“When you open yourself, you get it all. That is part of what it means to be a loving human being. To grow your capacity to be present for this incarnation and its mystery in an openhearted way. . . The point of meditation isn’t to perfect yourself but to improve your capacity to love.” – Jack Kornfield
How critical compassion is in a world full of mistakes, losses, grief and struggle. It is also one of the great tools that can be cultivated with meditation practice. One of my teachers, Michael Stone recently observed “if you are trying to destress so that your heart doesn’t keep breaking, this isn’t the right practice for you.” Compassion is fierce but it connects us and can heal us.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen, Anthem
In his book, Mindful Compassion, Paul Gilbert reflects on the dictionary definition of compassion: “being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it.” Compassion is made up of two pieces. The first is an openness to the experience of suffering. We can accept and allow such challenges as a part of life without trying to immediately fix them or ignore them. This openness brings with it an empathy and a witnessing if we have the courage to “run towards the fire”.
The second piece of compassion is an intention and action to relieve suffering. Gilbert argues that these are two very different brain processes that can become skills through practice. How to be build this skill of compassion? One way is through the compassion meditation wherein you offer compassion to yourself and others which you can practice yourself in guided meditation below.
In a compassion meditation, you create an image in your mind of a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, someone who is suffering or perhaps even a difficult person in your life. You combine this image with an intention and a silently repeated phrase representing this intention:
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and suffering.
May you be at peace.
This practice can be most powerful when we apply it to ourselves through techniques like Kristin Neff’s self-compassion break:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of the human condition.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.
Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Small acts of connection and kindness can be so meaningful. Everyday kindness shared with a smile or friendly greeting is a perfect example. I recently met artist David Gerbstadt. David’s groundbreaking work has brought a smile to the faces of countless individuals young and old. I first learned of his work when my friend Ann approached me at the Women’s March wearing the “Be Kind” pin pictured to the left.
I purchased a couple dozens pins myself and have been thrilled to share a pin whenever someone compliments the one I wear on my shirt each day. David has endured many challenges related to an accident many years ago but is able to share his gift and use this experience to bring out compassion in his community and beyond. He has launched innovative ways to share his art including Pay What You Want For My Art and the Dollar Art Project that get his work into the world and to those who can benefit from it.
There are so many ways we can practice compassion. As we open our heart to witness our experience and the experience of others, we heal and become strong.