The heart of compassion

Cultivating compassion is an amazing and life affirming experience. When one is not aware if this true gem, the potential for which resides in us all, the opportunity to make this live a meaningful one can be lost.

It is true that seeing this as an opportunity can easily elude one. Why would one think, when you are struggling with difficult emotions, that there is a simple way out of holding on to the closed feeling one has in one’s heart and mind. In fact, our motivation at these times is rather low, or even non-existent. So why let go? Why “feel good about you” when there is still “feeling pretty bad about me?”

This first initial step is the difficult one. Its like saying to someone, “just jump, you will be all right, in fact you will love it!” when there is much fear and uncertainty of success. How can one have instant faith and believe someone that says that caring for others will give you deeper satisfaction than caring for yourself ever did? Sometimes it helps to make this first step by looking into our hearts and seeing what we find there. If it looks like a lump of charcoal and we see it clearly it might help us to wonder why we are holding so tight to our pain anyway. What do we have to loose? But its more complicated than that. Most people are probably willing to give giving a try, but there is usually this one obstacle in the way, which is the “self focus” that dominates our relationships. We unknowingly are conditioned to care more about our survival, our needs, our emotions and our reflection than about others. In fact this self focus is a form of clinging to existence that is deeply ingrained in our consciousness. Its been lurking there since, well, forever!

It is in seeing this that we can start to make the connection that the idea of our self and what it needs to survive can actually be observed by our normal, everyday, wakeful mind. We can use the simple mental faculty of awareness to look at our self image like we would look at any image, or any object. This objectification of our emotional and mental behavior can lead us slowly into creating some space between the mind that is aware and the grasping to our idea of self.

The formal practice of compassion, of altruism and of love and caring for others is a conscious decision to “give up” this self-centeredness in each moment by replacing it with the blissful feeling we get from giving in a meaningful way. This might be to give in a small way to a stranger, or going all in and giving up entirely the idea of a self to a higher form of consciousness, or perhaps better put, a representation of the highest form of awakened mind. This is usually an accomplished teacher, a spiritual friend, or in some cases a deity, all of which represent us at our best moment, our highest potential. This can take many forms and has in fact done so in the history of enlightened practice. Some of the more famous one’s can be familiar to us like Jesus, Shiva, Krishna and such. In the spiritual traditions of India this is usually called an Ishta Devata, or a personal deity. In many forms of Buddhism it can be the cultivation of compassion as a form of cultivating wisdom by letting go of all forms of self and replacing it with the idea of the mind of wisdom and compassion, or bodhicitta.

The giving up of the clinging to our sense of self, the shadow of awareness, the collective personal memory database – whatever you want to call it – sets us free to swim in the fluidity of the moment, to feel free from the constraints of identity and having “to be this or that”, to meet each moment with fresh eyes and an open heart. What total bliss! I invite you to get wet, jump in and start swimming!


Michael Hamilton

Note: Michael Hamilton is holding a retreat at Cal Reiet from April, 29th to May, 6th. There are only 3 places left. You can see more information here