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Jerome Stone

Meditating on Compassion, A No Brainer?

Recently I've been taking to heart the connections between meditation and compassion. There are times in my meditation practice when I've found these sweet, inspired and clear moments - glimpses actually - where I can actually see how the suffering that I endure in my life really is due to my mind. And, with these glimpses I've begun to emerge from my claustrophobic "me" in realizing that we all suffer due to our mind.

What these glimpses have given me is a more clear way of really understanding what the teachings of contemplative traditions tell us about the inextricable link between the heart and the mind.

Recently I was watching a teaching given by Sogyal Rinpoche in Cologne on May 14, 2001. In that teaching, Sogyal Rinpoche reminded us that we shouldn't fill our heart and mind with anger, that that’s not what they’re made for. He said that in fact that the mind is very pure and that like a crystal which reflects whatever colored surface it’s laid upon, whatever we occupy our mind with will then be reflected within our mind. That made me think...

How much of the time do I spend occupying my mind with "...me, me, me..." failing to think about others, failing to remember that everyone wants the same thing that I do, that is - to be happy and to be free from suffering. Amazingly, even when I'm meditating, how much of that time is spent - distracted - with thoughts about "me," "mine," I"?

I’ve noticed that when I'm practicing mediation and when I drop "having to do" or “having to be” anything, simply practicing being present and resting in my true(er) nature, there's an indescribable peace and contentment that bubbles away, that isn't distracted by my usual "me" way of thinking, and that connects with other people as being very similar to me.

When I’m able to maintain this kind of practice, free from the usual self-referential “me-ness,” I find – almost unbidden – a compassion for others who also suffer from the claustrophobic sense of self. What I am able to realize in these moments, and to really get!, is that so much of the behavior that I see in others that bothers me is the very same “me-focused” behavior that I encounter…even when I’m meditating. As an example, when I'm bothered by politicians who seem blind to how their decisions affect people, or when I'm bugged by Wall Street bankers who carelessly ruin other peoples' lives while raking in huge bonuses, what I'm seeing - if I'm honest with myself - is other human beings who are also caught up in the same "me-centered" program that I encounter on a daily basis.

Truly then, the only difference between the Wall Street Bankers and myself is that I’ve been blessed with the tools to transform my mind and they haven’t. And since I’ve been given these wonderful tools for the transformation of my mind and heart…holy crap, how could I not feel compassion for them?!?

It’s a real eye-opener, a real mind opener, and a real heart-felt-engagement when I get these kinds of realization. Sure, meditation can be about transforming our mind and in a way, this self-transformation can seem pretty self-centered. But, and here’s the magic about it all, what I’ve also found is that when I’ve really connected with my meditative mind, from which bubbles up a wellspring of compassion, then there’s no difference between the transformation that I’m making in my mind and that transformation that I can potentially bring to the rest of the world. It seems like the only difference then is where I turn my mind, outwardly towards the ills of the world, or inwardly towards the true nature of my mind. Think about this...or even better, meditate on it!

What do you think? Does this work for you? What have you found to work (or not) when you make the connections between meditation and compassion?