Ripening Compassion: The Second of the 4Cs

This is the fifth post in the year-long series of Walking the Path of Heartfulness in 2023, a monthly meditation gathering. This post focuses on the second C (COMPASSION) of the 4Cs that guide my work: Courage, Compassion and Connection with Curiosity as the kind, wise guide. 

If you have been following along since the new year, you will have brought attention to your intentions, awareness of how you want to show up in life this year. Also, you would have practiced welcoming all parts of yourself – holding space for all that exists in the moment, sensing into the body, noticing patterns of the mind and what is arising in the heart (the emotional center). You may have come to see your life as your practice with courage and curiosity. 

If you are new to Walking the Path of Heartfulness or the 4Cs series, welcome! I am so glad you are here. You can start right where you are or you are invited to begin anywhere that peaks your interest or speaks to your current experience.

This post focuses on dropping deeper into compassionate presence, exploring what my teacher, Deborah Eden Tull, calls compassionate neutrality or kind neutrality, where we witness our lived experience without getting caught up in hierarchical perception (another one of her terms), a ranking, prioritizing or authorizing of experience. We tend to bring a power over mentality to our lived experience rather than a power with. This will be explored in the guided meditation.

Chris Germer, co-developer of the Mindful Self-Compassion program with Kristen Neff, share this wisdom on Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us

The issue is not what emotion we have but how we’re holding that emotion,

and what we can learn from the emotion.

Yes!! We do not have to take issue with any emotion we experience, place it on the hierarchy of acceptable; instead, we can pay attention to we “hold it” or relate to it, and make space for it to be there, to sit with it. 

And experience the emotion as information, with curiosity or mindful inquiry. We can explore what the emotional experience reveals about how we are engaging with life. We bring a compassionate neutrality to the experience rather than our, perhaps typical, judgmental or evaluator perception.

As we work with rather than against our experiences, suffering lightens up, makes space for joy, contentment, awe, gratefulness to arise naturally.

I love inspirational card decks. I have many! One deck is the Everyday Peace Cards by Thich Nhat Hanh. The other morning I chose the card titled Composting: 

Sorrow, fear, and depression are bits of garbage that are part of real life,

and we must look deeply into their nature.

You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers.

It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too.

You don’t need to throw anything out.

All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers.

Even what we label as ick emotions (see, this is hierarchical perception), undesirable experiences (aka garbage), is of equal value to joyful and happy experiences. All is welcome! We can hold this, too. This is compassionate neutrality. As we practice, we ripen our compassion, we increase the habit of not taking issue with the emotion or the experience. The heart opens and ease begins to arise organically.

On a personal note, these past couple of months have been particularly stressful, so much so that I found myself in a dark place for a few weeks. I was hooked or attached to my suffering. I was stuck! It felt like I was banging my head against the wall of reality, wanting desperately to not feel stressed, frustrated, grief, sadness, anger (it was a lot!).

And yet, this resistance, a wanting for life to be different, kept me stuck in a suffering loop. Because of my practice, I was able to notice this loop with courage and compassion, and surrender. I began to hold “the wanting life to be different than it was” lightly, to stop fighting reality. I had had enough and so I sat with the turbulence of my emotional experience with curiosity. This opened up enough space for micro-gratitude to arise. I use the word micro because it was so small. It was not forced or faked. It was like the crack in the cement where the flower pokes through and eventually blooms. The crack was just enough and it grew bigger until I broke free from the fight.

Pema Chodron describes this courageous experience in her book Start Where You Are:

Compassion starts coming to us because we have the aspiration to do the practice and to get more in touch with our own pain and our own joy. In other words, we are willing to get real. We realize that we can’t fake it and we can’t force it, but we know we have what it takes to work with how we are right now. So we start that way, and both the ability to drop it and cheer up and the ability to open our hearts begin to grow on their own accord.

And slowly the heaviness lifted, allowing an opportunity to learn, heal and grow. From this really difficult time, I have deepened my awareness of when I am entering the ring to fight reality. This awareness creates a gap or space where I can see the choice to enter the ring or to soften and surrender. Surrendering is not passivity or a giving up. It is a courageous recognition that fighting the moment increases suffering, and we get stuck in a small sense of self. This experience has helped me see others with more compassion, to recognize that they may be stuck or in their own loop. It is not easy being human. And it is also extraordinary when we wake up to our realness.

As Pema Chodron shares again in her book: It’s all raw material for waking up. You can use the numbness, mushiness, and self-pity even–it doesn’t matter what it is–as long as you can go deeper, underneath the story line. That’s where you connect with what it is to be human, and that’s where the joy and well-being come from–from the send of being real and seeing the realness in others. 

This is ripening compassion! Let’s practice!

This poem, Falling In, by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, is shared at the end of the guided meditation. 

Again today I rest my hand above my heart

and feel how naturally the body softens,

how simple it is in this moment to forgive

myself for thinking I should be anything

but what I am. Hello air that fills

this body. Hello life that pulses through.

Hello mystery of gentling. Hello self

who would resist. I rest my hand

above my heart and think of how

for many years my teacher laid

her teachings exactly there–

placed them right where my hand is now

so that when my heart broke,

the teachings fell in, just as the Rabbi

once said they would.

I think of how it saved me, this falling in,

how in that terrible breaking moment,

what had been understood only by the head

became blood, became breath,

became every step, every unstep,

became nerve, became bone,

became true.

I rest my hand above my heart

and feel how this, too, is the tenderest of teachings–

to say yes to the body, to ask nothing of it,

to feel in the palm the miracle of heart beat,

and fall in, fall all the way in.

Here is a shorter version of the meditation focused on accepting the moment.

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