We start the new week with some reflections on compassion, an important emotion for us all in our current situation.
Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things -Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton, the wonderfully compassionate Trappist monk and contemplative writer, was one of the most spiritually influential figures of the twentieth century. He remains, years after his tragic death in Asia, one of very few writers on the spiritual life who can speak to a modern age somewhat at odds with the deeper truths of spirituality. Merton’s life reflected his writing; In his innate complexity he learned a lot from other traditions beyond his immediate own momastery, through engaging deeply in paradox to incorporate the wisdom of the wider religious and secular world. Merton once likened the awareness and expression of compassion, the interdependence of things, as like a ‘pure diamond’ in our hearts. Just imagine that.
When we grasp the eternal truth of interdependence, a natural compassion arises for all beings. The apprehension of the intrinsic interconnectedness of all things leads organically to a compassion that is all embracing, even in the concrete existential situations of life as it unfolds in our personal way. Collectively, compassion often arises when or where social hierarchies and roles are dissolved, so that social equality becomes a central fulcrum in human exchange. The cultural anthropologist Victor Turner has called this ‘communitas’; A state of mind in which there is a sense of profound common humanity and a deep feeling of oneness. Compassion springs from ‘communitas’ and often breaks out at moments of communal crisis, such as natural disasters or the current global pandemic. One example might be the communally-organised and heart-warming cheering of front-line medical staff across various communities right now.
‘Having’ can exert a deadening weight on the potential for being compassionate. The artificial trappings of life that we accumulate, whether material goods, status, or online likes and friends, can serve to smother the natural underlying compassionate flow of our lives. The ‘stuff’ of our lives and ‘knowledge’ we store in memories, books and ‘clouds’, are rarely of the type that transform our inner being and often serve to gradually separate us out from those who ‘have’ less in worldly terms.
But right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we’re perhaps invited into a temporary new life in which the ‘havings’ of our everyday lives (our employment, social statuses, the daily coffee) are suspended in time in favour of a simpler and more profoundly compassionate life; A life in which, freed from the weight of ‘daily having’, our minds turn towards that delicate balance between being and doing; Towards contemplative questions.
Ask yourself with kindness today…Who am I in my being right now?
How might I best express my awareness of interdependence - the pure diamond of the heart - and take compassionate action?
The thought for the day is a short reflective writing relevant to the art of suffering well (enough) in difficult times, for parents and staff of Alice Smith. If it offers comfort amidst adversity, read the text and call it to mind when needed (even if just a short phrase from the larger text), allowing it to soak into the marrow of your bones and merge with your breath. Remember, we are all in this together…
Take good care, Dan