Compassion is my intention for 2014. This is the quality of being deeply connected to the struggles of others. Each January women, in the circles I guide, select an intention to use as a touchstone. Intentions
don’t always rarely take us where we expect to go. This year is no exception.
Compassion stirs images of the Dalai Lama and his beatific smile. It brings to mind Gandhi’s courage and his non-violent responses to cruelty.
My life’s work is being with others as they encounter struggles. So, this intention seemed like a natural. Blithely, a part of me that always underestimates the challenge I am about to face asks, How hard could this be?
Tornados, tsunamis or any act of God that leaves others bereft of safety often compels us to act. Stories and photos of these events make me reach for Kleenex and sometimes my checkbook.
Guan Yin, pictured here, was entering heaven when she heard cries of the suffering. She returned to Earth and pledged to stay until all sentient beings were free. I am just working to have compassion for a handful of people and sometimes I feel overwhelmed.
Here is the rub. What if it’s not an act of God but a series of choices that causes the suffering? Can I still find a kind heart to hear their problems? As a therapist, I heard stories that led to choices. I understood how their history brought them to this point. I looked through their eyes. With friends and family I forget the complexity of others. I judge them on the act that disturbs me.
Giving in to what is happening is the first step. It seems always to be the first step. Acceptance strips away the fantasy. We are then in right relationship to the truth.
Compassion doesn’t mean giving up. It doesn’t mean walking away. It means holding on to what is right without making the other person wrong. Can I stand where they stand and look at the world through their eyes without judging them? This is much easier when they are hurt rather than hurting others. To do this I have to find the place in me that could make a similar choice.
Giving in takes courage.
It means reconnecting with the whole truth of who I am.
When I forget our interconnectedness I walk in the Arboretum, lose myself in gardening, or remember the ancient forest in Colorado that Don and I love so much. I wrote this about in Unfolding.
“My link to Don and everything around us is now like that of the aspen’s roots: invisible. We’ve slipped into another world with unseen bonds. We feel them. Nothing seems separate. We stay silent. Words might break this spell. This connectedness is what I lose rushing through my days. Speed lets me forget the root system I share with nature, other people, and my own soul. Inching along this bumpy road, we are enfolded in a living web.”
When I separate myself from others compassion is impossible. This is an uncomfortable truth.
I have also learned that we must be compassionate to ourselves first or we cannot be compassionate to others. It just doesn’t happen until we can look upon ourselves with acceptance. So on those days when I am not living with a generous spirit I must be gentle with myself.
This is what I’ve learned so far and it’s only May.
It isn’t too late to pick an intention for yourself. Intentions give us a way to examine our actions. Using an intention deepens our inner journey. It lets us notice where we stayed true to what we value and where we strayed from it.
Create one for yourself.
Then hold onto your hat and get ready to ride.
Photo taken at Buddhist Temple in Chicago’s Chinatown