If you’ve read any of my entries, you know that an awareness of suffering is key to my own journey of living a virtuous life. Whether it is through Stoicism, Buddhism, Zen, or any other philosophy I have taken as my own, I strive to remain cognizant that everywhere people struggle. The nature of our world can be violent; it is all around us.
Much of the time, we can be wrapped up in our own world. My problems, my money, my lifestyle, etc. But all around us there are others with problems. By making yourself aware of these problems, you open your mind to caring about others. As a bonus, awareness that suffering is indeed common to all of humanity puts your own personal strife in perspective. In short, as you view your own problems and struggles, as well as all those around you, you then see them as a constant in all of the human condition.
However, being aware of suffering is only the beginning. To feel compassion is to care about the sufferer. When I meditate on compassion, I begin to feel the struggles of those around me. Turn on the news, take note of one or two stories of grief. It won’t take long to find them, because the news is full of them. Alternately, you can think of your friends and family and their struggles: sickness, accidents, hunger, poverty, mental illness, loss of job. Do you have sympathy for them? Of course. Do you want to comfort them? Yes. Now you are showing compassion.
Don’t you deserve some compassion, too? Well, absolutely. What about your worst fears, your phobias, your inner struggles? You have them. I know you have them, because everybody does. However, these struggles are yours. Do you deserve compassion? Absolutely!
You can begin with compassion for yourself, as if you were another, then you can start to direct your compassion outward. As you start to feel compassion for others who suffer, you become free from self. As you start to focus outward, you become motivated to act for the sake of others, rather than for your own sake. This is refreshing, and it leads us to virtue.
So let’s meditate on compassion.
As you continue to read this post, please slow down, s-l-o-w–d-o-w-n, breathe in……….then breathe out. Now…close your eyes…notice your breath, inhale, exhale…
…think of all your struggles, and any sadness you may have. Now follow your breath, inhaling and exhaling. Show yourself compassion as if you were another, mentally pat your own back and say, “I understand” to yourself. Show yourself compassion because you deserve it. You may show compassion for yourself as long as you wish in this reflection, and you can take as long as you need until you are ready to show compassion for those around you.
Now, take a person you know closely and mentally give them a long comforting hug. Don’t forget your breath…inhale, exhale. Maintain your “hug,” and tell this suffering person that “I know how you feel” or “I can empathize with your plight.” Close your eyes, and continue to psychically hug them…hold them for a long time, and feel their pain. That’s compassion. You can continually do this over and over. You can start with those close to you, move on to casual acquaintances, then maybe move on to those you don’t know (like someone in the news). Each time you go back and start over with your “mental hug” expand your compassion outward.
Possibly, you can broaden your scope. Feel the world around you, as you inhale and exhale. Gently and easily repeat “compassion” over and over. Maybe you have someone who you disagree with, is just plain disagreeable, or someone who is your enemy. Do you think they suffer from some malady? Feel compassion for them and their suffering as you inhale, then as you exhale…”compassion.”
You can continue this as long as you’d like. I hope it helps you with your compassion…and on your quest for virtue.