I’ve suffered a lot in my life. From a young age, I was so busy figuring out how to survive, that looking compassionately—with love, warmth, and kindness—upon myself was simply too hard to come by. When I was introduced to Buddhism at 16, I began in my brain to grapple with healing from within, and started to believe, intellectually at least, in the power of compassion to soothe life’s hurts.
Oh how I loved this idea of compassion! Finally a way of living and understanding the world that spoke to the truth of my existence! It was like a huge light bulb flashing on in my brain! Still, no matter how hard I tried, I could only narrowly find the feeling of compassion for others, and even less so for myself. As I continued to sit in meditation over the years, it became glaringly clear that knowing, adoring, and believing in compassion in our heads is totally distinct from feeling and experiencing it in our hearts.
I wasn’t hard-hearted, but sad-hearted, and closed off as a protective measure from all the hurt and difficulty I’d seen. Not only had I shielded myself from reliving the agony of my pain, but I had also shielded myself from the possibility of awakening deep joy and kindness within. Precisely because of this, precisely because I couldn’t point the arrows of compassion inwards, my ability to fully point them outwards was also thwarted.
It took almost 15 years from my first exposure to Zen to actually feel compassion. I credit this exclusively to having my first child at that time. Giving birth to my now 7-year-old son Gavin was indeed the moment when I actually understood what compassion was all about, namely letting our hearts crack open enough to feel the pain of others while simultaneously committing to loving and doing everything in your power to save them, no matter what. When I stared down into that sweet, needy, born small, and a little early face, wow did the compassion-blocking chains on my heart burst apart.
There really is something magical about one’s own child, or anyone else for that matter incredibly reliant on our tenderness and care, to elicit compassion in our hearts, especially when we haven’t had the greatest track record of feeling it for ourselves.
There is also no right way, no one-way ticket to experiencing compassion. Some feel it for themselves first, then for others after, or the feeling for another opens the floodgates inwards and then pours it back out. It honestly doesn’t matter, so long as over the course of our lives, we soften to compassion, and observe this sweet negotiation between its loving flow in and its loving flow out.
The essential point is that we drop out of our heads, and awaken compassion down below, or in other words, that we experience in wonder how compassion ultimately flowers open and sets free our hearts.
In sweet compassion,