How Compassion Brings Liberation
We can find freedom, once we find compassion.
Think about it. If we are hooked or worked up by something someone says or does to us, our defenses automatically get triggered. In an instant, one of our habitual patterns of behavior will naturally surface without our even being aware.
Without some kind of routine spiritual practice where we can train ourselves to notice when we get triggered and instead choose a different reaction, it’s likely these habitual patterns will continue unabated.
Instead, if we have a regular practice of noticing our own behaviors and the circumstances that trigger them, we have a much better chance of catching ourselves in the moment of being triggered and instead make a different choice.
Consider that your thoughts leave your mind in the form of your speech. If we have a practice of settling our thoughts through meditation and mindfulness on a regular basis, it’s more likely that we will be aware of what we are saying and whether it is useful or creating problems.
So where does compassion come into play? Partly, when we recognize the triggers in ourselves and acknowledge them honestly for what they are. In other words, having compassion for ourselves and being open to looking at the causes of what has triggered us.
The other part is in our ability to recognize that whatever someone has said or done is not likely a result of something personal to us.
Typically, when people lash out, it’s because they have some unfinished or unrecognized anger brewing in themselves which, in most cases, got triggered by us but doesn’t always have much at all to do with us.
Enter compassion. Compassionate listening, more to the point.
When someone listens to us with compassion, it brings about healing and relief right away. This is what the Buddhist teachings in the Lotus Sutra remind us. We have to learn to practice compassionate listening to heal the people we love and restore communication.
Now more than ever, restoring communication is an urgent task. Many of us have lost the capacity for listening. It may even feel in today’s divisive political climate as though no one is capable of listening to anyone else. Without deep and compassionate listening, we feel alone.
There are two ways to approach this:
First, is by having compassion for yourself and your automatic defensive reaction to whatever was said or done to you. Instead of allowing yourself to fall into the trap of your habitual patterns of responding, catch yourself and just stop, breathe. Don’t allow yourself to engage in those habitual patterns.
The second is to have compassion for the other person who is clearly suffering from some unfinished internal business of their own. You have to practice in such a way that any time irritation and anger arises, you can catch yourself in the moment and breathe in and out while holding the compassion in you. Train yourself to be a compassionate listener and use loving speech.
This is the Fourth Mindfulness Training in Buddhist teachings. We seem to have lost our ability to say things calmly and get irritated too easily. We have lost our capacity for speaking with kindness and yet, it is the most crucial aspect of restoring peaceful and loving relationships.
If we are able to find compassion both for ourselves and for the other, there’s really no need to put up our dukes, no need to argue or fight. The trick is to catch yourself in the arising moment of difficulty.
You know that split second where we go from hearing what someone has just said and our reaction to it? Now, THAT is a practice!
Easier said than done to be sure. And, that’s where meditation and mindfulness come into play. We need to train ourselves to notice that split second right there. It’s a practice literally of unraveling old habits and replacing them with new ones.
Meditation is a wonderful way to practice our way to liberation – the kind of freedom, peace and stillness that ultimately leads to joy. Not just your joy but the joy that comes from not constantly being on defense.
If you don’t currently have a meditation practice, I invite you to join me for one of my weekly Beginner’s Meditation classes held every Wednesday evening from 6:30-8:00 pm. If you can’t make it then, feel free to schedule yourself for a private session and I’ll be happy to guide and support you in your practice. Let me help support you in getting on the path to compassionate listening and loving speech.