Compassion and the loving heart
This week we turn to the second of the Divine Abiding meditations, compassion: the heart’s response to suffering.
Here one opens the heart to its capacity to be with suffering (one’s own and others) rather than run from it or sentimentalise and feel pity. It is the wish for others to be free from suffering whilst also acknowledging that for some there is suffering and to be able to be with that and wish them well.
Each divine abiding meditation starts by connecting to loving kindness and then bringing this loving kindness into contact with a person who represent the emotion to be evoked. In this practice we turn our attention of our heart to someone we know who is suffering. This is not in order to feel sad or distressed by their suffering but to allow a gentle well-wishing to arise in our heart for them as we wish them to be free from suffering and to find whatever support and nurture they need in order to help with this. We are feeling with them, not feeling sorry for them.
The near and far enemy of compassion:
Far enemy: cruelty
Near enemy: pity – feeling superior and looking down on one who is suffering rather than feeling with them and seeing that their and one’s own suffering are of the same nature.
As the song goes, “into each life some rain must fall”. This meditation is a gentle acknowledgement that there is suffering in this world and gives a means of staying present to it. It can be especially helpful as a way of staying present to our own suffering when it arises. Rather than feeling we are failing when we experience sadness or emotional pain this practice gives us permission to feel and embrace what is there, even if it is difficult. We trust that there is a love within us that can hold whatever difficulty is there.
Jeff Foster gives beautiful expression to this in one of his reflections:
Your sadness doesn’t say, “Please fix me, heal me, or release me”. It doesn’t say, “Please get rid of me, numb yourself to me, pretend I’m not here”. It certainly doesn’t say, “Please get enlightened so I can die!”.
Sadness does not come to punish you, or reveal to you what a ‘spiritual failure’ you are. Sadness is not a sign that you are unevolved or far from healing, awakening, enlightenment, even peace. The presence of sadness is not an indication that you’ve done something wrong.
Sadness only whispers, “May I come in? I am tired, I long for rest”. And you reply, “But sadness, I don’t know how to allow you in!”
And sadness replies, “It’s okay. You don’t need to know. I’m already in”.
And we bow to sadness then, we recognise how it’s already allowed in, how there’s enough room in us for sadness, how we are not ‘the sad one’, not contained within sadness, but the room for sadness, its space, its home, its salvation, its loving embrace; not as a goal, but as our nature – consciousness itself, already free.
Don’t heal yourself from sadness; let sadness heal you. Let it show you the way when you have forgotten. Let it reveal to you the mysteries of love. Let it remind you of your vast heart, your refusal to split off from any part of your ancient Self, that bigger Happiness you danced when you were young.
Your pain, your sorrow, your doubts, your longings,
your fearful thoughts: they are not mistakes,
and they aren’t asking to be ‘healed’.
They are asking to be held. Here, now, lightly,
In the loving, healing arms of present awareness…
In this week’s class we’ll explore how to rest into this sense of the vast love that simply is, and how from that place we can hold our own and others sadness or pain without feeling we have to fix it or fearing being overwhelmed by it. Many of us will have had experiences as we were growing up that gave rise to trauma of some sort. For me this was around my birth and early years.
When I was born my mother was sedated and remained so for 24 hours after my birth, during which time I was in an incubator. Then she followed the advice of the 1970s of leaving the baby to cry without attending to them so that they would learn that crying would not bring attention. For me this meant being left in the pram at the end of the garden! Last weekend I was on a retreat where I had a physical memory of how this felt. The coldness, the desperate wish to be touched, and the feeling of having abandoned hope, of surrendering to the sense of having been abandoned. Then I felt the warmth of lying on my mother, of feeding and feeling safe. As the retreat went on I also felt the pain of feeling abandoned by my father and I realised that these things although distant in time are actually right here, right now in my body. They influence how I think and feel and act. The little me that looks out so desperately for touch and love that I scare away any man who this little self sees as being the one to give me this by being too demanding and instantaneous in his affections and desire for love! The confusion of wanting intimacy and love but fearing it due to the experience of my mother being both there and totally absent. Relationship became an ambivalent place of both warmth and abandonment.
I’m starting to explore how to hold this younger self and his pain and fear with compassion and in this Mondays class I’ll be exploring with you how we can hold what is there with love rather than try to fix it or make it go away. This is still work in progress for me, something I’m exploring since my retreat so I can’t offer answers, but can share the process. What I was left with from the retreat was what I’ll finish with here. Beneath and around and before and after all of the pain of this self I call Nick, all of the thoughts and mental activity, is a vast love that simply is. It was a beautiful experience of bliss and total love that is there ready to hold whatever pain there is: but this requires us to dive into our pain and embrace it rather than fight it.