Challenge Day 11- Yoga is Compassion
Compassion = empathy + action.
The practice of yoga cracks your heart open so that you are strong enough to feel and be present to your own suffering and all the suffering beings of the world. Then, the next step for a yoga practitioner is action—conscious action taken with the intent to alleviate suffering. Empathetic action is the cornerstone of compassion. Feeling and awareness without the action to back it up is ineffective at creating lasting change.
Patañjali defines compassion as “karuna” and advises yoga practitioners to cultivate the attitude of empathy and action to all those whom are experiencing pain, or “dukha.” As we dive deeply into empathy, one of the most obvious things that arises is that we are all in some way or another suffering. Whether from the loss of a loved one, a physical ailment, financial hardship, heartbreak, an environmental disaster, abuse or assault, other devastating life situations, or merely the perfunctory difficulties associated with everyday living, there is no being on this planet whose life does not in some way or another contain the seed of suffering. The first realization of the ubiquitous nature of suffering may seem both depressing and overwhelming. Some students even discard the spiritual path at this point, assuming it is pessimistic. But this would be a fundamental misunderstanding about both the path and life.
Without clearly seeing the truth about a situation there is no hope in changing it. Merely spouting two-dimensional truths about how awesome life is is a dangerous act of denial. The following statement to the realization of suffering in the ancient teachings of the spiritual path is that there is, in fact, a way out. But, that way is not in the distraction and diversion of the world of senses. It is not in the delusional rejection of suffering. The way out is straight through, eyes wide open, heart-centered and fully alive.
Metta, or Loving-Kindness, Practice is the cornerstone of actively practicing the state of compassion. It is usually traditional to start with oneself, with the idea being that you can only truly give to another what you have given to yourself. There is never a more sincere desire for peace and happiness than in the midst of intense pain and suffering. The causes of suffering are limitless, but the solution is quite simple. The active practice of compassion is the balm that ameliorates the sting of the wound.
Start with yourself. Close your eyes for a moment and tune in to your pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, environmental or spiritual. Just for now don’t run from it. Then, feeling the woundedness of your own heart, say the words, “May I be happy. May I be safe and secure. May I be filled with love.” Add and adjust the phrases as needed to best meet your own needs. Stay with this for at least five minutes.
Next, try opening your heart to a being whom you love easily, such as your child, pet, or even a public figure whom you just effortlessly feel love for. Tune in to the ways in which they may be in pain or face difficulty. Then, feeling their pain in your own heart, say the words, “May my dear one be happy. May you be safe and secure. May you be filled with love.” Add and adjust the phrases as needed to best meet your own needs. Stay with this for at least five minutes.
To take this practice further, try opening your heart to a group of suffering beings in the world. I find it extremely helpful to make this part as real as possible. Perhaps you know of a group of people in need within your community. But if you do not personally know and relate with any community in need, this portion of the meditation can be assisted by reading about current affairs. Engaging with the reality of the world can be challenging, but it is absolutely necessary in order to take the lessons of the spiritual path off the mat and into your life. I will now draw your attention to a current situation that desperately needs compassionate awareness. As you read, please open your heart and empathize with each being impacted by this tragedy.
Bushfires in Australia that started in September 2019 have taken the lives of 25 people, destroyed more than 2000 homes and killed over 500 million animals. An estimated 30% of the koala and kangaroo population of New South Wales has been wiped out. Bodies of koalas and kangaroos lie along vast stretches of burning highways as firefighters save as many as possible, but cannot save them all. More than 10 million hectares have burned, which is over 10 times the size of the 2019 California fires and 10 times the size of the 2019 Amazon fires. People and animals are driven to the beaches to shelter in the water, find refuge in evacuation centers or stay with friends, family or strangers who have opened their homes to people and animals in need. The fires are burning uncontrollably and are unlikely to stop in the near future. As climate change has increased the temperatures and caused droughts in most of the country, the heat and lack of rain accelerates the intensity of the fires.
Now, close your eyes. See yourself and your family fleeing your home as it is consumed by fire. You manage to escape, but your community is reduced to ash. See the koalas and kangaroos running for their lives, some escaping, but many dying. See the trees and mighty forests burning, with firefighters working to stem the blaze. Let the depth of the pain in to your hearts, and say the words, “May all the human beings in Australia be safe and secure. May all the animals, the koalas and kangaroos be safe and secure. May all the trees and forests, the Earth itself, be healed. May the firefighters be successful. May all be protected and free from suffering. May all be healed.”
And then, open your eyes and decide to take intelligent action. Here is some information on how to help:
Wildlife – https://wires.org.au/donate/ways-to-help
Ask and research what you as an individual can do to reduce your climate footprint.
Lastly, it can be easy to search for an evil villain to blame for tragedy and pain. The Australian Prime Minister is under harsh criticism for his lackluster response to the fires and ties to the mining and coal industry, whose use of water has been linked with the fires. Then, there is the larger geopolitical atmosphere in which events like this happen, indicating the dire state of our planet. There are certainly individuals whom we could easily assign blame to and label as a climate enemy. I challenge you now to open your heart to these beings as well. See the world leaders and CEOs of companies who are climate deniers and polluters. Feel your natural tendency to judge, hate and otherwise engage in warfare with them. Then, drop down a level and see that they, like every being on this planet, are in some way suffering, whether from physical ailments, emotional pain, loss of loved one, or even simply from the inability to see the truth clearly. Bravely, hold them in your heart for a moment, and say the words, “May you see clearly. May your heart be opened. May you come out of your suffering. May you find the spiritual path. May all your actions be in harmony with all beings. May you be peaceful. May you be happy.”
This may have been the hardest part of the meditation up until now. Be brave. Don’t turn away from this deep work. And now, take action rooted in love.
1. Call, write or send an email to your local state, province or national elected official.
2. Start or sign a petition asking for action from your government leaders on climate change.
3. Vote for leaders that align with your values regarding environmental policies.
If you’ve made it this far, there is one last realm of compassion that I’d like to try and cultivate. Now that you’ve made the journey through a very real and pressing world situation, you are ready to open your heart to all beings.
Close your eyes. Tune in to your heart. Feel the presence of all living beings, human and non-human. Say the words, with resonance in the heart, “May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all being be filled with love.” Steep in that space for about five minutes, repeating the words over and over again, adjusting and personalizing the phrases to keep the experience real and grounded within your own heart.
Open your eyes. Carry the torch of compassion forward in your life, today and every day.
May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be filled with love.
Practice along with the Yoga Challenge on Omstars
Watch my Live Replay on YouTube