Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to Transform Suffering with Compassion

When you’ve become proficient in opening your heart and extending love to yourself and others, you may want to experiment with compassion, which is simply another form of love. (Or you could just start here and leave lovingkindness till later.) When you’re moved by the suffering of others and feel a spontaneous desire to help relieve their pain in some way, you’re experiencing the emotion known as compassion. Unlike pity, compassion doesn’t separate you from others or make you feel superior. Quite the contrary: In the moment of compassion, the walls that ordinarily keep you separate come tumbling down, and you feel others’ pain as though it were your own. You may be reluctant to cultivate compassion because you’re afraid of being overwhelmed by the enormous suffering that surrounds you. After all, the world is plagued by violence, poverty, and disease, you might argue, and there’s only so much you can do about it. But the truth is, the more you allow yourself to experience compassion, the less overwhelmed you actually feel! If you just want to use meditation to improve your life, you don’t have to bother reading this section (although I’d like to suggest that you can improve your life immeasurably by opening your heart to compassion). But if you want to extend the benefits of your meditation to others — and become a more compassionate human being in the process — then I couldn’t recommend a more helpful set of practices. Begin by cultivating compassion. Then, if you want, you can experiment with using it to transform the suffering of others in your own heart. Though these practices may be simple, they’re extremely effective for dissolving the clouds that hide the heart.

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