As I hear the news coming out of Ukraine my heart aches. Seeing a county fall over the precipice of war and into the chaos this creates is so painful.
The Buddha recognised that in this world there will be times when we meet suffering and so he taught a meditation on compassion. Whilst Loving Kindness is the wish for others to be happy and well when this heart of Loving Kindness meets suffering it is said to take on the flavour of compassion and becomes the practice of Karuna Bhavana. Compassion is a feeling with another, recognising our shared humanity rather than looking on with a sense of distant superiority or feeling overwhelmed. We recognise that this person’s suffering could be me, or that their suffering connects to my own past experience giving rise to empathy.
Through meditation and self-care we also learn to bring compassion to ourselves and anywhere that we may be suffering. Being able to bear our own suffering and meet it fully rather than dissociate or reject it makes it possible to meet others as they suffer. The risk of not learning to be fully with our own suffering is that we then push others away the they suffer because we cannot bear to be reminded of our own unprocessed or unresolved pain. When you learn to fully be ok with your own suffering then you can hold others as they suffer.
There is no way I can know what it is like to be in a country suddenly plunged into war. And there is a risk that as we see the news it all feels too overwhelming to open to and so we look away…or feel overwhelmed and helpless. But this is to ignore our shared humanity and our own capacity for agency. I do know how I wish for my own happiness, and the happiness of those around me. And I know how devastating it would be to loose my home, to have to leave everything that was familiar and walk out with only a suitcase….. and I can start from here to connect imaginatively with people I do not know, but who are suffering right now.
In this Monday’s class we will focus on bringing a heart energy of compassion to the suffering there is right now, both for the Ukrainians, and for Russian families mourning the loss of their sons….war causes pain for all those involved and generates negative emotions that poisons the energy field we live within. These meditations are intended to cleanse that energy, or at least to help reduce any negative emotions we might be feeling.
In the Tibetan tradition there is a meditation called tonglen. In this meditation we start by connecting with a sense of stillness and presence and then compassion is aroused by looking directly at a situation or person where there is suffering and imaging breathing it in as black smoke. It is then transformed by the good intention in your heart and you breathe out a healing white light. It’s a very powerful practice and is designed to counter the self-focused attention to only our own happiness and instead to recognise that there is suffering in the world and to create the intention that we met that suffering with compassion and seek to alleviate it. We’ll do this meditation in the first half followed by the Karuna Bhavana compassion meditation in the second half.
Use the link below to goto a free guided meditation for meeting the suffering in Ukraine with compassion. The meditatio starts with Loving Kindness so you can connect to this core of good will in your heart before turning to face suffering:
Donate here to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund