I'm tying the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks with my A to Z Spiritual Practices this year, and this week the focus is on compassion.
The book compares the relationship between soul and society to the in-breath and the out-breath of meditation practice. The author presents stories of individuals who have struggled to maintain balance while caring for self and caring for the world as well as questions that prompt the reader to reflect on their inner life and who they are; and their life of service.
There are so many insights into this book about my own life and focus on helping others. I am taking my time with it to fully reflect on it, and think about ways to be both more compassionate to myself as I try to be with others through volunteering and service.
Some of the things I want to remember are:
- Our own health - physical, emotional, and spiritual - is inseparable from the health of the planet, and that we can't truly heal one without healing the other.
- An incessantly busy life...is used to deaden deepest feelings and avoid suffering. As you begin to heal yourself, you can be present for difficult situations (e.g., dying parent).
- Healing the soul begins with a commitment to telling the truth. If we tell our story just the way it is...we discover who we are and what matters to us.
- Search for an unhappy or unfulfilled area of your life. In particular, look for an area where you simply cannot overcome a problem even though you genuinely want to.
- I could not be, so I had to do.
- Many people who are deeply committed to social change end up ignoring their own basic needs. Yet exhaustion and lack of self-compassion limit our effectiveness out in the world.
- To continue service, you have to understand that compassion is a living circle, starting with yourself and then encompassing your work in society.
"Everyone can be great because everyone can serve."
(Dr. Martin Luther King)
- Common challenges as central themes in stories: abandonment, self-esteem, trust, fear of life, fear of death, power, despair, aloneness, emptiness, desire for love, and fear of love.
- Investigate your central image over a period of several months or more.
- Review your life and look for areas in your life where you are chronically unhappy or feel unfulfilled. Look for difficult places you are doing your best to change, but where the pattern of unhappiness continues. The obvious places to dig are relationships, family, emotions, body, work, money, creativity, or spirituality.
- Next look at the common theme or thread running through the pattern: fear of intimacy, lack of self-esteem, fear of rejection or abandonment, mistrusting people or the world, lack of self-responsibility, becoming a victim, over-control or fear of surrender, and fear of success and/or happiness.
- Our parents shaped who we are, and have an indelible impact on what matters most to us.
- The lessons we are compelled to learn from our parents are the very teachings that allow us to go beyond ourselves and reach out to the world.
- My mother taught me that faith is central to living....my concern for others, the love of my home, and the ritual celebrations I host to bring people together are all tributes to her.
- My mother gave me the gift of faith and appreciation for the beauty of the world. My father asked me to put that passion into action.
- My father never had much money, yet he managed to provide us with a rich childhood.
- Both my parents gave me a deep appreciation of artistry and beauty. My mother was saying to me, bring beauty into your life and nourish your faith. My father was saying to me, bring beauty into the world and sustain your hope.
- As I deepen my inner life I am honoring my mother, and as I contribute to the world I pay tribute to my father.
There is no house like the house of belonging.
- Our place of belonging is where we feel most known and accepted. It's a source of strength and frequently a guidepost to our life's calling. The place of hiding is where we feel most alienated and where we wear a false mask to cover our true self. Our mask is usually an area of hidden yet intense suffering.
- Full awareness of both of these forces enriches our self-understanding and our connection to the world.
- To belong is to feel at home with yourself. In a life story, a place of belonging is that place where you feel most alive, most yourself. You feel known and accepted for who you are (e.g., books, music, sports, helping others, art, science, travel, nature).
- The natural world is my soul food, my true church, and my first and oldest love. In nature, I felt completely at home, and yet surrounded by immense mystery.
- Because I felt so alive and so myself in nature it became central to both my inner life and my calling in the world. I go to the natural world for spiritual guidance and renewal.
- Our early sense of belonging can signal what matters to us. It can provide the love that sustains us or the fire that lights our passion.
"Compassion in action is paradoxical and mysterious.
It is absolute yet continually changing.
It accepts that everything is happening exactly as it should, and
it works with a full-hearted commitment to change.
It is joyful in the midst of suffering, and
hopeful in the face of overwhelming odds.
It is simple in a world of complexity and confusion.
It is done for others, but it nurtures the self.
It intents to eliminate suffering,
knowing that suffering is limitless.
- What can you to deepen your sense of belonging, the feeling of being fully alive? Make a commitment to doing at least one thing each week toward that goal.
- Ironically, our masks manifest the exact opposite of what we intend. A mask of perfectionism sometimes is intended to get someone love. In fact, the tyranny of "being the best" can deeply isolate a person from others.
- On one level, a wake-up call (e.g., illness, death, divorce, or loss of a job) often destroys something, on another level it offers the opportunity for something new to be born. Though all these events are painful, they are also transformers.
- Waking up we begin to live more authentically, we set new priorities so we can spend more time with our family, take care of our health, do nothing for awhile, or explore a new way to give back to society.
- Are you seriously out of balance in any areas of your life? Is a wake-up call at your door asking you to pay attention, to make a change? What do you need to do to bring more balance into your life on a daily and weekly basis?
- We cultivate the capacity to trust that our lives are unfolding just the way they need to....This trust is nurtured by an unabashed desire to live fully, facing our fears and challenges and then getting on with it, finding what we love and doing it, and sharing what we've learned with the world.
"The best way to become a better 'helper'
is to become a better person.
But one necessary aspect of becoming a better person
is via helping other people.
So one must and can do both simultaneously."
- In America today, some 38 million people live in poverty, and many are single mothers and children. Ten percent of America's citizens control the vast majority of wealth, and the United States now has the greatest gap between the rich and poor of any industrialized country. Unless we change our consumption patterns we will be responsible for the extinction of 25 percent of all species by 2025.
- As a small 5% of the world's population, Americans consume one-third of the planet's resources. While we use up to three times more than our fair share, at least a billion people in our world aren't getting enough food to survive.
- Visionaries like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Simone Weil, and Mahatma Gandhi have guided us toward a socially-engaged spirituality.
"Because we all share this small planet earth,
we have to learn to live in harmony and peace
with each other and with nature.
That is not just a dream, but a necessity.
We are dependent upon each other in so many ways
that we can no longer live in isolated communities and
ignore what is happening outside.
- Service can manifest both in formal volunteering (e.g., serving in soup kitchens or prisons, or replanting forests) and through information channels (e.g., the father who coaches his son's basketball team as form of mentoring, the restaurant owner who sends her compost to an organic farm or makes sure all of her leftover food goes to homeless shelters). We need all these acts of loving kindness to build the kind of communities we hope for.
- Where is compassion leading me at this time in my life - inward towards personal needs, or outward paying more attention to my role in the world?
- Busyness...seduces the activist into never having time to care for herself.
The rush and pressure of modern life are a form,
perhaps the most common form, of innate violence.
To allow oneself to be carried away
by a multitude of conflicting concerns,
to surrender to too many demands,
to commit oneself to too many projects,
to want to help everyone in everything
is to succumb to violence.
The frenzy of the activist neutralizes her work for peace.
It destroys her own inner capacity for peace.
It kills the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful.
- In all of this abundance, what matters most? How am I spending my time? Am I using it compassionately and creatively? What goals does my spirit serve?
- I am seeing that I keep myself incessantly busy so I can avoid the hard areas in my life. How well-defended I am. Is it even worth trying? To approach the issue of society's suffering I first have to deal with why I've chosen to stay so busy. I need to find out what I have no time for something so important to me.
- Her son was her loving caretaker during her final days. The quiet dignity of her death, infused with poignant memories of her full and meaningful life, provided a mirror for him to see his current life choices with stark reality. After her death, he strengthened his spiritual practice.
- What a relief it is to clear away the things that drain our energy and make room for what nourishes us. Now we have the space to really hear our rhythm of compassion.
- Ask which activities (inner and outer) can I eliminate or reduce? Which drain my energy and leave me feeling empty or indifferent? .... Some hints about what you can eliminate or reduce: work, food, television, e-mail, phone calls, complaining, self-absorption, noise, and constantly doing for others. Make a commitment to start eliminating at least one unnecessary activity this week, and then commit to one more for the next four weeks.
- Walk around your neighborhood and be aware of as many details as possible (trees, creatures, birds, plants, stones, water, sky, people, and buildings). Think of things to enhance the outdoors: plant an indigenous herb garden or feed the birds.
- The qualities of imagination, discipline, and support are the friends of balance, helping us find and sustain our rhythm.
- How can I get out of the box of my ordinary routines and let my ingenuity combine some of these preferred activities? Social contribution and family time? Self-care with family time? Offering my special talents to someone in need?
Be brave, start small, use what you've got,
do something you enjoy, don't over-commit.
- Common shadows include become a service workaholic, using your addiction to service as an excuse not to examine your own feelings and your own need for balance.
- As you care for others, you will find your personal healing is accelerated in ways you never imagined.
- The partnership of a quiet mind and an open heart are cultivated through dedicated spiritual practice.
- Listen with ears that don't need to resolve, or solve, or fix anyone. This kind of deep listening is based on acceptance: acceptance of people, creatures, or the environment as they are, acceptance that we can't control or manipulate the way events will evolve.
- I bring my brokenness as well as my strengths to those I care for.
- It isn't about doing, it's about being wholly and completely with the other person.
In the poignancy of our human condition we connect, and now we both give and receive. With mutuality there is more joy and less effort, a sure sign presence is emerging.
- To deepen presence we sometimes have to face aspects of suffering that frighten or repulse us. We care for an aging parent who loses bodily functions, or a loved one with cancer suddenly doesn't recognize us. In these instances remembering that we can't control things and remembering to simply be ourselves is especially helpful.
- Presence is the opposite of resolving or fixing. It is natural, listening, laughing, crying, cooking, or holding hands. Spontaneity replaced self-consciousness and made room for the grace of healing. Acceptance replaced the need to change or control suffering. Ultimately we understand that the exchange of our very humanness heals us and those we serve.
- Imagine that all you have to do is be fully present to the person or creature in your care, all that's required to serve skillfully is radical simplicity.
- Serving from a place of effortless generosity we experience intimacy with all living things and we are naturally moved to care for those who are in pain. We feel profoundly connected with strangers, people, and creatures we've never met...Service becomes part of our spiritual practice.
- The human family's spiritual bankruptcy is in direct proportion to our disregard for the planet we live on.
- For many of us it's our connection with the earth that reawakens our soul and imbues us with a sense of the sacred.
- Recall a time when you were healed by the earth....Perhaps the natural world offered you solace in time of sadness, or clarity in time of confusion. One way to continue to join your story with the earth's story is to simply focus on one moment of connection each day. You can do this outside in the natural world or as a part of your daily spiritual practice.
- When we experience sustainable living (e.g., recycling, water and energy saved, shared rides) as ongoing practice in mindfulness, suddenly it's not just ecological awareness, but equally spiritual practice. Each of these is mindfulness practice, each is an act of compassion.
- The way we live either contributes further to our ecological crisis or becomes a central part of its resolution.
- Composting: this practice is a tangible reminder that life and death are a continuous living circle that each person is a part of.
- Beyond the essentials of life, you can buy fewer and fewer things; arrange weekly errands so you need one trip to town instead of three.
- The weaving of sustainable living is a work in progress and doesn't happen all at once.
- By using less we end up with so much more.
- Look at each element and what you can do: water (fix leaks), fire (lower your heat or use less air conditioning), air (use your bike or cluster errands together), and earth (don't buy things you don't need, pay attention to quality and packaging, swap instead of buy, share or loan things).
- Heartbreak is an inevitable part of compassion. It opens us and connects us to those we serve. Staying mindful that we can't explain or fix suffering, we find creative ways to cope. We write poem, paint, turn to prayer, silence, or spend time in nature. Both creativity and the solitude of retreat allow us to integrate the lessons of the world's pain.
- To abandon others in their suffering is to abandon ourselves. To open to the immensity of others' pain is to open to the immense compassion within ourselves. At this juncture our service and our spiritual meet as one.
- We can help alleviate the suffering of all creatures through several compassionate actions: by loving and respecting the animals in our immediate environment: by purchasing and using cruelty-free products; and by protecting creatures as members of the family of life that share this earth with us.
- The spiritual practice of stewardship is an equal partnership of joy and sorrow. An awakened heart takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride where we might witness unspeakable suffering right next to the precious rewards of service.
- Nourish a deep faith through a relationship with the natural world, love of your family, and/or work for social justice.
- To make a contribution to our communities many of us had to re-prioritize our lives, clearing away incessant busyness and the multitude of things that drained our energy. To care for the earth we were asked to create sustainable lifestyles that lead to simpler, cleaner living.
- Living in an earth-friendly way helped break our collective addiction to the consumerism that left us with hollow lives.
- Consuming less and contributing more nourished our souls with the rewards of beauty, peace of mind, family, community, and time for the almost lost pleasures of real conversation, walking, and reading.
- The greatest friend of all is our chosen spiritual practice. Regardless of the form, our practice is a time for silence and solitude. It is a time to reconnect with our spirit, quiet our mind, and open our heart.