Cultivating Compassion - Part 2

Last week I wrote about compassion. This week I’ll share with you the exercise we did in our Thanksgiving Day class to help us to identify and study compassion. In my search for understanding compassion, what has worked for me so far was to define compassion for myself, then boil that definition down into a mantra that I could use in meditation and whenever else I wanted it.

Try this at home: write down three words that come to mind when you read the word “compassion”. Take some time with this next part: look at your three words and form from them a definition of compassion. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Now sit with eyes closed or softened and repeat your definition to yourself. Let the phrase boil down, letting go of extraneous words and keeping the ones you feel are important. Keep repeating. Images may come to your mind - the homeless person you passed last week, the sick child at the hospital, the stray cat trotting alongside the road. You can hold these images in your mind as you repeat your mantra.

It’s unlikely that your life will do a 180 in the first 5 minutes of your work, so be patient. Work on this daily or as often as you can. See what shifts happen in your mindset, in your daily activities. If you realized in forming your definition of compassion that you aren’t as compassionate as you thought, then be compassionate with yourself and keep at it.

In Buddhist philosophy, there’s a word: “bodhichitta”. Bodhichitta is the awakened, noble heart within all of us. My studies of compassion have included reading the works of Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun. She writes that bodhichitta is the love that will not die, the light that will not go out. We all have it. We all have compassion. It’s our ground zero state. No matter what happened to us, there it is, inside. This exercise may help you to draw it out. Working with your mantra over time may draw it out. Keep going and know that it is inside you. You may need to learn to react compassionately in various situations, but your basic state is one of compassion.