Choosing Compassion in Times of Suffering
The last month has been fueled with acts of hate and violence happening all over the world. From deaths close to home, to attacks overseas, to military coups in Turkey, everyday we're faced with new examples of chaos and fear. Not to mention the growing uncertain political climate here in the United States.
My gut reaction to the ever-growing bodycount and political unrest is to run and hide; pretending that it isn't real and live in my own limited reality of ignorance. But that's not an option, so what do we do in times of such blatant hatred and uncertainty? There are many answers to this question, ranging from philosophical to practical, but the truest answer is choosing what kind of person we want to be in these moments as a singular human. Do we choose love or do we choose fear?
Yes, please join human rights groups, donate money to charities supporting the victims of violence, and inform the masses of the political issues that are pressing this country (and the world). But the big work starts at home with yourself. It starts with choosing compassion over anger and fear.
Last summer, YogaInternational.com published an article I wrote called "Don't Take It Personally: A Practice Of Non-Violence" where I account a conversation between me and my teacher, Karina Mirsky. I asked her what we're supposed to do when faced with hate, and she replied that we must understand these individuals are all reacting to their own suffering. We don't have to condone their actions, but if we can learn to understand them and have compassion for them as humans, then we're no longer reacting to them reacting to their suffering. In other words, we can reach a mental state that allows us to enter the conversation from a clam and objective space (where we, in turn, are not reacting to our own suffering).
So...compassion. How does this really help? By resting in compassion, we (on a micro-level) become an uplifting force that can butterfly-effect to macro-level change. I've heard quotes like "change your mind to change the world" that echo this exact sentiment. The real work to change the world starts in your own living room.
Choosing to react with compassion doesn't just have to do with relating to others, but with how we relate to ourselves. Earlier this year, I attended a meditation talk with Lama Tsomo in Berkeley, California, where she spoke of teachers from the East who came to the United States and were surprised to find that most Americans do not have much compassion for themselves. The battles that American students fought were mainly against themselves, with regularly employed negative self-talk and self-shaming patterns. The good news is that this a learned behavior, so, with work, we can change how we relate to ourselves.
Part of the practice she gave us to help remedy this pattern (the Tonglen practice) is to tell yourself how great you are and how much you love yourself, just like you might a loved one. Once you truly love yourself, doling out compassion to others will become more effortless. In time, you may find that you are able to hold your enemies in compassion (and possibly forgiveness). And as the great philosopher of our time, RuPaul says, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anybody else?"