from a talk by Gloria Green
Compassion is the strong wish of the heart to alleviate suffering. Our hearts open to the suffering that is there with a feeling of connection to those suffering. Thay says that compassion is a verb, since it moves us to act.
Cultivating the willingness to see and listen deeply to suffering is the first step on the journey of compassion. We may have to dive deeply within ourselves to nurture the courage, balance, patience, and wisdom that enable us to care. So self-compassion comes first. A firm foundation in ourselves allows us to be there for others. Thay says, “With compassion, you can relate to other people and beings. Without compassion, you are cut off.”
In Thay’s experience, the concentration on compassion is a wonderful practice. You may need only fifteen minutes of breathing deeply and looking deeply to realize that the other person is a victim of their suffering. That the person needs your help, not your punishment. Suddenly the nectar of compassion is born, your heart is blessed with that nectar, and you suffer no longer yourself.
Rather, you want to do something. If you are not able at that moment to use loving speech, you can write a letter that says something kind to help the other person. But you can’t help another person until you have been able to help yourself. Peace and compassion always begin with yourself.
Thay says, “We all have seeds of compassion in us… The energy of understanding and compassion can be generated from within us. That is the energy of the Buddha inside. The Buddha is always there within you, and you can touch the Buddha at any time you like.”
Compassion involves recognizing our shared human condition, flawed and fragile though it may be. Rather than judging someone who makes a mistake, compassion considers what it must feel like to be the person making the mistake. Even when we are that person! Life is imperfect on this relative plane and so are we! Our failings are not there by choice. We are part of the intricate web of causes and conditions.
A deep understanding of interbeing allows us to realize that we are doing the best we can. Thay says, “In order to be compassionate, you have to try to understand what the other person does – that they are the victim of their own confusion, their own worldview, their own grieving, their own discrimination, their own lack of understanding and compassion.”
For the last couple of months, I have been practicing self-compassion. This practice is providing me with the strength and courage to stay connected and to listen deeply. In times of dark distress, what is most needed is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You are not alone.”
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