Compassion - Unlocking Our Personal Prisons
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons close to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from our prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such an achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.” Albert Einstein
This week we go deep in the practice of compassion for the very reason that Albert Einstein points to above - to free ourselves from our self-created prisons. The beauty of the practice is that by opening ourselves to others, we build our own inner well-being.
In a compassion practice we acknowledge the suffering of others, but we don’t take it on as our own. Rather, we cultivate a deep, authentic wish for an end to their suffering. This heart-felt wish is what separates compassion from sympathy and pity. And we extend this caring outward to take in not just those close to us, but those we don’t know and even those that challenge us. As Longfellow wrote, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
An essential element of the compassion practice lies in having compassion for oneself, something that our Western culture treats as frivolous or self-indulgent, yet we know that in order to truly care for others, we must care for ourselves. If it helps, you can think of caring for yourself as practice for caring for others.
This week, in moments of discomfort great or small, we invite you to place a hand on your heart and place your other hand on top of that one. Pause for a moment to rest in this small act of self-care, bringing that sense of caring for and being cared for into the body, heart and mind. You may wish to try this in particular in moments of looping self-criticism, recrimination and doubt. We are often our harshest critics and greatest source of our own suffering.