It takes strength to be aware of suffering and not be overwhelmed by it. Driving past the tent city on Division street, some people will look at the homeless for just a moment, and quickly turn their attention to something else. For some, the sight of those who own nothing more than they can carry makes a deeper impression, and it can be depressing to think about any long term problem where there is no easy solution.
As it is with the racism in this country, and its inequality, its endless wars, neglect of the poor and our home, none of these can be addressed in shorthand. As much as we may have advanced, we have not yet given enough of our time, energy and intelligence to solve these problems. Instead, we are a largely distracted, immature, and self-absorbed consumer culture. Worst of all, too often, those free and educated enough to effect change look away to the next party, the next game, the next escape.
I take solace here in the fact that there are many conscientious people, who work each day to make a difference, but it is not easy. When we meet what seems like an insurmountable challenge, it’s tempting to give in to despair, both for this generation, and for our future. Fortunately for us, there are inner resources we can tap into to help us respond more effectively. Compassion is that unique human quality that expresses our kinship, and that gives us strength and hope.
Compassion is not despair
On the surface, compassion may look like despair. In both cases the initial feeling is one of sadness. But where in despair we are overwhelmed, and made weak as a child, with compassion there comes the energy to work. There are times when some indomitable force rises up in us. Just look at those workers, mothers and fathers and friends and strangers who go out each day to do what’s needed, and when there is some crisis, new strength enters their limbs.
When I think of those activists who marched, and who wrote, and who spoke out over the years, I know they did it both for themselves, and for for the coming generations. That strength they had to begin, and to keep going was the perennial strength of compassion, and this is something we can all use now.
Where despair feels like surrender, compassion has no quit in it. The doubting mind is also closely tied to fear, and it is a small and contracted state, but the mind of compassion is broad and clear and fearless. It imagines great things, such as clean water, and people being fed and housed, and gets to work to get them done.
When we are in a state of doubt and despair and distraction, we are shut down. We are confused and only using a small part of our inherent wealth. By contrast, compassion helps us to know just what is essential about our being here: to care for one another as best we can. A light wakes up in us. It is great love and compassion that begins in response to the great and small needs; it is compassion that has us continue; and it is this same power in us that goes on for as long as it takes to complete the works of justice, healing and peace.
I praise the dawning of compassion in each and every one of us today, and all of its works. May it flourish in us all.Photo by James Chan, Singapore
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