Tag Archives: spirituality

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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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.

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Oprah, Meet Ommmmmma

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What can it mean when Oprah Winfrey is becoming a leading touter of meditation? I’ll tell you what it means: a lot more people are going to start meditating. If Oprah can do for meditation with her 21-Day Meditation Challenge what she did for reading with her book club, the cosmic consciousness is going to get an enormous boost.

The following is an article about Oprah’s recent appearance on David Letterman’s show, ostensibly to publicize her new movie, but which ultimately became one big plug for the benefits of meditation. Oprah teamed up last year with Deepak Chopra to create the meditation challenge and, by all accounts, it appears to have touched the lives of many people who otherwise might never have tried meditation. Imagine the benefits to all beings if just a fraction of those people continue beyond the three weeks to practice meditation regularly. What a wondrous development that would be!

Chopra may be the model for successfully espousing the benefits of Eastern practices and medicine in the West. Some people think he waters down the practices he preaches to make them more palatable to the masses. But, even if that is true, what’s wrong with it? You cannot expect most people to sit down and meditate in silence for an hour right off the bat. Or ever, for that matter. I think that, by and large, Chopra manages to make meditation and other practices more accessible without robbing them of their value.

I am mindful of a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Chapter 4, verses 12-14) Not everyone can start out with the meditative equivalent of solid food. Sure, it’s pabulum, but not in the negative “baby food” sense – it is really a very nourishing meal that the newcomer to meditation can easily digest.

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In Praise of The Huffington Post

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I have found that The Huffington Post is a tremendous source for informative articles and columns about meditation, mindfulness, and general healthy living. I don’t know why Arianna Huffington decided to make HuffPost a venue for reporting and commenting on those topics, but I am grateful that she has. And I believe it really is her, because she just chaired a conference on women and wellbeing in the workplace.

There is an entire section on Healthy Living. Not every article is right for me (see, for instance, “Are condoms good for vaginas?“), but most are incredibly interesting and relevant. The Religion section is equally compelling. There is a lot of overlap between the subsection of Buddhism stories and reporting on mindfulness and meditation. Here are some great recent pieces:

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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?

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Can mindfulness and tangible rewards coexist?

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As mindfulness practice becomes more and more “mainstream,” it is being linked more often with various kinds of tangible rewards, like better jobs, higher pay, sexier partners, etc. It excites me that more people are becoming aware of mindfulness practice and meditation, but I worry that the push to popularize them comes at the cost of watering them down or, worse, rendering them impotent. In a recent Huffington Post column, Soren Gordhamer asked the question, “Mindfulness: What’s In It for Me?” and does a far better job than I could in highlighting this trend.

But, of course, I can’t help but chime in. I’m funny that way. In my view, mindfulness itself is the reward of being mindful. It is an awareness of yourself, your surroundings, and the beings around you to whom you are connected that makes you feel more alive. It is a kind of wakefulness that leaves you wondering if you were slogging through life half-asleep until now. Rooted in the present moment, life appears more vibrant and our connection to it more powerful. Does there really need to be some other enticement waiting on the other side of mindfulness to make one want to practice it?

Beneficial things may come to you as a result of being more mindful of the here and now, but those things cannot be the goal. Because the moment you start to think about what may be, you are no longer focused on what is. In other words, you’re no longer mindful, no longer present. That thought suggests that, if you practice mindfulness with the intention of garnering a prize, you cannot possibly achieve mindfulness to any great degree. In other words, the desire to obtain a reward by practicing mindfulness guarantees you will not get that reward. That strikes me a mighty sobering.

Are thinking and meditation incompatible?

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“It’s a very deep misconception that meditation is about making your mind blank, that it involves shutting off or pushing away things so that you can achieve some kind of deeper, more desirable state of clarity and calmness. It’s not that those deeper, more desirable states of clarity and calmness do not exist and cannot be cultivated—they can. But it is a kind of learning that in some ways is akin to falling asleep—although meditation is really about ‘falling awake.’ If you try too hard to sleep, chances are you are not going to fall asleep at all. … I like to describe the mind as being like the surface of the ocean—it’s just in the nature of water to wave. And it is part of the nature of our minds to wave as well. The mind waves virtually all the time. If you try to shut off the waves, it’s a bit like trying to put a glass plate over the ocean to stop it from being as it is. It’s not going to work very well.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Power of Meditation and Prayer

I think I know exactly what Dr. Kabat-Zinn is talking about, from my own experience and from what I have heard from others who have experience both failure and success with meditation. Sometimes my meditation can leave me kind of agitated, rather than calm, if I try to fight the thoughts that arise, to stuff them down or block them out. You know, the moment you determine not to think about something, that’s all you can think about. Likewise, the moment you decide not to think at all, thoughts come streaming in from every direction! Only by accepting that thoughts arise and treating them—and myself—with compassion can I fully benefit from my meditation practice.

Pema Chodron suggests that when you notice your mind thinking thoughts, just say quietly, “Thinking,” and let the thought go. Don’t scold yourself for doing what comes naturally to your mind. I do this sometimes, and when I do I always hear the word “Thinking” in Pema’s voice, which never fails to make me smile. And smiling is the perfect medium for letting thoughts slide away easily and without labeling them as something “bad” or antithetical to proper meditation.

If a thought is persistent, then maybe I ought to pay attention to it. If I am routinely feeling a pain in my tooth, shouldn’t I go to the dentist and have it looked at? The pain may be a signal that there is a physical ailment that requires attention. If a thought keeps popping up during meditation—even when I treat it kindly, imagine Pema saying “Thinking,” and let it go—then perhaps it is something that requires attention. Why not let the thought run its course naturally and see where it leads? Following the thought to its resolution may be the only way to keep it from coming back.

As with most things, expectations play a role in meditation. If we expect to achieve an out-of-body experience, we are likely to be disappointed. If we enter meditation, though, with the expectation that thoughts will arise, with acceptance that thoughts arising is totally normal, then we can more fully benefit from our meditation practice. In my opinion, the goal of meditation is not to experience balance and peace during meditation, but rather to experience balance and peace in our lives away from the cushion. Accept that your mind may be noisy sometimes during meditation and you are more likely to reap the benefits of meditation—a life that is more mindful, peaceful and, yes, less noisy.