We don’t have to look very far to find suffering. We see it in our families with illness or distress, coworkers going through a divorce, loved ones or friends coping with mental illness, friends who’ve lost their jobs, and in the hundreds of animals put to death every day because they’re unwanted, lost or abandoned. But if we could develop loving-kindness and compassion toward one another, that is, a spontaneous understanding that whatever we do to benefit ourselves must benefit others and vice versa, we wouldn’t need laws or armies, guns, police or bombs.
Buddhists use the terms “loving-kindness” and “compassion” instead of the simpler one like “love.” Love, as a word, is so closely connected with the mental, emotional and physical responses associated with desire that there’s some danger in associating this aspect of opening the mind with reinforcing the delusion that somehow we are separate from one another. I love you or I love that brings up a sense of dependence on the object or an emphasis on one’s personal attachment with being loved or the benefit of being loved.
For the most part, though, the terms loving-kindness” and “compassion” serve as a sort of stop sign. They make us pause and think about our relationship to others.
From a Buddhist perspective, loving-kindness is the desire that all other sentient beings - even the ones we dislike - experience the same sense of joy and freedom that we ourselves aspire to feel: a recognition that we all experience the same kinds of wants and needs; the desire to live our lives peacefully and without fear of pain or harm.
Make a list of people you don’t like. See if you can find the similarities about those aspects of yourself that you cannot face. See where you lack compassion and loving-kindness toward yourself.
As sentient beings, we are all alike. We are all kindred. Loving-kindness implies a sort of challenge to develop awareness of kindness and commonality on an emotional, even physical level, instead of just allowing it to remain an intellectual concept.
Compassion takes it a step further to have us look at other sentient beings as equal to ourselves even further. Its basic meaning is to “feel with,” a basic understanding that what you feeI I feel. Anything that hurts you hurts me. Anything that helps you helps me.
Compassion is essentially the recognition that everyone and everything is a reflection of everyone and everything else.
Even experiments involving subatomic particles conducted over the past few decades suggest that anything that was connected at one time retains that connection forever. Anything that affects one of these tiny particles automatically affects another, regardless of how far they’re separated by time and space. It’s then theoretically possible that whatever affects one particle in our universe also affects every other one.
The best way to begin to develop loving-kindness and compassion is to develop an open heart. It’s the best form of security we can offer ourselves. But developing loving-kindness and compassion is a slow and steady process. Remember that our dualistic perspective of “self” and “other” didn’t develop overnight so we can’t expect it to be overcome all at once.
Taking the gradual path won’t change your life tomorrow, next week, or even a month from now. But as you look back over the course of many years of practice, you will see a difference. You’ll find yourself surrounded by loving and supportive companions. When you come into conflict with others, their words and actions won’t seem as threatening as they once did. Whatever pain you might sometimes feel will feel more manageable, maybe giving you insight into how much they’ve shrunk in importance in comparison with what other people you know are going through.
Perhaps begin by making a list of ten problems you would like to see solved. It doesn’t matter if they are issues close to home or global problems. You don’t have to come up with solutions either. Just write the list. The simple act of writing this list will change your attitude significantly. It will begin to awaken your natural compassion.
If you're interested in diving into your list and the feelings that are coming forward for you, I'd love to chat with you. You can book a complimentary coaching session to see if our work together would be a good fit.