For the past year, I have had an ongoing problem with a close family member. There has been disharmony, stress, frustration and heartache. And there has also been no easy way out, but to just be with it. In many ways, it has been a huge learning period and has really challenged my practice. For at the heart of the practice is a soft turning towards suffering, and every inch of my being has been screaming at me to run away and stick my head in the dirt.
Then last week, I was reading Christopher Germer’s book ‘The Mindful Path to Self- Compassion’, and I stumbled upon a reference to a quotation from Thomas Merton who interpreted Chuang Tzu, the Taoist sage, as saying:
So, when the shoe fits
The foot is forgotten,
When the belt fits
The belly is forgotten,
When the heart is right
‘For’ and ‘against’ are forgotten.
Germer, p. 157
This koan of sorts stopped me in my tracks: specifically, the words ‘When the heart is right’.
When the family problem surfaced a year ago, I was just finishing teaching on a Level 2: Responding with Compassion course. At the end of this course, we usually take a Warrior of Compassion pledge after spending some time in reflection. My pledge, at the time, was to bring compassion and love to the situation and to meet the difficulty of the other with kindness. In this way, ‘the heart is right’.
In some ways, this Warrior of Compassion pledge is like The Compassionate Motivational System that I wrote about last week. And it really came in handy. Many times, when I felt I was being met with pettiness or when I felt hurt by my family member’s actions, I remembered my pledge and would not feel the need to react; instead, I tried to see things through their eyes and a natural forgiveness arose. Only, this pledge did not address my own suffering. I somehow had forgotten to apply it to ME and cracks began to appear.
Last week when my patience was wearing thin, I was feeling angry, hurt, frustrated and, once again, the need to run away and ignore the situation. Then I read the words ‘When the heart is right’, and because the context was focused on self-compassion, the missing piece of the puzzle seemed to fall into place.
I have been using various self-compassion practices throughout the difficulty, especially when I found myself experiencing anxiety or sadness when alone. However, I had not been using these practices in the face of the conflict- in the moments of reading a disturbing text or hearing hurtful words. In these moments of attack, I worked towards maintaining a compassionate attitude towards the other person. Their actions were coming from their suffering, not mine. Only last week, that compassion for the other seemed to disappear. I had had enough. I was at the end of my rope.
Then came the revelation. The heart needs to be right in relation to myself, too. I sat back, placed my hands on my heart, and recited the phrases
May I be safe,
May I be peaceful,
May I be strong
I felt a warm shift of perspective and immediately decided that I had to revisit my Warrior of Compassion pledge. I needed to reinterpret and reword it to mean that I will not only bring compassion and kindness to the situation and the other, but I will also bring it to myself. All those months ago, I took a pledge that ignored my own needs. How had I missed this?
I feel so much lighter. And I now realize that my self-compassion needs to be a part of my compassion for other. The two are intrinsically linked. In considering the other’s suffering, I was obliviously ignoring my own. However, they both need to be met with kindness- at the same time.
So, I thought it would be good to set this week’s challenge as The Warrior of Compassion pledge. Perhaps, you might like to sit down, spending some time focusing on the breath and then reflect and make a pledge of compassion for both self and other.
Is there a difficult situation that you are in that could use a pledge of compassionate intention? Or a relationship in your life that might benefit for setting and engaging with some compassionate motivation for?
How would this intention and motivation sound if you spoke it out or wrote it out?
Maybe you have already done this exercise? But if you have, is there anything that you would change? Adjust? Add in?
Let us know how your get on!
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