I’ve heard some say that compassion is a learned behavior. However I’m not sure I agree; I think we are born with it.
I was watching a video recently of a Mother who told her 2 year old son they were leaving the park and had to say “good-bye”. She meant this to mean say bye to those they were with but he starts going around the entire park and hugging everyone. He hasn’t learned yet about fear, jealousy, doubt, blame or other things we start to build on at early ages.
At some point in our lives someone or some event brings attention to us; is often very early in life and from that moment on we start to be guarded. It may have been the best intentions. It may have been a parent telling their child not to be silly. Or maybe when you came up with a creative suggestion and you were told how silly that was. Or maybe you experienced something amazing and when you tried to share it you were ignored. That being said, it shifted you. All your life you may have found yourself responding to this.
If ignored you may find yourself a really good listener. If you were told you wouldn’t be any good – you probably found yourself really good with finishing goals and achievements. If you were taught to be afraid you may spend your time doing things others are scared of.
So my belief is that we are born with compassion. Only over time we start to guard and build up walls around ourselves.
For me Metta Meditation helps me to notice ways that I’m blocking and avoiding; the guard or shield we have a habit of doing instead of being compassionate. With this form of meditation we can sit and use mantras or words and notice our reactions. We can sit with this meditation and notice if we are avoiding a feeling, experience or maybe how my body is breathing with that statement. The homework is in noticing the reaction to the mantra or statement. You will find many different choices for mantra but even with different words the point is the same.
For Metta we take time to notice various people and use a statement of love and kindness. I often start with the mantra towards myself. Then towards a teacher. Then someone I love and then someone I may not know so well. Finally, if safe, I will think of someone I am struggling with or had a miscommunication with. Only after you practice this mediation for a long time would I suggest thinking of someone who caused you harm. The point of this practice is to stop segregating each group.
Recently I was teaching at a corporate space and we were just about to sit and meditate when someone pointed out that a tiny worm was crawling near me. “Lets kill it” was the response from the students. So I asked them to pause a moment. Take a breath. “Lets watch the worm” I said. So we sat silently to watch. “If you don’t like watching the worm close your eyes and watch your breath” I said. “However pretending the worm doesn’t exist is not true”. “He is just a worm doing what is natural to him.” We sat and watched as he slowly crawled across the carpet. “You know he probably doesn’t want to be here either. I bet he would rather be out in nature, in the soil where he does a lot of good for our environment”. After we sat and watched, I asked the group what they felt we should do now. “Lets set him free outside” said one voice. Ok – “Would you like to be the one responsible for this?” I asked. She agreed and took a piece of paper and got him to crawl on it and took him out.
By pausing we could stop to see our reactions. One person asked me would I have responded this way if it was a different bug. I said, “once had a locus crawl across the floor during a restorative class. It had wings and made a strange noise. I saw it making its way across the floor. I calmly got up, got a cup and captured it to set it free. I used to kill bugs thinking they don’t belong here inside. Then I started realizing it wasn’t going to stop all bugs from being in my space and that really if you think about it we built space up where they once existed. So who was I to claim the sole right to be here.”
Another use for Metta is to observe our reactions; witness the ways we suffer. Fear is common and when scared we will want to avoid or protect. Being afraid a bug will crawl us is a big fear for many. However by killing it you aren’t assured that others won’t approach you. Better to see the real issue; which is how you are handling your fear, anger or over-reaction.
Imagine using this meditation yourself in your life. In the small and large events. It may offer you a greater capacity to see a fuller picture and how to resolve issues. This will be swimming up stream as we live in a society that likes to separate; we like to be in parties, groups and clubs but it doesn’t offer us peace. However just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to let go of your habit and return to a place that is loving and compassionate.
This week is Thanksgiving in the US and many will be with family and friends; it will test our compassion to be together. May we each find ways to be compassionate and loving to those we know, those we don’t know well and those we have disagreements with. If each of us tried this form of awareness we could shorten the distance between in our language (us vs them) and see that the one thing we ALL have in common is a desire to have love and peace in the world.