A couple of weeks ago I had a tricky week, a change in medication sparked off some considerable physical, emotional and mental discomfort, yet there is always a lesson to be learned when we experience difficulties and challenges.
And the lesson has been very profound, indeed so profound that I feel I must share it. One of my teachers taught me to ‘Share your wisdom, not your suffering’ and on the whole I adhere to that teaching. At the moment there is so much suffering being shared on the media that it is impossible to avoid it; maybe even if we switched off everything and lived in our own little bubble some of us would still ‘feel’ the suffering as it is so intense. So when I started to suffer myself that week (no fever, no cough fortunately) I found that every time I became even slightly aware of the suffering of others I welled up and the tears just ran down my face. Now my family will tell you that it’s not completely unusual for me to tear up when something touches my heart! But this was intense. And it came to a head in my meditation practice one morning as I sat in what normally feels like an infinite ocean of love only to find that the ocean was full of pain and suffering, my heart was ripped open, the sobbing endless...
And crucially that was when I truly realised that compassion arises where love and suffering meet.
Obvious when you think about it! That explains why it is so very easy to raise millions of pounds for charity in just one evening from powerful tv programmes showing immense suffering.
So how does this enable us to understand compassion better, to feel compassion and to practise it? Compassion is defined thus, ‘a feeling of sorrow or pity excited by the sufferings or misfortunes of another,’ but actually I have learnt that it is much more than this, more than just a ‘feeling’, more than ‘sorrow’, more than ‘pity’. True compassion, like true love, is deep within us all, uniting us all.
When we feel or experience compassion we are generally motivated to respond by helping to ease the pain and suffering of others, and there has been so much of this taking place during lockdown, from the key workers on the frontline, to Colonel Tom in his garden, to good neighbours checking we are all ok and so on. For those of us who are unable to do all of the things we feel moved to then we may be in a position to make financial donations, or to make phone calls, to write letters and emails. And if for any reason we are unable to do any of those things then we can send out loving and healing intentions or prayers to those who are suffering.
Let us also be aware that by practising compassion (and please do NOT forget self compassion) we are inadvertently helping ourselves… certainly supporting our mental wellbeing (this is well documented, ‘The Compassionate Mind’ by Paul Gilbert) and definitely supporting our spiritual growth, bringing us ever closer to the realisation that we are all one, united in the Divine.
I truly believe that the more open our hearts are, the more profoundly we experience compassion. Now there are all sorts of ways to open our hearts, you may guess what’s coming... watching the sun set, seeing the hawthorn come into blossom, playing with a cute dog or cat, listening to a beautiful voice, staring into the eyes of a loved one, the list is endless. Now, I have been practising Dru yoga for over 20 years and the movements, sequences, visualisations, affirmations, relaxations and meditations have all had the effect of easing my slightly battered heart more and more open. I also had the great good fortune to be born into a very loving family and from as long as I can remember I was predisposed to helping others whenever I could.
So you may like to sit with this for a few moments having been out for a walk in nature or having done a beautiful Dru sequence or practised some breathing exercises...your heart is more open, let your awareness rest there, visualise a warmth and light there, bring to mind some of the suffering which is all around us right now (maybe your own, maybe that of others…), slowly allow the love in your heart to meet the suffering...and sit with the compassion.
And when you emerge... become aware of how you feel called to act.. responding to this inner voice and calling to action.