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.
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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.”

gift

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.