Category Archives: Compassion

Treating thoughts with compassion

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Treating thoughts with compassion

It is perfectly normal, while meditating, for stray thoughts to arise in one’s mind. This is NOT a sign that we’re failing at meditation – I’ve been meditating for 30 years and thoughts pop up almost every time. Whatever you do, don’t give up meditating because your brain continues to function while you’re meditating. Here are some ideas for dealing with thoughts that you might consider.

  1. Don’t fight the thoughts when they arise, or try to stamp them down. Fighting them means you’re focusing on them rather than on what you want your meditation to be about.
  2. Instead, treat those thoughts with compassion. Recognize that they are normal, not signs of bad meditating (as if there were such a thing). And don’t beat yourself up for having them.
  3. Come up with a mental exercise for gently setting the thoughts aside for later. Personally, I imagine the subject of the thought as having been written down on a sheet of paper; I place the paper on top of a neat pile of other thoughts and carefully place a paperweight on top of them. As each new thought arises, I repeat the visualization of neatly placing the paper on top of the pile and replacing the paperweight.
  4. When you’re done meditating, mentally return to those thoughts (that’s why I use the paperweight, so they don’t blow away before I can consider them). I sift through those pages I set aside and ask myself whether they are things that I need to think about more or act upon. If I don’t remember all of them (I never do), it probably means the thought was not important or urgent; it it is either, it’ll come back later, no doubt.
  5. If a particular thought is insistent, perhaps you need to pause your meditation momentarily to consider it more closely. Why is this thought coming up now, and why won’t it stop? Again, treat the thought compassionately, not as an enemy. Your mind may be telling you there’s something important you need to know or deal with. After giving the thought some attention, you may then be able to put it aside until your meditation time is over.

A Love Letter to the Marchers

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A Love Letter to the Marchers

I believe that I have successfully avoided touching upon politics in this blog, mostly by not posting. I was finding it difficult to communicate what I was feeling. I’m not saying this as a prelude to ending the streak, just fair warning that what I am about to say is not intended to be a political statement. It is intended to be a statement of love, because at this very moment, my heart is overflowing.

 

Dear Marchers,

I love you. There, I’ve said it. I’m hopelessly in love with each and every one of you.

Although some of you are friends and acquaintances, I realize most of you have no clue who I am. And I don’t care at all. It changes how I feel not one tiny bit. I fell in love with you the moment I laid eyes on your protest signs and pink hats.

As I was scrolling through Facebook and seeing pictures of you, your families, your friends, total strangers, participating in the many women’s marches around the country, an amazing catharsis occurred. I was smiling from ear to ear, and laughing so hard at some of the slogans on your signs that I’m fairly certain I cracked a rib. Simultaneously, tears were streaming down my face. I mean, the Niagara Falls of sobbing, folks, no mere sniffle.

Why? Because you overwhelmed me with love and joy. And hope. Most especially, hope.

You see, in the wake of the election, I was emotionally spent and on the verge of losing hope. What you did today renews my hope for our future. You have restored my faith in the people of this country.

Your power and brilliance washed over me like a fire, burning away the pain, anger, fear, despair, and negativity that has clung to my soul for the past 10 weeks. Your shining faces, the countless images of arms entwined in solidarity, the diversity of your companions, have healed my broken heart.

So, now I kind of have a major thing for you, and I know it’s not just infatuation. This is the real thing — love!

I’m going to show you how much I love you by trying to live every day with the fearlessness, strength, compassion, and righteous indignation that you demonstrated today. That way, you’ll fall in love with me, too.

Thank you from the depths of my being. With all of my love and devotion,

Dean

Been gone, been down, still am

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It has been a while since I last posted on this blog. I have not been active on my Facebook page either. Why? I think because I am having trouble making sense of the world right now. I simply do not understand the hate and violence that are so pervasive at this moment.

I used to think I understood people who express their anger demonstrably, because I used to manage my own anger so poorly. I thought I had some insight, based on my own struggles as a young man, when it was so easy for rage to rise up inside of me and spill forth. Maybe I did, but I don’t feel like I do anymore.

I don’t understand most of the anger I witness on social media and on TV. On my worst days, when anger overwhelmed me completely, when I literally shook from the negative energy boiling up from deep inside, I never displayed such naked aggression, never verbally savaged another being, never even considered doing either. So I try to imagine what torment these angry people must be suffering, I try to put myself in their place, to contemplate their plight, to fathom what could possibly propel them to these states of frothing, thrashing, tearing, unbridled fury. But I fail repeatedly, fully unenlightened.

I am left distraught by my confusion, by my utter inability to grasp what is happening in the world, in this country, in my own backyard. I cannot comprehend the acts of violence that take place every day, many times a day. I am even more confounded by the eagerness of so many people to act on their violent impulses, by their hair-trigger readiness to lash out with deadly force.

I fear that I am despairing, losing sight of humanity’s inherent goodness, losing touch with creation’s core of love. I do not love my fellow beings any less, but I admit I sometimes wonder what good it does. Am I helping at all? Am I contributing, in any way, to stemming the angry tide? Could it possibly be any worse if I weren’t here at all?

The sadness I feel is nearly unbearable. My heart aches for the beloved of the brutally murdered. Compassion continues to swell up even for the perpetrators, even though I don’t understand them, even though I believed that well had run dry, even though their acts are so repugnant and inexplicable that I begin to fear that my own loved ones are no longer safe.

Today and yesterday and the day before, each brought more unwelcome news, more tragedy, more devastation. Unremitting, incessant, unflagging, unstoppable. At least it seems that way. Though I hope, I do, I really hope. And I do what for a Buddhist passes for prayer, and I cling to the possibility that the storm will be a little less fierce at dawn, and I focus on the inevitability of the sun rising, and I remind myself that the powerful, unquenchable power that fuels creation is still there. Love remains and, if we can manage to get out of its way, will prevail.

I believe that, I honestly do, even now, even when it is so terribly difficult to make sense from any of it.

The Exponential Nature of Compassion

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A friend on Facebook shared this quotation from Joel Osteen: “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time, your attention, your love, your concern.”

It makes me think about what I heard Thich Nhat Hanh say this past Saturday about compassionate listening. Being open to hearing what others are saying, what they are doing, their expressions and postures – without interruption, reaction, or judgment – makes us aware and mindful of their suffering. That awareness gives birth to compassion, which benefits both yourself and the person you are listening to.

Awareness of another’s suffering generates compassionate energy. It also makes us aware of our own suffering, generating further compassionate energy. That energy infuses your interactions with those around you and even with your own feelings and thoughts, giving birth to more compassionate energy in both others and yourself. Compassion spreads like wildfire.

This is the way in which the benefits of feeling and showing compassion to yourself and others blossoms exponentially. I truly believe that the greatest hope for the world is compassion and caring “going viral.”

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The Beat of Your Drum (and getting others to dance along)

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I stumbled across a photograph on Life magazine’s website, accompanied by a headline, “Is This the Happiest Photo Ever Made?” It is a photo by renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt (one of my personal faves) and depicts a drum major from the University of Michigan in full stride, seemingly unaware that he has acquired a following.

This photo captures in-the-moment joy in a manner I’ve hardly seen elsewhere. The drum major’s attitude is clearly infectious, if his little band of followers is any indication.

Living a life of mindful compassion is infectious as well. You may not see your followers in a line behind you, but rest assured that they are out there mimicking your behavior with countless acts of compassion of their own.

MICHIGAN BAND

Everyone Suffers

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We are apt to compare our suffering with that of others, and to think things like, “He’s in much better shape than I am. My problems are much worse.” And we somethings convince ourselves that some other people don’t suffer at all.

Everyone suffers, even the people who seem to have it made in the shade. We cannot see their suffering, so we do not, in fact, really know.

The Buddha taught that all people suffer, even those who appear to be very wealthy and healthy and happy. Those people suffer, for example, from fear and anxiety over losing those good things they have, to the point that they cannot even enjoy their blessings.

So treat everyone with compassion and, thereby, avoid exacerbating anyone’s suffering.

be kind

Persistence and Attachment

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Yesterday I reposted a picture on the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook with a quotation from Chögyam Trungpa’s book Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior: “The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.”

A good question was posed in response: “How is this idea consistant with the idea of no attachments and no attachment to an outcome?”

The teacher in me wants to respond, “How is it inconsistent?” But I’ll refrain. 🙂

I don’t see persistence as being the same thing as attachment. I believe one can be unflagging in their efforts to show compassion to all beings, for instance, without becoming attached to it in a way that causes suffering. Attachment is possible, to be certain. Heck, it’s more than possible, it highly likely. Everyone has attachments and everyone suffers because of them. Even things considered “good” — like love, happiness, health — can be attachments that lead to suffering.

Many teachers warn against becoming attached to enlightenment, for example, but they still teach us to work toward enlightenment and we are naturally drawn to seek it continually. It is in our nature to do both — to be persistent and to become attached to things — but our nature also contains the potential for persistence without attachment.

Mirror, Mirror

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Have you ever tried to look at yourself in the mirror without judgment? I mean, simply observe your reflection without commenting in your mind on what you see? It’s really hard, isn’t it?

The actual reflection is the real you – everything else you think about what you see is unreal. The things that we think when we view the reflection – old, ugly, fat, skinny, pimply, undeserving, bad, monstrous – are the stories we layer upon reality. They’re not real, but we act and live as if they are.

I heard a story recently about a landmark house whose original owners made their sons paint the inside walls as punishment for misbehaving. When the home was restored not long ago, more than 50 layers of paint were found on those walls and had to be peeled away, layer by layer.

One of the goals of meditation and mindfulness is to find the real person inside of us. The real person is the original, unpainted wall – but throughout our lives we have added layer after layer of self-judgment so that the real person is no longer visible. We have convinced ourselves that we are bad, that we do not deserve good things, that we have earned our suffering and do not deserve to be free of it. We have labeled ourselves gluttons, liars, perverts, thieves, cheaters, and many other unpalatable titles. But those are not who we are – they may describe things we have done, but they are not us.

For example, almost everyone lies at one time or another – that does not make one a “liar.” Liar is a label we attach to ourselves because – as astounding as it is to grasp – it is simpler for us to believe that we are incapable of telling the truth than it is to wrestle with the notion that being a natural human being and lying are not mutually exclusive. We are so hard on ourselves, so quick to judge ourselves (far quicker than we are to judge others, and that’s pretty quick), that it is easier to accept the delusion that we are inherently bad than it is for us to accept that we sometimes do things we would prefer not to do. The healthy path is to show remorse and to make amends when we have hurt another person; the path we more often take is the one of self-recrimination, self-loathing, and self-punishment.

Through a practice of meditation and mindfulness, we strip away the labels and judgments that we have laid upon ourselves, slowly but surely, until all that is left is the true person beneath. At the same time we are stripping away those falsehoods, we learn not to add any more layers, concoct any more stories, apply any more labels. We learn to treat ourselves with compassion, to love ourselves – the true selves that are buried beneath dozens of layers of untruths we tell ourselves.

The common translation of the Summary of the Law has Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if we loved our neighbors the way we really “love” ourselves, we wouldn’t be doing them any favors. We often treat others far better than ourselves, are more willing to show them compassion, to cut them a break, to give them the benefit of the doubt, than we are ourselves.

What many of us really need to do is to learn to love ourselves as we love others. When we learn to do that, then our ability to love others and act compassionately toward them will grow by leaps and bounds.

If you’re interested in hanging with people interested in meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual growth, come check out the Dharma Beginner page on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

Everyone feels stress, everyone suffers. Thank goodness for meditation!

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Everyone gets stressed out, even the “experts.”

How do you think they became so adept in the first place? They needed what meditation had to offer so much that they made a concerted effort to practice it. Meditation teachers are not superhuman, unless by superhuman you mean “even more subject to the frailties and flaws of being human.” They’ve been in the same place we all have, and they’ve survived in no small part because of their meditation practice.

So take heart: if they can do it, so can you. You have the very same ingredients in your being that they do, all the elements necessary to pursue a beneficial meditation practice and lead a mindful and compassionate life. Buddhists might say that we all have the same essential Buddha-nature inside us and, therefore, the same potential to achieve enlightenment.

All of us suffer and all of us desire to be free of suffering. That’s all that is necessary to begin meditating and for meditation to bear fruit.

Along those lines, here’s an article from Pooma Bell of Huffington Post titled, “What Does The Founder Of Meditation App ‘Headspace’ Do When He Gets Stressed Out?

Check us out at the Dharma Beginner Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @dharmabeginner.

The Best (and Worst) 12-12-12 I’ve Ever Experienced

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The night of 12-12-12 was a study in contrasts for me. On the one hand, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the 12.12.12 Concert to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims. If you saw any of it on TV, then you have a sense of what an incredible experience it was. The emotions in Madison Square Garden were real and palpable.

On the other hand, there was an extraordinarily challenging person standing next to me for over six hours (when she wasn’t excusing her way in front of me over a dozen times to fetch beer or whatever). Long story short: she spent much of the night invading my personal space. Perhaps you might say that it is ridiculous to expect to maintain personal boundaries during a crowded and often raucous concert. No disagreement there; I attend many concerts every year, frequently standing in general admission, and am well familiar with the experience of a tightly packed and enthusiastic crowd. I’ve done my time in the mosh pit.

But this was no run of the mill invasion of private space. It was a full on, preemptive tactical nuclear strike at my private space. The private space version of Seal Team Six storming Osama bin Laden’s compound. This otherwise pleasant woman (we chatted amiably for the first hour or so) would not stop touching me—holding my hand and lifting it up into the air, looping her arm through mine, resting her head on my shoulder. No matter how far I turned away from her, no matter how I contorted my body like a yogi, I could not escape her tentacular reach.

Did I mention that I brought my 16 year old daughter to the concert? I inched closer and closer to her on my right-hand side as I sought to escape my friendly neighbor to the left. At one very loud point in the concert (Kanye West’s lower-intestine-vibrating performance?) my daughter shouted in my ear, “What is that woman’s problem?” Actually, it sounded like, “Why do goblins hate Gollum?” But that would be a ridiculous thing to have said at that moment, even with The Hobbit opening this week. Somehow, my brain intuited her meaning.

Upshot: At a time when I should have been out of my mind with excitement at the panoply of stellar musicians performing before my eyes, my attention was being divided between the stage and the seat next to me. I wrote recently about praying for challenging people, so with that freshly in mind I offered some prayers for my grabby new friend. Except, my initial prayers came out mostly as pleas that some greater power would stop her. Praying for her necessitated thinking about what was going on with her, why she was behaving that way, what kind of suffering she had experienced and wished to be relieved of.

With everything that was going on in the arena, that was nigh on impossible. But I did elicit some personal details. She had lost her home last year during Hurricane Irene. No doubt, she can feel more keenly than most the losses that Sandy victims have endured, and that reminder must have been painful to experience. What’s more, here she was witnessing an outpouring of love and financial support to the victims of Sandy, likely making the efforts to help the victims of Irene seem paltry by comparison. As she said to me, no one helped her rebuild her home.

The focus of the prayers I offered from that point on—relief from the lingering pain of losing her home and from the reopening of fresh wounds from last year—shifted my perspective on the situation. Gradually, I felt myself relax, the tension in my back and neck melt away, as compassion for a fellow being replaced discomfort and annoyance at her behavior. I didn’t, by any means, offer myself up to be groped, but I did stop turning away from her, both physically and emotionally. I could not see how to ease her pain at that moment, but I certainly could refrain from adding to it.

In the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”

Be well, my friends. Peace be yours.