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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Compassion


I recently returned from a conference held outside Boston, Massachussetts, entitled "Cultivating Compassion". It was a gathering arranged by Spiritual Directors International. There were spiritual directors, and others interested in the life of prayer, from many different faith traditions, and from many places around the world.


One of my learnings at the conference, which I have been been making an effort to put into practice in my daily life, comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The Youtube clip I have inserted above is of Pema Chodron a teacher from Nova Scotia, who explains the practice very well.

It is called Tong Lin. As I understand it, Tong Lin is a kind of prayer that is meant to cultivate compassion within us, by increasing our awareness of the suffering of others.

In the last few days, when I have found myself in a conversation, or situation, in which I knew that the other person was suffering some hardship, or difficulty, or sadness, as I have listened to them, I have also been doing this practice.

As I breathe in, I have imagined myself accepting their pain and suffering. (I tell myself that I am passing this suffering on to God, who is the source of all compassion and comfort and healing.)

As I breathe out, I do so with the intention to direct love, and peace towards the person I am with. My understanding is that the Spirit of God is like an endless stream of love, that desires to flow through each of us, out towards others.

I cannot speak to the effect this has on the other person. My hope and prayer is that they feel relief, and feel heard, and loved.

What I can say is that this prayerful practice seems to soften me from the inside, and open my awareness of the condition of the people I am with.

When this practice was being taught at the conference, I was wondering about how to connect it to the idea of Jesus' self-giving, and his willingness to participate in, and take on the sufferings of the world. I wonder if this kind of practice can help me better understand what it might mean for me to "take up my cross" as a follower of Jesus.