by Mara Healy, guest contributor
Compassion takes many forms. It can be the reassuring hug of a significant other. It can be an unexpected kindness from a stranger. It can be the firm guidance of a parent or a teacher. It can be the quiet of a listening friend. It can be the unspoken understanding communicated through a soft glance. The one ingredient found in each example is the focus on the one outside oneself. It is the doing for someone else without expectation of some reciprocation. Compassion has no agenda. It has no preconceived notion of a particular outcome.
Is this automatic? Perhaps it is sometimes, when we are confronted with the needs of those closest to us. What about the times when we see the needs of others with whom we share only the bond of humanity rather than the ties of family or friendship? How do we generate the same outward focus and giving? How can we clone and multiply compassion especially in our busy, multi-tasking lives?
In today’s modern society, we have made entertainment out of the emotional struggles of others through venues such as reality television. We see war, terrorism, starvation and genocide on the daily news. We read about murder, robbery, kidnapping and infanticide in daily newspapers. We hear radio programs about political upheaval, religious intolerance, and economic collapse. In a world so globally connected, it seems likely that a hardness-of-the-heart could develop out of sheer self-preservation due to the overwhelming nature of this suffering.
These same media outlets also provide us with glimpses of humanity, outreach, self-sacrifice, and generosity, around the world, though those stories are sometimes overshadowed by larger, negative ones. Unfortunately, stories of happiness and kindness don’t consistently generate the same attention that tragedy and mayhem arouse.
The good news is that we can retrain our attention, interest, curiosity, thinking and attitudes through one small act of compassion each day. One act of giving, focused on someone else, generated from a full heart of pure intention, can create a ripple effect of kindness in the same way that a pebble thrown into a large lake sends ripples in all directions reaching every water’s edge. The bigger the pebble, the bigger the ripples, but even a light leaf dropped creates ripples, so the act does not have to be large for its impact to be felt.
Compassion and kindness roots itself quickly, and sends out shoots in all directions like bamboo. It bends and sways like bamboo, it is strong like bamboo. Once rooted, it is nearly impossible to eradicate.
When life sends events or circumstances that might destabilize our thinking or uproot our emotions, the perceptive, kind eye of another who lends us a hand, an ear or some time, can ground us, allowing us to regain our footing. Experiencing that done for us makes us more likely to do it for another. Seeing it done makes us more likely to replicate the action. Hearing about it hopefully sparks warmth in the heart and touches our thinking.
Generating this outward focus and sense of giving is a practice like any other; it comes with time, repetition and begins with small acts. Practicing compassion in a society that is often rude, in a hurry, and potentially self-centered is the ultimate test of our daily commitment. Plant a small seed of compassion and kindness in the garden of your mind. Once rooted, a small thought can grow into an act. Actions become habits. Habits alter our attitudes. Our attitudes shape our motivations. It is through action that we create change both within and without. Do the patient thing and patience will come. Do the courageous thing and courage will come. Do the kind thing and compassion will come.
You can learn more about Mara Healy at www.marayogini.com.