Insight Meditation Houston

Radiating Compassion for Oneself into the World – 4/22/2019

In honor of Compassionate Houston week, tonight’s Dharma talk and guided meditation practice focus on the theme of “Radiating Compassion for Oneself into the World.” It is part of our human nature to feel compassion when the heart trembles in resonance with someone else’s pain and suffering. And yet, we often forget to include ourselves in compassionate caring.

Buddhist scholar Nyanaponika Thera wrote, “It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralyzing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self.”

Recently one of my fellow chaplain interns sent me an inspiring podcast of Krista Tippett interviewing Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician and writer, whose long struggle with Crohn’s disease affects her view of life and medicine. Living well, she says, is not about eradicating our wounds and weaknesses but understanding how they complete our identity and equip us to help others. The way we deal with losses, large and small, shapes our capacity to be present to all of our experiences.

Rachel’s grandfather, a scholar of Kabbalah, told her this story of the birthday of the world on her fourth birthday: “In the beginning, there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, there was an accident. And the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness in the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Rachel’s grandfather considered the whole human race as a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people; to lift it up and make it visible once again and, thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This is a very important story for our times — that we heal the world one heart at a time. This task is called “tikkun olam” in Hebrew, “restoring the world.”

Rachel says, “I think that we all feel that we’re not enough to make a difference; that we need to be more, somehow, either wealthier or more educated or, somehow or other, different than the people we are. And according to this story, we are exactly what is needed. And to just wonder about that a little, what if we were exactly what is needed? What then? How would I live if I were exactly what’s needed to heal the world?

“For example, my own wounds, my own sufferings, have enabled me to feel compassion for the suffering of others. Without my suffering, I wouldn’t understand the suffering of others or be able to connect to them. My loneliness enables me to recognize the loneliness in other people, even when it’s covered over; to find them where they have become lost in the dark, and sit with them; and to know that just by sitting with them, eventually they will find what they need in order to move forward.”

She goes on to say that wholeness includes all of our wounds and vulnerabilities. When we connect through the wisdom we have gained from our wounding, we are able to help others.

Rachel demonstrates that it’s possible to live a good life, even though it isn’t an easy life. As a hospice chaplain intern, I share her appreciation for being with people at the threshold of death. At that “edge of life,” it becomes increasingly clear that what we leave behind in the hearts and minds of people we have touched compassionately matters far more than any wealth and fame that we have accumulated.

Ruth King’s book, Mindful of Race, includes a quotation by Lao-Tzu from the Tao Te Ching: “Compassionate towards yourself, you reconcile all beings in your world.” I have adapted Ruth’s guided meditation practices to help us expand our circle of compassionate caring from self-compassion into the world.

We will begin with a guided compassion practice for ourselves:

Sit with eyes closed in a posture of relaxed awareness. Connect with your own body and with the larger body of the earth, holding you. Bring awareness to the breath moving through your body, entering and exiting as the breath joins with the larger element of air, moving in, through and out. Rest and savor the presence of the earth and air, which are always with you.

Now invite some protectors to accompany you. You might imagine a benefactor—someone who provides you with wise guidance—sitting beside you on your right side…. On your left side, visualize or have a felt sense of someone you love deeply…. Sense them sitting close enough for you to feel their warmth and care. With thanks, allow every cell in your body to be bathed by their compassionate regard for you. Receive warm support from the earth for the mutual regard flowing among the three of you.

Now bring to mind an aspect of yourself that needs your compassion. This aspect of yourself may be clear or vague, past or present. Gently invite it to come close and to join you and your protectors.

Welcome this aspect of yourself that merits compassion. Allow yourself to be touched by its presence. Silently communicating, “I care about your suffering,” ask it to tell you its story. It may want to tell you how and why it feels ashamed, enraged, numb, lonely, abandoned, sad, anxious, indifferent, wounded, weary or afraid. Listen with your entire body as you feel the support of Mother Earth beneath you and your protectors.

Breathing into the center of your chest, allow yourself to be touched by any suffering that you are experiencing. You may feel heat, darkness, heaviness, sharpness, sadness, or fear. Let your heart open to receive whatever arises. Breathing out, sense coolness and lightness. Notice any freshness or relief as you repeat to yourself silently the following statements, feeling the good intention behind them:

I care about your suffering.
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.

Focus your attention on the area of your heart as you breathe in and out. Stay present. Notice movements between the heart closing and opening, and welcome physical sensations of both resistance and release. As you breathe in, connect with your sincere intention to relieve suffering. As you breathe out, connect with spaciousness so that you can rest with ease. Be aware of a field of compassion around you.

I care about your suffering.
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.

With a deep exhalation, let go of the image of yourself with your two protectors. Sense the warmth and pulsation of your heart.

Compassion recognizes other’s suffering as a reflection of our own pain and allows us to feel empathy and a mutual connection with life’s sorrow. Compassion shares suffering and wishes to alleviate it.

Now bring to mind someone you love.

Picture this person and sense your natural caring for this dear one.

If no image comes, simply sense a caring connection resonating in your heart.

Let yourself be aware of this person’s measure of sorrow and suffering.

Sense how your heart opens to send good wishes, to extend comfort, and to share pain and meet it with compassion. This is a natural response of the heart.

To help it open and soften even more, repeat to yourself the following phrases, while you visualize the face of your loved one:

I care about your suffering.
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.

 With a deep exhalation, let go of the image of this dear one, returning to sense the warmth and pulsation in the heart.

Now bring your attention to the image of a neutral person, someone you don’t know well—perhaps picturing someone sitting in our circle tonight. Remember that everyone has a measure of joy and sorrow in their lives. Everybody merits compassion. Visualizing this neutral person, repeat the phrases:

I care about your suffering.
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.

 With an exhalation, let go of the image of the neutral person, returning to sense the warmth and pulsation in the heart.

The next step is to cultivate compassion for a difficult person. Before this part of the practice, let us consider a radically different attitude towards offensive behavior. Some communities have created healing rituals or ceremonies that support a compassionate response towards wrongdoers. Jack Kornfield describes such a ritual from the Babemba tribe in South Africa:

When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he or she is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe, regardless of age, begins to talk out loud, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center has done. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted. All the positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. No one is permitted to fabricate or exaggerate about the accomplishments or the positive aspects of the accused individual. The tribal ceremony often last several days…. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomes back into the tribe.

Reflect how it would feel to have such a compassionate community response to your wrongdoings…. Now visualize someone who has spoken or acted unskillfully towards you, someone with whom you may have conflicts or unfinished business…. Recognize the challenge of responding wisely to ignorance that is beyond your control. Remember that is not our job to force someone’s growth to our liking. Transformation requires wise love that is rooted in compassion, non-harming, and understanding interdependence.

Imagine the person who has been challenging for you sitting in the center of a compassionate communal circle. Remember that, just like you, this difficult one wants to be happy and safe. Just like you, this person has a measure of joys and sorrows. Recall as many of this individual’s positive attributes, good deeds, and strengths as possible…. Notice how this process affects your heart, body and mind.

Now direct the following phrases towards the difficult person:

I care about your suffering.
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.

With a deep exhalation, let go of the image of the difficult person. Return to the sensation of warmth and pulsation in your heart.

Now we will offer compassion for the suffering of the world. The weight of global suffering can be heavy on each individual’s body, heart and mind. Compassion practice serves to create softness and spaciousness around this burden. Eventually, we realize that at the core of the heart is love and that we can rely on that loving essence. Imagine your heart as a purifying fire that can transform the suffering of the world into the luminosity of compassion.

Include in your heart all people who homeless, hungry and thirsty, those who are in situations of violence and oppression—those in warzones and prisons, those who are depressed and lonely, and those who are seeking asylum. Remember all people who are ill and grieving—those in hospitals and hospices. Let your heart open to include animals of the earth, sea, and sky whose habitats are endangered. All are in need of compassion, care and protection.

Breathe in for all of us, and breathe out for all of us. Breathing in, allow yourself to be touched by suffering in our families, communities, nations, the world, and the planet. Breathe in the suffering so that all beings can have space to relax, open and heal. Feel the heat, darkness, heaviness, sadness, despair, or whatever else arises as you connect with this suffering that we all share.

Breathing out, feel the qualities of compassion being released through all of your pores for the benefit of all sentient beings. Breathe out coolness, lightness, freshness, and wellbeing. As you repeat the following phrases, offer your sincere wish for the relief of the world’s suffering.

I care about your suffering.
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.

With a deep exhalation, let go of the image of suffering in the world. Return to the sensation of your heart with its warmth and pulsation. Sense the field of compassion generated by those of us practicing here tonight, and soak in that caring energy. When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.

4/22/2019

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