Big Unity will often have a theme for each year that we in the trenches can use as a guide or a jumping off point for Lessons. At least that’s how I like to use them.
This year the theme is “Unleashing Your Divine Potential.” And the word for this month of February is Compassion, which you may have figured out by the Reading. The affirmation for the month is ‘I treat others as I would want to be treated.’ I’ve included it on your insert in case you wish to add it to your Spiritual Practice for the month.
The verse for the month is from 1 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
This is not Pity, which separates us from another’s suffering, compassion opens our hearts and connects us to that individual.
It is not sympathy, which is simply recognition of another’s lack; it looks beyond the lack and the personality to the desire of the other person to rise above his lack.
The compassionate person does not cry when others cry, but he uses the energy that he would waste in tears to stretch forth his hands in encouragement to the one in need. Beyond the tears of another he sees, the upreaching, for comfort, and he gives this comfort. Beyond the seeming pain of another he sees the longing for health, and he speaks words of health and strength. Beyond the loneliness of another he sees the desire for friendship, and he gives kindness and understanding.
Compassion does not judge by negative appearances; it always looks beyond them to the self within, and to this inner self it declares the truth of its being. It says to every soul, “Christ is within you, and Christ is your freedom.”
Often we’re taught that having compassion is a sign of being weak because it means you’re not going to stand up to abuse or oppression. Compassion is strength—it means you’re not going to be consumed by hatred. Your actions may then be more effective because they’re not born under that angry fire, which can be very confusing because it can make you feel as though you have no options.
Compassion gives us an opportunity to step back. When we explore the nature of compassion, we recognize that disturbing and disruptive actions come from a place of pain. We can truly wish the other person well—wishing they could be free of that pain.
We realize that obsessing over another’s faults holds us back and limits us because it requires so much of our own energy. It’s as if we’ve let them take over our own mind and body. To recapture all that energy, we have to be able to let go of the other person. If they have issues, they are their own. If we need to take action to protect ourselves or others, we do that, but it doesn’t have to be from a hateful place.
Do you see the difference?
The positive part of anger is its energy—it’s not passive or complacent. Our job is to capture the energy without getting lost in anger’s damaging aspects, such as negative tunnel vision.
A perfect example of capturing anger was the Women’s March, which took the anger of many and turned it into an expression of what people wish and hope for in their future and the future of their children – equality for all.
The concept of compassion was central to Jesus: “Be compassionate as God is compassionate,” he said. He was compassionate to everyone, including and especially those who were considered outcasts or untouchables: the poor, the maimed, the chronically ill, lepers, Samaritans, Gentiles, tax collectors, sinners and even women, who fell to the bottom of the social strata at that time. Jesus pointedly rejected the purity system that dictated who had rights and who didn’t; who was to be acknowledged and who wasn’t; and who one could speak to, eat with, touch, help, defend or befriend.
In his brilliant book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, author Marcus J. Borg writes: “To put it boldly, compassion for Jesus was political. He directly and repeatedly challenged the dominant sociopolitical paradigm of his social world and advocated instead what might be called a politics of compassion.” Jesus ignored social boundaries and violated purity protocol, demonstrating again and again that the letter of human-made law is less important than the spirit of God’s law, which is love and compassion. Jesus said, ‘Love one another.’ That should be the End of the story!”)
COMPASSION was one of the outstanding qualities of Jesus.
Many have spoken on compassion:
“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ― Mother Teresa
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.” ― Albert Einstein
His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote,
“According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive — it’s not empathy alone — but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and lovingkindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is lovingkindness).”
Have you ever seen someone do something courteous and then get angry for not being properly thanked? True compassion has no expectation of reward, even a simple “thank you,” attached to it. Expecting a reward maintains the idea of a separate self and a separate other.
How to be more compassionate? Pema Chodron says, “start where you are.” Whatever mess your life is right now is the soil from which enlightenment may grow.
After all this talk of selflessness, it may seem odd to end with compassion for oneself. But it’s important not to run away from our own suffering.
Pema Chodron also said, “In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.
And in –
Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets
Loving thy neighbor is intrinsically connected with loving yourself. Maybe you’ve never been concerned about self-love, but it is vitally important. How you treat yourself, including how kind and compassionate you are toward yourself, can inform everything you say and do, and most certainly how well you love your neighbor.
So ask: What can I do today to improve my situation? How can I enjoy my life just as it is?
― Steve Maraboli, in the Life, the Truth, and Being Free “How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”
Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. At the root of it all, we are all human beings. We need food, and shelter, and love. We crave attention, and recognition, and affection, and above all, happiness.
Reflect on these commonalities you have with every other human being, and ignore the differences. Here is an exercise from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
- Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
- Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
- Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
- Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
- Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
Look around you at the folks gathered here today and think on those statements. It will be a good practice for when you walk out that door.
Remember: Proverbs 18:21
“The tongue has the power of life and death…”
Be compassionate towards yourself and towards others. It’s what Jesus, our Wayshower would do.