Blog Post 16: Paths Beyond Ego

Blog Post 16: Paths Beyond Ego

This is an important key to understanding compassion as a way of life.  Although our ego is involved in daily living, the Source of compassion is infinite and beyond ego.  We cannot bypass the Source and expect to live compassionately, it is beyond the ability of our finite ego to accomplish.  And even if the ego could accomplish this it would just make it more egocentric, which is not a characteristic of compassion.

In Boundless Compassion[1] and in the retreats of the same title, Joyce Rupp fills a void that some other teachers of compassion overlook or don’t acknowledge.  To realize that we are one with and created in the image of Infinite Love and Compassion, that is, it is our essential nature (aka, True Self) is the foundation and reality of living compassionately. To quote Thomas Merton, “…for it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not.”[2] Joyce speaks from this foundation, The Source of Infinite Compassion.

At the same time she focuses on daily living a compassionate life. Is this not who we are called to be?  To follow and live as Christ in the world; in the practical, daily life.  In the tradition of Merton, Joyce provides wisdom from theistic and non-theistic resources as a basis for a compassionate life. After all, Tibetan Buddhism has studied ways to practically implement compassion in daily life for over a thousand years.

In the Introduction to Week 1 of Boundless Compassion, Joyce writes “Compassion is a way of life-an inner posture of how to be with suffering, both our own and others, and a desire to move that attitude into action. Compassion involves an ‘inside-out’ movement. A radical change unfolds in us when compassion becomes a way of life, a transformation as far-reaching as an acorn growing into a tree,…or a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly.”[3]  In this way we see that “compassion the primary agent of transformation”[4] as Jim Finley states.

In Blog 2, “What is Compassion and What is Suffering?” I described compassion as tenderness, courage, and wisdom (TCW). Joyce provides the basis for TCW and also identifies the “movement of compassion–awareness, attitude, and action—and the four essential aspects of nonjudgment, nonviolence, forgiveness ,and mindfulness”[5] in multiple aspects of daily life.  These aspects create the necessary training to habituate the transformation to a compassionate life of tenderness, courage, and wisdom.

Boundless Compassion is eminently practical since there are daily practices and prayers around each weekly theme of compassionate living. “Compassion is a photosynthesis of the heart…We cannot hurry this transformation, but we can give ourselves to it as fully as possible, knowing that it entails a continual recommitment.”[6]  My future blog posts will highlight these themes and encourage us all to live a compassionate way of life in the midst of today’s world.

 

[1] Rupp, J. (2018) Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life. Notre Dame, IN.: Sorin Books. [2] Merton, T. (1961) New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Publishing, p. 297.  [3] Rupp, p.12. [4] Finley, James said on many retreats and found in Christian Mediation (2004) San Francisco, CA and New York: HarperSanFrancisco. [5] Rupp, p. 12. [6] Rupp, p. 14.

Blog Post 13: Errors in Compassion

Blog Post 13: Errors in Compassion

Today this sentence caught my attention, “The living reality of transformation…”[1] I was again reminded that “the primary agent of transformation is compassion.”[2] I’ve been struggling to write this post because I felt the need to address my failure(s) in compassion. Recently, I reacted poorly to a comment from a friend; in fact, I think I totally misunderstood it. The word “reacted” is important here since it so easily identifies when I’ve lost sight of the divinity of every human being and our oneness through love.

This time instead of being angry or frustrated with myself/ego, blaming, or trying to forget or justify my behavior (more egocentric activity), I decided to do something different.  (These thought processes hadn’t been all that helpful in the past anyway.)  There are a number of spiritual practices available but they can be used to avoid the real issue.  It seemed essential to me that I learn something through my less than helpful or compassionate response in the situation. I understand that our failures at living with compassion are our teachers, too. And I would also say that there are always opportunities to grow in compassionate living.

Looking deeply into this I could see how underlying all this egocentric drama was fear. When I am afraid, I lose sight of the Love that loves me into this moment.  In this instance, the fear was based in my ego needs, even the need to be a compassionate person!  One of the “micro-fears” was what other people would think of me. It broke the distorted image of who my constructed/false self thinks I am.  This is a key to the freedom we find in transformation, a key to growth.

Joyce Rupp writes, “In order for compassion to be more than a distant ideal, we need to be faithful to our daily spiritual practice.”[3] “…mindfulness helps us assess whether our thoughts and feelings are pulling us toward or away from compassion.”[4] When my awareness is distressed by fear or pain, I can use this as a sign that I need to be more mindfully aware.  “We will be more curious about our feelings rather than frightened of them or in denial about them, and most of all [we will learn] how to be kind which lies at the heart of compassion.”[5]

A life lived in fear and not in love/compassion is not a life lived at all.  In fact, it can be a real “hell on earth.” We all need to “get a life,” that is, a life that is lived in the reality of love and compassion.

 

 

[1] Bourgeault, C. (2018) Love is the Answer. What is the Question? Northeast Wisdom’ p. 172.
[2] Finley, J. (2004) Christian Mediation. San Francisco, CA and New York: HarperSanFrancisco.
[3] Rupp, J. (2018) Boundless Compassion. Notre Dame, IN.: Sorin Books, p. 34.
[4] Ibid, p. 35.
[5] Ibid, p. 36.

Blog 10: Welcoming Practice

Blog 10: Welcoming Practice

I have found a practice that I started paying attention to this summer.  It is called “Welcoming Practice” and you can find more information on it in Cynthia Bourgeault’s books, Contemplative Outreach’s website, an online course of the same title, and many more resources when you google it.  It is a way to pay attention on purpose and realign oneself in oneness with the God of Infinite Love and Compassion. Let me tell you about my personal experience practicing it this summer.

Obviously since I am new to this prayer practice I am no expert and know I have a beginner’s mind.  But I can share with you this approach and you may consider using it as a compassion practice.  There are 3 Steps and beginning is the key.   Perhaps you notice that you are a little frustrated or irritated; often these feelings increase particularly if we try to resist them.  If you’re reading this blog you are probably interested in enhancing compassion toward yourself and others and becoming irritated and frustrated just isn’t helpful on a contemplative compassion life path.

Step One is to Focus: to feel and become aware of what you are experiencing in your body.  In our example of irritation, I notice that I become tight and constricted.  I may even tighten my jaw and my breathing can change. Or it could be low blood sugar and I am hungry.  What is important is to notice what is going on in the body before my mind steps in to evaluate and often criticize or justify my irritation.  This may happen and it’s important to stay with what the body is experiencing rather than getting caught up in the mind’s storyline.

Step Two is to Welcome, that is, to welcome what you are experiencing, not to welcome the driver who just cut you off in traffic. It is an unconditional acceptance of “the reality of this situation…It is always the sensation you are accepting…and never the external situation itself.”[1]  Cynthia suggests that we “name the sensation lightly-‘Welcome, fear,’ ‘Welcome, pain,’ and so forth-rather than merely saying Welcome…”[2] Contemplative Outreach does suggest saying “Welcome, welcome, welcome.”[3] I have used both approaches and both are helpful.  I use “Welcome, welcome, welcome” to get me focused on Step 2, and then I can be specific with what I am welcoming.  This welcoming restores inner wholeness.[4]

Step Three is Letting Go.  It is not designed to fix things but rather to open ourselves and let go of repressing or reacting to what we are experiencing. It allows us the opportunity to reconnect with the Core Self one with God and then have the wisdom to act with compassion.  Letting go of the storyline we construct around daily occurrences which allows us to see clearly.  Cynthia writes, “The most important point I can make about this step is not to get to it too quickly…only when you sense that the energy bound up in the upset is beginning to wane on its own.”[5] It is a letting go of our expectations and need for control.

Cynthia Bourgeault writes about Welcoming Practice, “in fact, it is one, if not the strongest and potentially life-changing in the repertory of Christian spiritual practices.”[6]

 

[1] Bourgeault, C. (2016) The Heart of Centering Prayer.  Boulder, CO: Shambhala Press, p.91.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Contemplative Outreach (2014) “Welcoming Prayer: Consent on the Go.”

[4] Bourgeault, p. 92.

[5] Bourgeault, C. (2008) The Wisdom Jesus. Boston: Shambhala Press, p. 179-180.

[6] Bourgeault (2016), p.90.

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.

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