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.

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.

What is Compassion and What is Suffering?

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I feel it is important to define what we mean by compassion.

Most definitions of compassion include some notion of suffering, i.e. compassion is to “suffer with” another. It seems to me then, that we first need to define suffering.  In certain Western cultures, we tend to think of suffering as a really big incident or something of huge import.  So people who are starving in the Third World, persons whose loved one dies unexpectedly, or some loss of life or home in a flood, fire, earthquake, or hurricane; these are the people who suffer.

But what about daily life for us?  Don’t we suffer and need compassion?  I think we need a broader definition of suffering to extend compassion in our daily lives.  Buddhists use the term. “dukkha” which describes “…anything on a scale from small annoyances to serious diseases…anything that fosters a separate sense of self and suppresses our natural tendency to be one with the Ultimate.”[1]  Yes, there are degrees of suffering but “it occurs because life involves change and decay, loss, disappointment and impermanence.”[2]  Simply put dukkha means “suffering, unsatisfactoriness, frustration, and disappointment.”[3]  This description of suffering/dukkha explains suffering in the context of contemplative compassion for me.

I will leave you with 2 of my favorite descriptions of compassion:

Jim Finley, Ph.D. mystic, author, and psychologist, defines compassion this way, “Compassion is that love that recognizes and goes forth to identify with the preciousness of all that is lost and broken within ourselves and others.”[4]

Paul Gilbert, Ph.D., creator of Compassion-Focused Therapy, defines it this way, “being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to prevent and relieve it.”[5] Paul Gilbert’s thinking “is based on an “evolutionary neuroscience approach.”[6]  This is helpful for our purposes in that he describes behavior which requires a number of different competencies and attributes which can be developed and practiced in relationship to others. Although it is focused predominantly on the ego-self, there is much there for the contemplative compassion seeker.

Finally, a definition of suffering/dukkha is essential to how I define compassion, that is, compassion is tender, courageous, and wise. We will explore tender, courageous, and wise in next week’s blog.

 

[1] Miller, J.P. (2016) Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, page 126

[2] IBID

[3] Miller, J.P.  p. 234

[4] Finley, J. (2004) Christian Meditation. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, Harper-Collins Publishers, p.279.

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

[6] Gilbert, P. (2009) The Compassionate Mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., p. 193.

What is Contemplative Compassion?

What is Contemplative Compassion?

We tend to think of compassion as an act of mercy toward another or to ‘suffer with’ another.  Most often this is ego-based and has generated many right actions and relationships.

By Contemplative Compassion I mean compassion that has God/Infinite Being as its source.  It emanates from Infinite Love and Compassion.  It is part of our Christological DNA.[1]  It is from our Core Self, one with God who is Infinite Love and Compassion (ILC) and who we are created to be.[2]  It is enacted in ‘oneness consciousness[3] and flows into our everyday activities.  This is what this weekly blog will focus on, an in-depth exploration of contemplative compassion.

If this interests you, please join me on the path.

A statement from James Finley, Ph.D.[4] many years ago captured my heart-mind.  He said, “The primary agent of transformation is compassion.” My core self knew this was true and I was at a point in my life, (the constructed-self life) when I needed to transform or die. (Little did I know at that time that transformation is death; a death to the egocentric self.) I also realized that I did not understand compassion as it was meant in Jim’s statement. And so the journey began in 1993 and I’m sure will continue as long as I am in this finite body.

Next week I’ll discuss the many different definitions of compassion. In the following weeks we’ll explore compassionate being and doing from oneness consciousness, both Christian and Buddhist. I also feel that a key for living the contemplative compassion path is to understand it from that which is commonly called our “true self” and “false self.”[5] In order to remove the pejorative language of “false” (AKA ‘bad’) self, I will explore Core (AKA True) Self and Constructed (AKA False) Self.

If these heart-mind aspects of living speak to you, please join me.

 

[1] I am indebted to Joanne P. Miller for this term.  Julian and the Buddha, Common points along the way. (2016) Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, p. 78

[2] Genesis 1:27; Romans 8:29-35

[3] Oneness consciousness also known as unitive consciousness, Paul R. Smith (2017) Is Your God Big Enough? Close Enough? You Enough? St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House, p. 68

[4] James Finley said this on many retreats and it is also found in Christian Mediation (2004) San Francisco, CA and New York: HarperSanFrancisco

[5] Merton, Thomas (1961) New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions and Odorisio, David  “Rediscovering the True Self through the Life and Writings of Thomas Merton” Thomas Merton Seasonal Vol. 28, No 2, pp. 13-23.