Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in an authentic way? Practice the art of compassion. It doesn’t cost anything and it’s been around in theory and practice for over a thousand years. It starts with compassion for the self. Well, maybe therein lies the problem.
What is compassion? Is it something in between altruism and egoism whereby we are motivated to help others only in so much as it makes us feel better (but not too much better)? And is it okay to feel better about ourselves?
In my search for the path to compassion I came across a really enjoyable website called www.helpothers.org. In it you can randomly select a card (kind of like a free on-line psychic reading!) to find ways to do good for yourself, for others and for the planet. The card I drew showed I could help a stranger next time I’m in a coffee shop by leaving a sticky note with a positive statement for them to find once I’ve left. Paying for the person behind me in line at check-out is another way to “pay it forward.”
Love is not money, we know this intellectually, but still it seems that the more you care for someone the further into your wallets you must reach. Success is measured through monetary gain so compassion seems quaint, like something from an old nursery rhyme. But as we arrive on that special day to show that we love other humans on the planet, I’m feeling like the phrase "caring enough to sending the very best" should be interpreted differently than what Hallmark had in mind.
In the book, "The Lost Art of Compassion," clinical psychologist and longtime Tibetan Buddhist, Lorne Ladner, demonstrates the powerful benefits in our day-to-day lives. He writes, “Until recently, western psychology focused almost exclusively on working with unhealthy emotions and relationships, turning very little of its research or expertise toward understanding positive emotional states. To feel compassion we must slightly turn away from our own state of superficial momentary happiness to focus on others’ discomfort or need.” This key to compassion creates awareness in ourselves and so one may achieve true happiness because the heart has opened outside of itself.
We all want a better world. We want a better life for ourselves and our children. We want to reach out, but our current copper wire connections of emails, texts and Facebook messages are overwhelming in their invasiveness, offering personal insights without intimacy. How can we have real relationships with people we don’t spend time with? Is “liking” someone’s post akin to compassion in modern times?
One of the great sources of spiritual comfort in the Far East is Chinese Kuan Yin (Kwan-on in Korea and Kannon in Japan). Her name means She Who Hears the Cries of the World. Her message and image transcend all doctrines, creeds and traditions.
It’s almost an anti-Cinderella story. Kuan Yin wanted to avoid marrying a man she did not love and begged her father to allow her to dedicate her life in spiritual devotion. Her father made living in the temple almost unbearable because he wanted Kuan Yin to marry, but Kuan Yin survived with the help of animals and friends. Her father became enraged and tried to burn to the ground the temple where she lived. Kuan Yin put out the fire with her bare hands and suffered no injury. His plan of getting her to abandon her lifestyle did not work so her father had her killed. Because of her kindness to others, Kuan Yin was made into a goddess and rode regally upon a white tiger into paradise. But unable to ignore all of the voices of the suffering on earth, she returned to the land of the living and offered her help and assistance to mortals.
People engage in songs and chants to request that Kuan Yin alleviate pain. She is said to listen to every cry uttered in the world. Her healing qualities are associated with sound, both through her voice and the music dedicated to her.
In the Kuan Yin Chronicles, Martin Palmer sums up her messages and her directive. “In her limitless compassion she offers hope of change and transformation, not wrought by just miracles but by redeeming and transforming what is inherent within each of us.
Lorne Ladner. The Art of Compassion. HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.
Palmer, Martin. Kuan Yin Chronicles. Newbury: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2009.