The Art of Compassion

Another beautiful article written by Wesley Milliman for Hush Yoga:

The Art Of CompassionThe drama of life is always filled with emotions of despair or anger against the incongruity and unfairness of circumstances, as well as exhaustion from the never-ending quest just to survive. As a result of this stress, the emotions tend to dry up and the heart burns out, extinguishing the flame of our values and ideals. Thus, the important question becomes how can we rediscover and reawaken a feeling of tenderness and a sense of purpose in our lives; how can we resonate both with the suffering and joy of the human condition without losing our way or becoming so overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s problems that we lose hope.

Some of the great classical composers give us an example of what I call light-heartedness. Beethoven, for instance, was courageous enough to believe that society could be improved; behind that fragile and powerful soul pummeled by the tragedy of his deafness was a being of tremendous, heroic self-confidence. Brahms, as well, transformed terrible psychological suffering into joy, both within his heart and at the level of his soul. Handel brought us an unmatched understanding of true glory and sacredness in the act of glorification.

As a meditation practice, cultivate light-heartedness by first becoming conscious of the many different levels of emotion. The heart is capable of great sensitivity, and spiritual realization is the act of attuning oneself to a higher pitch. The task is to watch not only your own emotions but also the effects of your emotions on others and vice versa. The spectrum of emotions ranges from the extreme, vulgar emotions of violence and lust to anger, jealousy, and resentment, to the more ordinary emotions such as the desire for recognition, empowerment, status, and possessions. At the far end of the spectrum are the emotions of sacredness experienced in refined moments of love, insight, compassion, and mindfulness; this is the emotion of the soul, and, at this level of awareness, every movement is a prayer.

The word that captures the emotion of the soul best is exaltation. It may begin as admiration: admiring music, architecture, poetry, art, intelligence, or beauty. In addition, there is also an emotion that comes from a sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of life. Compared to the more low-key emotional attunement of most people, this is like cultivating a taste for the sublime.

Thus, the emotions are a reservoir for values, and we must sensitize our hearts to the more sublime and exalted values of the soul and spirit. Our hearts have become so bruised and hardened by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that we have lost the capacity to feel the higher ranges of the human spirit. By cultivating these refined emotional values, rather than killing them with cynicism and mistrust, we will transfigure the world so that heaven is both under our feet as well as over our heads.

The doorway to experiencing the emotion of the soul is through rediscovering the child within us—for it is a pure heart that leads the way to a higher attunement of consciousness. The secret to entering the consciousness of the child within is to become stripped of all guile, manipulation, intrigue, and deception. Dharmakirti said that the true nature of the heart is clear light. Defilements are superficial.

The fact is that we have become so jaded and sophisticated that we have lost touch with the sacredness of our being. Thus, it is critical that we place more value on those rare moments when we feel inspired or uplifted. This does not mean that we must renounce the wisdom we gain as we grow older; in fact, the great skill of life is to be able to maintain the innocence of the child in one’s heart while at the same time possessing some sense of mastery over life’s chaotic circumstances. The balance of these two modes of being is a great art.

Achieving such a synthesis of qualities is an ongoing, lifelong process. None of us is immune from being hurt in life. If we make a gift of ourselves out of love, we become vulnerable. Yet, somehow, just like a child who continues to trust no matter how many times he is rejected or rebuffed, the goal is to go on trusting in life itself. The miracle is that then a foundation of trust begins to develop; as people value the trust we give to them, they begin to feel safe with us. When we have attained this level of spiritual realization, we will have developed a heart-power that communicates directly with other souls.

It is our suffering, our broken heart, that gives us insight into the suffering of others. Compassion means ‘to suffer with’, not pity but actually sharing in the suffering because we too have known sorrow and loss. The extraordinary thing is that this insight of the heart is the magic that unleashes talents and potentialities within us that have been blocked as a result of our suffering.

Finally, it is this realization and knowledge of the heart that will enable us to reconcile the irreconcilables of our life: to honor our sadness, while at the same time experiencing joy. The truth is that one is never so strong as when one is broken. When you grasp that mystery, you will be able to see how what seemed like a loss or defeat is instead a victory, and that how you are broken is where you are whole. There is a Divine music that springs from a broken heart. We just need to listen intently, for it is the gateway to true understanding.