I have felt immense compassion in the past couple of month for my friends, loved ones, and acquaintances who have been the victims of violence around the city. This is easy--they are my friends, I care about them, I don’t want them to hurt.
But quickly my mind goes to all the people in the city who suffer and have suffered violence--people who I don’t know, who don’t look like me. Can I extend compassion towards them, these people who are the victims of crimes that might never even be reported?
And then I think of the perpetrators of this violence. What kind of suffering must a person go through to put them in a position to be able to commit violence? Can I feel the same compassion for a person who attacked someone I care about? Can I imagine them as a person with wants and needs, hopes and dreams? With friends and family who love them? Can I imagine this person laughing?
What happens to us when feel compassion towards others is that we open ourselves to their suffering, and ultimately, to their humanity. We see through the illusion that we are separate. Our hearts open and soften. We grow wider, more expansive.
I’ve been thinking about all of these things as I watched the horrendous events unfold in Paris last weekend. Quickly my newsfeed was filled with Eiffel Tower peace signs and French flags. And then started appearing the images of Beirut from days earlier, which had been absent until then. If we feel compassion towards Paris and the people there who are frightened and grieving, can we also extend that compassion towards the people of Beirut, whose trauma fails to make the news? Can we extend compassion towards Syrian refugees, who are fleeing from their drought-ridden war-torn homeland? How many of us can remember when we once also wore the moniker of 'refugee', fleeing our city ten years ago because of a terrible combination of mother nature and governmental failure?
The poet Rumi says “Your task is not to seek for love, but to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” This week in class we’ve done a Buddhist Metta (lovingkindness) meditation--this is a practice to help us break down the barriers we’ve built against love and compassion. Below are the words we’ve recited all week, and here is a free Tara Brach guided Metta meditation.
May you be at peace.
May your heart remain open.
May you awaken to the Light of your own true nature.
May you be healed.
May you be a source of healing for all beings everywhere.