Compassion rising

2014 has been dubbed the "year of mindfulness", which means that the quality of compassion gets to share some airtime as well, thanks to a world in turmoil.

In a previous post, I discussed how compassion is not an emotion or mood, but a state of being that can be cultivated. Far from being a passive, nauseating, sickly-sweet demeanour, true compassion is synonymous with skillful action – action that is inspired from the largest and brutally honest perspective of reality.

The Buddha went so far as to say that the mind’s natural state is compassionate. A theory that has recently been confirmed by several psychologists and evolutionary scientists: our bodies and brains are wired to be good.

Studies have shown that compassionate people have stronger immune systems, higher energy levels and live longer, happier lives.

Despite the trance of “survival of the fittest” in our collective memory, it was Darwin himself among others who wrote extensively about the presence of compassion in primates, and how it contributed towards the survival of their communities and tribes.

If this is true i.e. if we are indeed wired to be good, then why is the world in the state that it is? And why are some of us able to show more compassion than others?

The answer is simply this: we are all born with the seeds of compassion, but it is up to us to nurture and cultivate that seed throughout our lives.

If we don’t, it is easy to succumb to societal conditioning and the notion of “separation”, “competition” and what the Buddhists consider the “delusion of isolation”. Caught up in this quicksand, the spark of compassion is quickly put out by the immediate pain & suffering we may be going through.

And yet, it is this very personal pain that can be a catalyst to help remind us of our interconnectedness.

Pain is a universal human condition, and when we recognize that in those we consider “other” or “separate” from ourselves, there is room for compassion to grow. By helping relieve another’s pain, we are in fact, helping ourselves, since we are all so intricately interdependent.

Author Robert Wright speaks about the evolution of compassion, non-zero sum dynamics and why it may save the world

How can you start being more compassionate today?

1. Join the Charter for Compassion, a global movement launched in Nov 2009 and the fruition of scholar Karen Armstrong’s TED Prize wish.

2. Meditate on compassion. To get you there, here's a quick primer on the Tibetan Buddhist Tonglen practice:

  • In a quiet, relaxed posture, bring to mind whatever is causing the biggest pain or suffering in your life (a health condition, a relationship, a circumstance etc.). Feel and acknowledge the presence of that pain.
  • Now bring to mind all the other people in the world who might be experiencing a similar situation and pain.
  • Take a deep breath, and INHALE all that suffering – yours, and that of others.
  • Hold that suffering in your heart. No matter how overwhelming it might feel, remember that you have the courage and strength to hold it tenderly, and respond to it compassionately, since you are tapping into the collective awareness and heart.
  • Now offer that suffering a loving acceptance, and gently EXHALE compassion – sending it to yourself and everyone else in your predicament.