Compassion is hard wired in our organism, and can be cultivated. This talk helps us identify the blocks to compassion—our outmoded survival equipment—and using RAIN, offers practical guidance in mindfully attuning to others’ emotional experience and awakening our natural tenderness and care. This talk includes a short introduction to the meditation: The RAIN of Compassion.
Empathy is the ability to feel what other people feel… compassion includes empathy, and it also has the quality of caring and concern that wants to help. Compassion means “to suffer together,” but it is really defined by a quivering of the heart that wants to help…
Compassion is our evolutionary potential. We have a capacity for affiliative care, to tune in to each other and to care about each other. And, really, this capacity is the hope of our world…
What motivates us – as individuals and as a society – to build walls and knowingly hurt others? This talk explores the evolutionary roots of “unreal othering” and how when we are hijacked by fear, it can take over and disconnect us from the very real suffering of others. We then look at how meditative strategies awaken us from othering, and reveal our intrinsic belonging. Finally, we apply this to our own lives in a reflection that helps us respond to someone we have turned into “unreal other” with compassion and wisdom.
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
We are conditioned to avoid suffering – our own and others. By pulling away, we also contract our heart and disconnect from our innate capacity for compassion. This short talk and meditation is a training in touching vulnerability, and discovering the boundless heartspace that can be a transformer of sorrows.
A special instruction and guided heart meditation from the 2017 IMCW Spring 7-day Silent Retreat – previously unpublished.
Part 2: Compassion – the tender resonance of heart – awakens as we allow ourselves to be touched by our shared vulnerability.
This series reflects on four primary expressions of an awake, wise heart: lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. In each talk we explore the habitual patterning that blocks our full realization of these innate capacities, and the understandings and practices that nurture their unfolding.
From the talk:
When you witness vulnerability, really feel it in you – let yourself be touched – and when the tenderness comes, when the real visceral tenderness comes, feel it for 15 seconds, 20 seconds, and let yourself marinate in the feeling of tenderness.
As we begin to get more tender and to look and to respond, it’s contagious to people around us. They get touched and then they act that way more. Just the way there’s limbic contagion when people are angry or upset, there’s compassion contagion.
“Just Like You”
(Inspired by the Dalai Lama)
Walk gently on this earth with purposeful steps
You share this space with seven billion human beings
And countless other precious life forms
Just like you
They all want to be happy
Just like you
They all need love We’re not going to survive unless we walk Gently on this earth together, Until we touch something in others that Feels just like the shards of our own pain,
The fluttering warmth of our own joy,
Until we sew their wounds into our hearts
And seal it with our own skin
We are conditioned to go into a limbic trance—an emotional reactivity to life within and around us—that keeps us identified with a limited, separate sense of self. This talk helps us to identify the flags of trance, and to bring a healing attention that frees us to live our moments with creativity, wisdom and love. Includes the RAIN of Self-Compassion. (from the 2017 IMCW New Year’s Retreat)
Our hearts awaken as we let ourselves be touched by the suffering within and around us. They shine as we respond with care to what has touched us. This meditation uses the breath to guide us in letting in and contacting suffering, and offering out our love. With practice this meditation enables us to realize the truth of our connectedness and the luminous love that is intrinsic to awareness [a favorite from the archives].
The trance of unworthiness is sustained by our aversion to the dragons – the difficult emotions and related behaviors that are a deeply conditioned part of the human experience. In this talk we explore the awakening that is possible as we recognize our reactive patterns and instead of judgment, offer a loving and healing presence (a favorite from the archives).
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Discovering the Gold: Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion
I remember when I was on a book tour for Radical Acceptance, one of the places I stopped was the Buddhist university, Naropa. They had a big poster with a big picture of me and, underneath the photo, the caption was: Something is wrong with me.
The Trance of Unworthiness: Forgetting Who We Are
I wrote about the Trance of Unworthiness in Radical Acceptance 14 years ago, and I’ve found, over the years, that it is still pretty much the most pervasive expression of emotional pain that I encounter in myself and in those I’ve worked with. It comes out as fear or shame — a feeling of being flawed, unacceptable, not enough. Who I am is not okay.
A core teaching of the Buddha is that we suffer because we forget who we really are. We forget the essence — the awareness and the love that’s here — and we become caught in an identity that’s less than who we are.
When we are in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not aware of how much our body, emotions, and thoughts have locked into a sense of falling short and the fear that we’re going to fail. The trance of unworthiness brings us to addictive behaviors as we try to soothe the discomfort of fear and shame. It makes it difficult to be intimate, spontaneous and real with others, because we have the sense that, even if they don’t already know, they will find out how flawed we really are. It makes it hard to take risks because we’re afraid we’re going to fall short. We can never really relax. Right in the heart of the trance, there is a need to do something to be better, to avoid the failure lurking right around the corner.
Space Suit Strategies: How We Manage in a World of Severed Belonging
Entering this world is difficult. Due to their own wounds and fears, a lack of attunement from caregivers is common. Depending on severity, this can create a core wounding of severed belonging: if I am not enough or if I fail, I won’t belong anymore. It starts early, and we internalize the messages relayed through our families: Here is how you need to be to be respected and/or loved.
In order to navigate this difficult environment, we don spacesuits — our ego survival strategies — to make it through. The suffering is that we become identified with the spacesuit and forget who is looking through the mask. We forget the tender heart that longs to love without holding back.
The sense of unworthiness gets dramatically amplified depending on our culture. Western culture is very individualistic and there’s not an innate sense of belonging. Fear of failure is really big. Every step of the way, we have to compete and prove ourselves and we have a profound fear of falling short. Messages of being inferior are particularly toxic for non-dominant populations. In different degrees, for those that don’t fit the dominant culture’s standards, there is an accentuated sense of not being enough.
So, we all develop our “space suit” strategies to manage ourselves so that we will “belong.” You probably know the ways you go about getting other people to pay attention, or to love you, or to respect you. For many of us it’s striving and accomplishing and proving ourselves. For some, there’s a habitual busyness. For others, there are addictive behaviors that numb and soothe the feelings.
The Golden Buddha: Remembering Our True Nature
One of the stories I’ve always loved took place in Asia. There’s a huge statue of the Buddha. It was a plaster and clay statue, not a handsome statue, but people loved it for its staying power. A number of years ago, there was a long dry period and a crack appeared in the statue. So the monks brought their little pen flashlights to look inside the crack — just thought they might find out something about the infrastructure. When they shined the light in, what shined out was a flash of gold — and every crack they looked into, they saw that same shining. So they dismantled the plaster and clay, which turned out to be just a covering, and found that it was the largest pure solid gold statue of the Buddha in all of southeast Asia.
The monks believed that the statue had been covered with plaster and clay to protect it through difficult years, much in the same way that we put on that space suit to protect ourselves from injury and hurt. What’s sad is that we forget the gold and we start believing we’re the covering — the egoic, defensive, managing self. We forget who is here. So you might think of the essence of the spiritual path as a remembering — reconnecting with the gold . . . the essential mystery of awareness.
Radical Acceptance: Awakening from the Trance of Unworthiness
The practice of meditation, or coming into presence, is described as having two wings. The wing of mindfulness allows us to see what is actually happening in the present moment without judgement. The other wing is heartfulness or love — holding what we see with tenderness and compassion. You might think of it as two questions: What is happening right now? and Can I be with this and regard it with kindness? These are the two wings that we cultivate to be able to wake up out of the trance of unworthiness — out of the spacesuit self — and sense that gold that’s shining through.
I’d like to invite you to take a moment to check in and just to feel into the inquiry: Is there anything, right this moment, between me and feeling at home in myself, at home in who I am? What is here, right now? Can I be with this? Can I regard this with kindness?
Compassion is the medicine we most need as individuals and a species to heal suffering and free our spirits. The essence of compassion for ourselves and others – what I call Radical Compassion – has three key elements: it is an embodied experience (a felt sense of tenderness), it is inclusive all beings, and it naturally moves us to act from a caring heart. This two-part talk explores the alchemy of Radical Compassion and guides us in awakening this intrinsic expression of our evolutionary potential.
CC ~ Compassion is the medicine we most need as individuals and a species to heal suffering and free our spirits. The essence of compassion for ourselves and others – what I call Radical Compassion – has three key elements: it is an embodied experience (a felt sense of tenderness), it is inclusive all beings, and it naturally moves us to act from a caring heart. This two-part talk explores the alchemy of Radical Compassion and guides us in awakening this intrinsic expression of our evolutionary potential.
talk given on 4/30/2017 at the IMCW Spring Retreat