Remember: Compassion

05 Jul

Image: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation


Sabbath Meditation

Saturday, July 5, 2014

: Compassion

The True Self does not teach us compassion as much as it IS compassion already. (Sunday)

Only after God has taught us how to live “undefended” can we immediately stand with and for the other. (Monday)

The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of Divine Intimacy, is really all I have, and all I have to give.

True prayer or contemplation is a leap into commonality and community. (Wednesday)

Compassion and patience are the absolutely unique characteristics of true spiritual authority. (Thursday)

The compassionate holding of seeming meaninglessness or tragedy, as Jesus does in hanging on the cross, is the final and triumphant resolution of all dualisms and dichotomies. (Friday)

Rest: Tonglen

Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön, shares the practice of tonglen as a way of holding suffering and awakening compassion:

“In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.

“In particular, to care about other people who are fearful, angry, jealous, overpowered by addictions of all kinds, arrogant, proud, miserly, selfish, mean—you name it—to have compassion and to care for these people, means not to run from the pain of finding these things in ourselves . . . . Instead of fending it off and hiding from it, one could open one’s heart and allow oneself to feel that pain, feel it as something that will soften and purify us and make us far more loving and kind.

“The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering—ours and that which is all around us—everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.

“We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if you know of a child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the pain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the child happiness, joy, or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness. However, we often cannot do this practice because we come face to face with our own fear, our own resistance, anger, or whatever our personal pain, our personal stuckness, happens to be at that moment.

“At that point you can change the focus and begin to do tonglen for what you are feeling and for millions of others just like you who at that very moment of time are feeling exactly the same stuckness and misery. Maybe you are able to name your pain. You recognize it clearly as terror or revulsion or anger or wanting to get revenge. So you breathe in for all the people who are caught with that same emotion and you send out relief or whatever opens up the space for yourself and all those countless others. Maybe you can’t name what you’re feeling. But you can feel it—a tightness in the stomach, a heavy darkness, or whatever. Just contact what you are feeling and breathe in, take it in—for all of us and send out relief to all of us.

“. . . [You] can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be brave but instead is a coward. . . .

“Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us.

“Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.”

Adapted from “The Practice of Tonglen” by Pema Chödrön,

Gateway to Silence:
May I see with eyes of compassion.


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6 responses to “Remember: Compassion

  1. Paula Moldenhauer

    July 5, 2014 at 10:57 PM

    Processing: Only after God has taught us how to live “undefended” can we immediately stand with and for the other. (Monday)

    Not sure how I feel about it. God is our Defender, right?

    At the same time I am walking through some pain as my son has been slandered. I want to defend him. He shrugs off the lies and just keeps living true to who he really is. He is too old to be defended by Mama Bear. And it all hurts that the people saying the lies are people I have long counted as friends.

    Then I wonder where I have believed a lie. Where I have left someone else’s child undefended, or worse, where I may have misunderstood or slandered.


    • Little Monk

      July 6, 2014 at 11:53 AM

      Dear Paula,

      Thank you for this comment. Thank you for sharing your heart, feelings, and what is going on with you right now. You are in my prayers. As to “defender” and “defending”, the text of Richard Rohr’s post speaks of “defensiveness (of the ego)”, the psychological reaction of defensiveness, mechanisms, rationalization, denial… all those things we sometimes do when we feel insecure and feel like we have to lash back at others when we feel threatened in our pride. Yes, God is absolutely our defender against the true enemy, but sometimes our “false self” our “shadow self” our childish egos feel defensive even against HIM. And that is unnecessary. We can stand undefended before Him and before servants of light.

      As to slander… I, too have an adult child. I have resolved, in my life, never to say “I know how you feel”… for I cannot do that, truthfully. But I do know how *I* feel when I am concerned for my daughter, or her husband, or their children. I also know what it is to BE slandered… to be spoken of falsely… to be accused of actions, attitudes, sins that are pure fantasy. Whether such words are uttered in malice or mistake, there is no denying the hurt and wounding associated when one has never treated another with irreverence or disrespect, never as less than sacred… but is accused and convicted in the mind of another as having given heinous offense. This can be unspeakable hurt.

      I cannot dare to advise, suggest, or counsel either you or your son in such a moment. I can confess, however, how I have determined to handle slander against myself after much prayer and consideration.

      One, “let not what you know to be good, be spoken of as evil”. That is, just in case there is a factual error involved… some innocent misunderstanding or misinterpretation… I will address a situation (particularly one of FACT, an incident or event) only ONCE with the person involved, to clarify any misunderstanding. Like, say I receive an invitation to an event… and someone doesn’t know I did and doesn’t want me there… and then excoriates and castigates me for my impertinence and arrogance as to think I was welcome… I can, will (and have), clarified the fact that I had received a written invitation and had thought to honor them with my attendance. At the same time, now knowing their aversion to my very being there, I would honor them the more with my absence.

      Two, I examine the situation, the “accusation” for any grain or glimmer of grace and truth to it. This is a part of my “day” as God has woven that day as gift to me. Is there any manna here for me, something I can take away from the moment to grow me closer to Him or to others… no matter how ill proportioned or inappropriate the vehicle for that grain of truth may be? If so, I try to embrace it. If not, is it not dust to be shaken from my sandals?

      Three, perhaps the hardest truth for me to grasp… to be dedicated to light, to do good, to serve as vessel for Him… is to invite and guarantee persecution, misunderstanding, and rejection… often. Persecution is not always dramatic. It is often very soft, quiet, and undertone. To speak truth with grace, without exception, is to bring light into dark corners where sometimes the corners are not welcoming at all. And this is NOT exclusively a matter of telling people “bad stuff”. Not at all. Sometimes you can be saying incredibly GOOD stuff to people… no criticism whatever. But they are simply not prepared to accept it, and thus along with rejecting the words you are called to speak… they choose to reject you, your friendship, your relationship… right along with the words.

      Four, here’s the tricky and challenging bit… how am I to respond to them after that? Answer: Just as Christ did. Speak truth with grace always. Absorb and embrace the pain they give in return. Love them just as much, just as freely, just as openly… forgive without condition… and allow the Holy Spirit in them to work without further dispute from me. How did Jesus treat people before, during, and after the crucifixion? How did the Companion Disciples do so? How am I to do so?

      Now, am I claiming to ACCOMPLISH this all the time? Nope. Nor am I denying the challenge or struggle of it. But I can say this… the extent to which I succeed, is precisely the extent to which I know joy, peace, love and sense that I am fulfilling the instruction to love as He loves.

      Please pray for me in this… it is a day by day project!

      Grace to thee — Little Monk


      • Paula Moldenhauer

        July 6, 2014 at 5:08 PM

        Thank you, Little Monk. I appreciate you taking the time to give such deep, thoughtful response to my ponderings.I appreciate your words and will reflect more deeply upon them.

        Today at church part of the message was about how we learn to live for Christ, not people’s approval. A lesson I’ve learned deeply and continue to learn in new places. This situation came to my mind then I suddenly was given joy for I saw one way the Lord was using this situation for healing elsewhere. God is sweet to open new understanding of difficult circumstances.

        And now I pray for greater grace to continue in love.


  2. Paula Moldenhauer

    July 6, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    Also the passage in your first point seems to refer to the freedom to eat vs offending your brother. Do you think in context it fits this broader situation? I have thought much about the Scripture that says if we are offended we should go to the person in love. My husband and I are praying about whether or not we are to reach out this way since we are peripheral to the situation and so it is really our son’s place to clear up the rumors. I respect the fact that he stands tall in who he is and doesn’t need the approval of these people. However, I would like to see the Truth clear things up . . . but that is my sons choice as he is led by the Spirit and I am concerned about stepping in where God may be working in the greater picture with my son and these people who for some reason have believed this lie. He is not in close relationship with these people, but they are in relationship with people we both are in relationship with, so it does affect the greater community.


    • Little Monk

      July 6, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Dear Paula,

      Do you think in context it fits this broader situation?

      I want to be careful not to apply a specific verse beyond its proper application… yes. And I want to be equally careful not to try to address a situation on which I know none of the facts (nor do I need to). So given those provisos and limitations…

      I think the broader principle… beyond “let not what is good”… could be phrased “speak only truth with grace”. I cannot give that a specific scriptural address, but can simply state that it is a fundamental discipline of my training and those who mentored me (and one of my strongest personal challenges).

      I am far more prone to speak “wishy washy acceptable stuff” in an awkward situation. Or, let adrenalin take over and speak “harsh grace” without hesitation or remainder. It has taken a great deal of time, and incredible patience on the part of those who love, train, and pray for me… to develop this “gentleness” of “truth with grace”.

      As to when to speak or be silent, I find that “unction” or the “prompting of spirit” is critical here. It’s not that “to speak” is a “passive” thing, exclusively. Sometimes, when the prompting is present, it is clearly a “proactive” moment. But MOST of the time, by and large, I find it is more REactive, or a passive thing.

      As for myself, I can only say this. When I find myself passionate, angry, and driven in my adrenalin… it is generally NOT the moment the Spirit is prompting me to speak or address something. The “right” moment, should it come at all, is generally a quiet and peaceful moment, when someone asks for a quiet or private word, or asks a question, or simply makes themselves available to resolve a concern.

      That is not universally true, by any means. There are times, regrettable but necessary without doubt, where a dispute is in an open and public venue, and I’ve been called to confront error, “ungrace”, or “unforgiveness”, in a clear and unhesitating manner. There are times that the Truth is simply not the Politically Correct words for a given moment, and yet the words of truth are called for and called forth.

      In my own life, I’ve found that when someone else’s reputation has been maligned, and I am called to speak into the situation, the “critic” or “critics” ask me directly for my input or opinion. This opens the way for truth with grace. Seldom, if ever, do I recall going out as a third party, to the defense of another.

      “Let not what is good be spoken”, I think is an overall principle of integrity and transparency. But the issue of how “assertive” one is about the “Let not” part… that is a matter of the finesse of the Spirit, and I have little help (certainly no rules) to apply to how far afield one goes in “letting” people believe something false, versus expressing what is true.

      I hope this addresses the original question. It’s been a great opportunity to think this through.

      Thank you — LM


  3. Paula Moldenhauer

    July 7, 2014 at 11:36 PM

    Thank you for helping me process this! Still praying about the situation. Appreciate your willingness to help me process.



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