospels when Jesus cleared the temple are of those who were selling God.[2] Here we see Jesus’ single-minded determination to remove any obstacle to God.

I’ve never felt quite right about the pigs dying once Jesus cast the demons out of the men and into the swine[3].  What I see in this example is the courage and fierceness needed in the service of redemption and restoration.  This is not meant to justify violent action taken over the centuries in the name of salvation; most often that is fear and power rather than divine love.  Rather this story is one of many healing stories in Matthew 8.  Divine Love heals and restores with enlightened power, not with fear and egocentricity.  Sometimes we are called to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do to live with integrity and divine love.

The key to fierceness when living a life of compassion is that it is born of love for the other and what is most beneficial.  It is fierceness of the heart.  Any transformation process requires this “fierceness.”   Out of the deepest ground of our being arises an awareness that another is being hurt, or hurting, and there is something that we can do about it.  The fierceness of the heart requires that we do what we can to alleviate suffering.  This is the primary motivation behind fierce compassion.  It is strength born of love, not anger or egocentricity.

 

[1] Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

[2] Mark 11:15-17; Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46.

[3] Matthew 8:28-32

The Courage to be Compassionate

Blog 4: Courage

Many people have difficulty with compassion because they think that to be compassionate you have to be powerless and become a “doormat.”  This is far from the truth although for me it is the most difficult aspect of compassion.  As I previously mentioned, Steve Gilligan described compassion as tender, fierce, and mischievous, and when I studied fierce compassion, I found that for me a better descriptor was courage.

In an effort to not practice “idiot compassion” (please see Blog 3: Wisdom), one needs to be able to be fierce like a mother protecting her child.  We often see this in the wild, where tiger and lion moms will sacrifice and fight to the death to protect their cubs.  Human moms express their fierceness somewhat differently but we can still observe a mother’s reaction to anything that potentially threatens her child.

There are other examples when courage is necessary to compassion.  When we see wrongdoing in the world, and take action to create change, this requires the courage of compassion.  You have perhaps encountered someone who is quite strident in their social justice words and it has the effect of discounting their efforts.  We don’t need to be aggressive and mean to change the world, such as using forms of violence to create peace and justice. We do need to seek, from our Core Self/Christ Consciousness, what Love is calling us to do in the situation.  It is only when we pause and seek to see from Christ’s eyes that we can select the best path of action.  Even personally, it will require setting ego boundaries to find the capacity to pause and awaken to Christ consciousness because we automatically respond with retribution rather than restorative justice.  This is the “fight or flight” response of our basic brain structure.

Pema Chodron recounts in her audio series “Noble Heart”[1]  a story that a student shared with her.  The short version is that this person had a roommate who was addicted to drugs.  Out of tender compassion, although he did not support his behavior, he did not interfere and accepted him as he was. One day he came home to find his roommate nearly dead on the floor and he became so angry at the roommate he screamed at him to stop doing this to himself and take care of himself. He then left the apartment. He expected upon his return that his roommate would be very angry with him and/or moved out. Instead he found a roommate who was grateful that he had cared enough about him to get angry and the roommate stopped using drugs.

Paul Gilbert, Ph.D. wrote in 2015, “When people hear the word compassion, they tend to think of kindness. But scientific study has found the core of compassion to be courage.”[2] He continues, “The point is that kind people don’t always have the courage to behave compassionately.”  For some people, it takes courage just to acknowledge suffering, let alone act to alleviate it.  Compassion requires something out of us and it takes courage to open ourselves to suffering and use the three facets of compassion, tenderness, courage, and wisdom, to act from our Core Self.

 

 

 

[1] Chdron, P. (1998) “Noble Heart.” Boulder, CO.: Sounds True.

[2] Gilbert, P. (2015) “Compassion Universally Misunderstood” in Huffington Post-UK. Aug. 25, 2015, retrieved on June 12, 2018.

What is wisdom in the context of contemplative compassion?

As I wrote in a previous post, I describe compassion as tender, courageous, and wise.  Tender compassion seems so commonly understood that I will save it for a later post.  What is most often misunderstood about compassion is the necessity for wisdom.  Yet it is not a wisdom born from egocentricity but from awareness of reality.  Wisdom allows us to see beyond the surface appearance of things and grasp what is most helpful.

Many people think of compassion as just being nice all the time.  This is why one cannot be compassionate without wisdom.  We need to move beyond niceness to what is really important and helpful to another person. The core self one with God can see the most effective response which is both wise and loving.  It’s not “idiot compassion” [1]  which is defined as avoiding conflict, letting people walk all over you, taking action in order to “look good,” or fear of taking action because of what others might think.

Philosopher Ken Wilber says, “Real compassion includes wisdom and so it makes judgments of care and concern; it says some things are good, and some things are bad, and I will choose to act only on those things that are informed by wisdom and care….What most people mean by ‘compassion’ is please be nice to my ego.”[2]

Many great spiritual teachers have used the wisdom of compassion when asked questions from well-meaning students or the self-righteous. Often their response is paradoxical or metaphorical. This can stop the “brain freeze” of suffering in that it breaks habitual thought patterns and assumptions. This can be seen in Jesus’ telling Nicodemus that he must be born again.  This compassionate response confused Nicodemus and in the ensuing dialogue Jesus moved him from confusion to spiritual wisdom.  The Buddhist practice of koan study evokes wisdom such as the cow passing through the latticed window and all but the tail passes through.  Why doesn’t the tail pass through?

When compassionate thinking is fused with compassionate feeling we move towards the position of wisdom.  Wisdom emerges because we have deep insight into the nature of things.”[3]

“Compassion without wisdom can be misdirected and misguided. Wisdom allows us to see what the world is and how it works; compassion allows us to act appropriately on that knowledge.”[4]

Wisdom as a facet of compassion is an extensive topic and this is only meant to be an introduction to the concept.  It is a key aspect and necessary to understanding contemplative compassion.

 

[1] Idiot Compassion is a term coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche.

[2] Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: The journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., page 93.

[3] Gilbert, P. (2007) “Using Compassion to Change our MindsAppendix 7 in Psychotherapy and Counselling for Depression. London: Sage Publications.

[4] Miller, J.P. (2016) Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, page 172.