There are four heart-opening and heart-healing mindsets that Buddhists call the four immeasurables: Equanimity, Loving-kindness, Compassion, and sympathetic Joy. These four mindsets are referred to as “immeasurable” because of their limitless ability to end suffering. Each immeasurable counteracts a mindset that keeps us stuck and prevents us from letting go of pain.
On day 22 I presented a letting go exercise that illustrated how judgement and prejudice can be counteracted by practicing equanimity. Yesterday, day 23, we looked at a loving-kindness practice that helps in staying open to love – even if we’ve been burned by love in the past. Today we look at Compassion, and staying open to another’s pain.
You may be thinking, “Okay… enough of this letting go practice… it’s way too heavy…” But ultimately compassion helps us relieve our discomfort with pain. So I invite you to give it a try:
Today’s letting go practice: Making peace with pain:
Fearlessness is the hidden gift of compassion
- Think about someone you care about (if you have not done this exercise before, it is suggested that you do not use a child or someone too close to you. Picturing an acquaintance, or a more distant friend or relative is a better way to start.)
- Picture this person in your mind, and picture their suffering. Is it chronic illness, old age, loneliness, or addiction?
- What feelings come up when you picture this person’s suffering? Some common feelings that we might be afraid to admit include: contracting or shutting down; controlling, which is often about trying to remove your own pain about this situation; and helplessness, which is also about your own pain, but can leave you feeling angry, resentful, or even depressed.
- Don’t be afraid to address these feelings. It’s the only way to get through them. In small doses, feel them and relax into them.
- As you let go of feelings of contracting, controlling, and helplessness, is it easier for you to picture being a compassionate presence to the pain of others?
This practice of staying present to pain is not a giving in or a defeat, but rather a compassionate acceptance of what is. From this stance we can decide what the best thing to do is (and it might be nothing), and act in the best interest of our loved one.
Compassion practice helps us let go of closing off to suffering and is replaced by an internal fearlessness and an ability to be awake and present to the good, bad, and ugly of life. And this fearlessness is the hidden gift of compassion.
We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!
Watch Pema Chodron talk about fearlessness.
Just in time for Friday!: Tomorrow we will look at the practice of sympathetic joy!