When we hear about those who are far away and experiencing a difficult time, when we read about the suffering of those caught in war-torn areas of the world; when we see pictures of those who caused harm to others; we wince and our chest tightens. We may feel sadness, despair, and even confusion. We feel powerless because we are most likely unable to personally relieve any of that pain. Unless we are part of a rescue team, a medical group, spiritual or religious organization, we may turn the frustration into monetary and material contributions, or volunteer activities. Most often the subtle pain persists. This pain is the emotional aspect of compassion.
Last week I proposed that we can have lasting love and be in a love-infused state all the time by learning and practicing four immeasurable qualities called the Brahmaviharas, as taught by the historical Buddha to his disciples 2600 years ago. As we vibrate with loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, we feel a deep love for ourselves and as such, we attract not only the right partner; we are also able to attract all we desire in our lives. The previous post dealt with Maitri, or self-love. This week I introduce the quality and practice of Compassion, Karuna in Sanskrit. It provides spiritual empowerment.
We become empowered when we first notice that the same emotions we feel about those whom we do not know well, arise when someone we know is experiencing pain. We feel sad, frustrated and are confused as to the best ways to be helpful. We want to fix it. We may also offer monetary or material help, volunteer to do whatever we perceive the person needs, and may search for causes and remedies, depending on the specific conditions. We are really trying whatever means we find to stop the shared pain. Some people choose to stop their personal pain by avoiding direct involvement with the sufferer. When their loved ones are in trouble, they send material help and connect minimally while offering suggestions they think the other needs. Truth is we cannot fix someone else. Even though compassion, a compound word means “suffering together”, we cannot remove the suffering of others when we become too emotionally affected and we lose an enormous opportunity for growth when we reject being personally involved. Yet, we can help. In addition to the emotional component, compassion has a subtle behavioral aspect; what Thich Nhat Hanh calls, “…the capacity to transform suffering and lighten sorrows”. We need not suffer or be physically active when we are attempting to transform the other’s pain, nor is the pain contagious. When we want to help, we need presence and strong roots.
The painting above is called The Radiant Virtue of Spiritual Empowerment. Compassion is a virtue and its practice empowers us. A virtue confers inner and outer strength, so like in the previous painting, I use a tree as a metaphor for strength, for trees provide most of life’s essentials, food, oxygen, shelter, fuel, medicine, and tools. They live longer and grow larger and taller than any other living being on earth. They also grow from the inside out, as evidenced in the rings we use to determine the age of a tree. These self-sufficient beings are experts in the efficient use of the cycles of day and night, and the entire eco-system, and when they die, they provide the seed for new life to spring forth. Through the use of various textures and glittered paper I intend to convey the multi-faceted nature of trees. The layered background weaves itself into the foreground, depicting the tree’s growth cycle from seed to flower, to fruit through decay and transformation. The shapes cover the entire canvas implying the trees’ ability to confer, in addition to the aforementioned qualities, the sense of hope and strength, and these are the same attributes of compassion.
In order to help others, we must first nourish ourselves from the inside out. Like trees, we must take care of our needs for growth, through efficient use of our eco-system. Meaning that we accept what is in front of us with unconditional love, yet detachment. We are present and fully available without intending to fix anyone. When a tree branch is broken, in a few seasons, a new one will grow. So too, this person you are committed to help needs to learn to grow new branches. So we accept the other’s state and provide shelter. We allow them to feed from our extreme love and provide the medicine they ask for, without making judgments, or imposing ideas and solutions. We offer strength by looking and listening deeply. We accept their concern fully and filter it through our loving heart. We can do this because we practiced inner strength, through meditation, contemplation, self-acceptance and love.
When we become aware of the stirrings of compassion, we also need to be keenly aware of the suffering. We can look to the sun for clarity, to the earth for calm, and within, like the tree, for strength. It is the only way to help. This is truly empowering. Thich Nhat Hanh writes that “with compassion in your heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle…yet, if your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”.
The Radiant Virtue of Spiritual Empowerment, is a 40” x 30” mixed media on canvas painting. The original as well as the museum quality giclee prints are canvas wrapped and need no framing. It is an excellent piece to learn to work with self-compassion and being compassionate to others. Until Valentine’s Day, the original is on sale for 50% off the original price, and free shipping within the continental US. It has an additional bonus. Click here to find out now!
May you abide in Karuna all week long.