As we approach the season of giving, gathering, sharing meals, celebrating the holidays, listening to songs of cheer and peace that fill the airways, I am compelled to think about compassion. I think about what our world would be like if we all were truly able to be compassionate to all walks of life, our friends, our families, perhaps those we have categorized as our enemies, strangers, and most importantly, ourselves. According to The Dalai Lama, our world would be radiating in bliss. The Dalai Lama was quoted saying: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Being a mama of a 2 year old, I want nothing else then to raise a child who knows, feels, and believes compassion is a necessary social skill for relating with himself and all living species; for him to grasp that we are all interconnected and need each other’s compassion, without judgment, to live in a healthy world.
I have been struck on how my son has been able to show compassion and empathy in the last couple months of his development. The other day he was playing with his trucks in the kitchen while I was making him lunch, he bumped into me with his truck and immediately said “I sorry mama” and then continued on playing making sure not to run into me again. I was taken a bit back on how natural it seemed to roll off of his tongue. Until then he did not seem to understand how his actions could impact others and how others may feel as a result, or at least he had not yet learned how to express it. This shift in his awareness was an awesome step in his development.
Initially I assumed he just learned that response from watching others, a learned behavior. But, in other situations his interactions seemed to be a bit less cued. The other day he noticed my nose running and looking a bit worried asked “you need Kleenex mama.” A couple days prior my sinuses were all clogged from seasonal allergies and I was feeling quite miserable. He could see I was not my chipper self and stated, as he snuggled into me, “you going to be ok mama.” While shopping at the grocery stored he noted a young girl crying in the carriage in the isle, he looked worried and asked, “why she crying mama.” Granted, I am sure I have said all of this to him at some point in time, asking if he needed a kleenex or snuggled with him as he was not feeling good, or noting when someone is upset. But, his words and actions seemed so heart felt and sincere, not something prescribed or scripted. It makes me truly wonder about compassion and the possibility that truly each one of us has the capacity from birth to feel and be compassionate towards one another.
In a culture that is full of competition, fear, dividing lines (i.e. government shut downs), one might have a hard time imagining that true compassion isn’t something that only some of us are lucky to learn and feel, but that it is actually hardwired into every human. In the great film I AM, which perhaps some of you watched at Lila a few years back, there is great discussion about compassion in our culture and introduces the idea that compassion is actually something that is inherent in all of us, an idea that the yogis have believed for hundreds of years, but now modern day science is able to back this idea through the study of the brain and the heart. The movie producer states, “It was a revelation to me that for tens of thousands of years, indigenous cultures taught a very different story about our inherent goodness,” Shadyac marvels. “Now, following this ancient wisdom, science is discovering a plethora of evidence about our hardwiring for connection and compassion, from the Vagus Nerve which releases oxytocin at simply witnessing a compassionate act, to the Mirror Neuron which causes us to literally feel another person’s pain. Darwin himself, who was misunderstood to believe exclusively in our competitiveness, actually noted that humankind’s real power comes in their ability to perform complex tasks together, to sympathize and cooperate.”
In yogic philosophy they discuss that we become disillusioned and forget this inherent goodness in ourselves and as a result fear, mistrust, anger, judgment and separation begins in our minds. The process of the yogi then becomes one of discerning what is truth, making our way back to our true self that is full of love, bliss, and compassion. It tells us that we are all from the same source of love and light, and that we are all interrelated and connected. As Nathaniel Altman states in Sacred Trees, “The Jain religion in India teaches that because all life is essentially interrelated and interconnected, all living beings should be considered sacred and be respected. This belief forms the basis of the doctrine of ahimsa, which has been translated into English variously as “reverence for life,” “nonviolence,” and “dynamic compassion.””
So, I guess the question becomes, when and why do we begin to separate ourselves from other’s pain, why do we begin to judge, steal, hide, mistreat others, create classes, or adapt the “not in my backyard” mentality. Perhaps it is because we come so disconnected from the basic idea that we are all connected.
As Satnam Kaur so beautifully and simply sings in her song, “The sun shines on everyone, when it rains, it rains on everyone,” may that help us all remember and believe that we are all connected. This holiday season, may we dust off the disillusioned minds and remember that we all have the capacity to love and the desire to be loved. Treat yourself and others as you would like to be treated… and let that be with whole heart felt love.
All beings wish for happiness, so extend your compassion to all. — The Buddha quoted in Buddhist Wisdom by David Crosweller