This week in our Awakening to Your True Self Series, we continue with the four Brahama Viharas. These translate as supreme states, desired dwelling, divine abiding, or our best home. They include loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. The brahma viharas or the four divine abodes are the teachings on the way we relate to ourselves and others. For example we meet friendly people with love, those who are suffering with compassion, successful people with joy, and unpleasant people with detachment.
Sharon Salzberg, loving kindness or metta meditation teacher, speaks of the four brahma viharas as our best home. She says, just like our home, we might not be in these states all the time, but we will feel our most authentic and most at ease when we are at home, when we are expressing love, compassion, joy and equanimity.
This week, we will focus on the second brahma vihara, compassion. Compassion means to open ourselves to suffering. Sharon Salzberg says that in our culture, suffering is viewed as unacceptable. We tend to pretend that suffering is not there or re-package it as something more palatable.For example, in Victoria, BC, where we live right now, there is a lot of discomfort with an area of our community called tent city, where several homeless people have put up tents to live this winter. Local politicians and committees have formed to move the homeless people somewhere else so they can be out of sight. So it takes a lot of courage to open to both our own suffering and the suffering of others.
When we open ourselves up to the potential of suffering that compassion offers, it is not for the sake of suffering itself. When we open to our suffering with the heart of compassion we have a tremendous opportunity to be deeply moved and develop a heart of compassion. Given the same experience of suffering, some will become bitter and angry by it and others will evolve and feel moved by compassion. For example, stuck in a traffic jam and watching an ambulance go by, some will be angered they are delayed and others will feel compassion for those who have been harmed in the accident.
I will give you another example from our wanderings in our home town. One day outside our library I was watching Tim take photographs of a beautiful sculpture. I was standing beside a grocery cart filled with a homeless person’s belongings. A man walked up to me and spent a great deal of time speaking about his anger about the expense of stolen grocery carts. While I felt some compassion for the business owner who loses his grocery carts, I listened to this man’s anger and bitterness over something that really didn’t affect him directly. When I saw the grocery cart, I saw an entire person’s life and all their possessions in that one place, outside exposed to all the elements, where anybody could steal anything at any given time. I truly felt the trembling of my heart in response to that suffering.
Compassion means opening to our experience just as it is. Sharon Salzberg says, that allows us to cut through the enchantment and deception of society around us. Opening ourselves to our own experience, our own suffering, our own feelings, sensations in our body, the quality of our mind creates a level of trust in ourselves. It allows us to become whole again.
Our experience is constantly changing. Sometimes we will be well and sometimes we will be unwell. When we can meet what is without rejecting or hating ourselves we are offering ourselves compassion. When I recognize my own fatigue in the middle of the day and give myself permission to take a nap, instead of pushing through or covering it up with caffeine, I am recognizing my suffering with compassion and nurturing myself with great care.
We can have compassion for our experience. We can know that no matter how heart centered and skillful our intention we will be met with both praise and blame, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disrepute. There is pretty much nothing we can do in this human experience to only receive praise on completely avoid blame only receive pleasure and avoid pain, only gain and no loss, only fame and no disrepute. And through the heart of compassion we can have tenderheartedness towards ourselves when we receive blame, loss, pain and disrepute. For example, in the testimonial you heard at the beginning I received praise for the spiritual content of the teachings I offer through Namaste Yoga. Yet, many times I receive blame for the same spiritual content of the teachings I offer. Your response to the teachings offered here are completely out of my control. Through compassion, I can trust, honour my intention, and let go. I can also open with compassion to my own suffering when I get bogged down in the blame and find home in my own caring.
Props Needed: blocks, meditation cushion, folded blanket or chair, bolster
Yoga Postures/Asanas: kneeling heart opening vinyasa, standing heart opening vinyasa, Chair Pose or utkatasana, warrior one or virabhadrasana one, Warrior Two or virabhadrasana two,
Half Moon balancing pose or ardha chandrasana, Natarajasana or Dancer Pose, Uttanasana or Standing Forward Fold, Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclined Baddha Konasana
Resource: Sharon Salzberg Metta Hour Podcast: Episode 25: Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity
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Today’s question to answer in the comments is: How will you offer yourself compassion this year?
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