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What Do You Call Compassion?


A piece about compassion, written by Bhiksuni Pema Chodron Buddhist teacher and abbess at Gampo Abbey, Canada....from YES! Magazine: Winter 2003 Issue

Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind-our drunken brother, our schizophrenic sister, our tormented animals and friends. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape. In the process of discovering our true nature, the journey goes down, not up. It's as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We jump into it. We slide into it. We tiptoe into it. We move toward it however we can. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we will let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of compassion. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.


feb-05 - poetry by mary oliver, received by email the same day that colin powell made the case for war at the UN security council meeting...

WAGE PEACE
by Mary Oliver

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries, imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.

Don't wait another minute.


mid-january - compassion and business, recent references


new year's day - wrestling with words for something that's just a bit beyond them...

ChrisCorrigan? wrote me an email about peace, compassion, pain, suffering, Byron Katie's 'the work' and Peter Frost's new book on CorporateCompassion and toxin handling in organization. Long story short, it reminded me of something I've learned from Julie Henderson, of http://www.zapchen.com fame...

...reminded me that compassion is a wish for others (even just one other) to be happy and free of suffering, for things to go well for them... and that that wish arises naturally, spontaneously and effortlessly whenever I let the other(s) be as real to me as I am to myself. This of course, takes some practice. <grin> MichaelHerman


Compassion is a wish for the future AND the work of making a present without suffering. Seems to me that Peace and Pain are simply real moments. What extends pain into the future is suffering, and what alleviates suffering is compassion and what also extends peace into the future is compassion. We have to acknowledge pain because it is real. It is in the present. Suffering extends it, and begets stories that support it.

One of the cool things about the work is that it asks you to consider what is real. Is that assumption real? What peaceful purpose is that story serving for you? It reminds me of a story of an old Taoist master, who comes upon children throwing stones at some geese. He quietly approaches them and says "Please, what is the widom of throwing stones at geese?" These kinds of questions shock us toward compassion.

My partner Caitlin resolved this age old dilemma for me after a week of working with "The Work": how do we both hold space AND let go. She said "we hold space for the pain that is real in the present moment, and we let go of suffering." The NOW grows and becomes a place of peace, because without suffering to extend the pain, a kind of emotional entropy sets in, and peace arises. Maybe this is why we have trouble with peace as practice. Peace is essentially equilibrium, which is death. It's quiet alright but, as the I Ching says, it's not developmental. When the stars run out of nuclear fuel trillions of years hence and the atoms all decay into fundamental particles floating in cold darkness, we will have peace.

In the meantime, we need compassion. That's the practice. Peace is the place.

Compassion is the practice, peace is the place. Get your bumper stickers here....ChrisCorrigan?


...suffering extends it... no, i think suffering IS the extension of it, the assumption that it will always be like this, there will always be this current pain. a natural outgrowth of "that's the way it's always been done," in organization. assuming that change and improvement and relief simply are not possible.

...compassion is still (for me) about the quality of attention we bring to ourselves and others... the quality of attention that reveals what is really happening... so yes, it is about seeing what is real... and i think that is always shocking! -MichaelHerman


From Sharon Slazberg:

The state of compassion is whole and sustaining; the compassionate mind is not broken or shattered by facing states of suffering. It is spacious and resilient. Compassion is nourished by the wisdom of our interconnectedness. This understanding transcends a martyrdom in which we habitually think only of others, never caring about ourselves, And it transcends a self-centered caring in which we have concern only about ourselves and never bother about others.

Linked at http://www.innerself.com/Relationships/compassion_is_a_verb.htm


...in the end it seems always to come back to practice... and such a tiny little refined practice it seems to want to be... so hard to say what it IS, but only what happens when it's nearby, or when we're in its path... like a cloud, an electron, an open space. fully present and totally invisible.


that said, you can use the edit link at the bottom of this page if you'd like to (or dare to) try to speak of such a thing, a cloud, a space, as compassion. please add your comment above this last paragraph.


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© 1998-2017 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael