compassion in action: what does it really come down to?

(This is an exploration–not a dictation.)

There’s a reason Pema Chodron’s Guide to Compassionate Living is called Start Where You Are. I’m  mid-way through this illuminating insight into certain Buddhist practices and it’s already changing my life–from the inside out.

I’m reading it because compassion, sometimes referred to as ahimsa, in yoga-speak, is something I don’t want to be afraid of anymore. I don’t want to avoid the pain of others because it’s too hard for me to handle. I don’t want to live in a world where I only expose myself to the light, and avoid the dark. I want to be able to breathe in others’ pain, and breathe out healing.

That statement up there? I have the feeling this is going to be a mega challenge for me. I’m the kid (okay, young adult) who cried when the rat was finally caught in the trap. Other people’s (animal’s, plant’s, you name it, I feel it) pain hurts me. And who am I to think I can be some kind of help? Just a yoga teacher who feels called. And even that–what does that mean? An acquaintance of mine recently shared a quote “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” I mean, sheesh, Pema talks about how challenging it can be, and she’s a devoted, practicing nun. How do the rest of us, householders, as Yogi Bhajan calls us, manage it?

Here’s what I’m feeling the answer is: By starting where we are. By accepting where we’re at. By not running from our own darkness–because that’s, as Pema says, “the juicy stuff.” Depressed? Angry? Volatile? Anxiety-riddled? Fantastic. You’re the perfect candidate for learning to develop your bodhitcitta, or, compassionate heart. If you, me, we, can learn to practice compassion for our dark stuff, we are, essentially, shedding light on it. If we can learn to surround that place with acceptance, with loving-kindness, even though we feel repelled by it, that’s when we’re tapping into our universality. The stuff that connects us to every other, perfectly imperfect human being. And if we can practice compassion towards ourselves in these times, we can practice it towards others.

I believe we recognize what we recognize in ourself. And I’m finding I can be of the most help to those people I recognize. So the deeper I go to face my dark stuff, the more I can help others face theirs.

Max Strom says this: “Never assume you know a person’s motivation, even those of your adversaries. You may disagree with their methods, but don’t assume that you know their deepest thoughts, because you don’t. Many people have wonderful intentions and are good at heart but make choices based on fear. Have compassion.”

can you be better all the time? practicing compassion, on and off the mat

Sep 28, 2010 · Comment

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