As we observe the current presidential campaigns in the United States right now, I’m sure that many of us are wondering what has happened to the compassion in the ever growing movement toward the ultra right side of conservatism. If compassion truly allows us to bear witness to the suffering of ourselves and others, then where has it gone? According to Sharon Salzberg, the author of the book, Loving Kindness, the way to develop compassion is to learn to live with sympathy for all living beings, without exception. Furthermore, to do that, she so rightly states, we have to be able to recognize, open to, acknowledge that pain and sorrow exist, and then establish an appropriate relationship with them. What, then, stops so many Americans and their leaders, especially on the conservative side of the body politic from doing so?
Perhaps, the answer is in what Sharon says next, “Compassion means taking the time to look at the conditions, or the building blocks, of any situation. We must be able to look at things as they actually are in each moment. We must have the openness and spaciousness to see both the conditions and the content.” Although a lot of people would plead ignorance to knowing how to do this, looking inside ourselves we experience the fears that prevent us from viewing pain and sorrow directly. Besides that, maybe the fear of knowing that once we see these things we won’t be able to avoid taking appropriate action is also there. How about observing some of the poor children with blackened teeth due to the lack of access to training and proper dental care? How about the workers like our sons and daughters, after having lost their jobs and insurance, have also lost all of their teeth simply because they had to wait until they could be treated in a hospital emergency room? How about others who have died of cancer, like my nephew, because they couldn’t afford to get the appropriate analyses to make an adequate diagnosis until the people in charge of workers compensation had finally given their approval? These examples are only the tip of the iceberg.
Why not open to them? We could go and spend a few minutes with the people who are suffering this pain with its accompanying sorrow, and we could also go on line to see their photos and videos. (Although, there is nothing like seeing it first hand, is there?) After experiencing the reality facing our fellow citizens, we should have developed some feelings of sympathy and compassion (the desire to take away the suffering) for them. That is exactly the time to simply become quiet and focused for about five minutes, bring them and their suffering into our thoughts, attend to it single pointedly, and affirm to them again and again, “May you be free of your pain and sorrow. May you find peace.” These aspirations are also called the prayer of loving kindness, one that is specifically designed to nurture compassion. And with the use of such a tool we begin to see its benefits.
Saying these words and contemplating what we observe as we go through this process repeatedly, our heart mind begins to open as we sympathize and empathize by seeing the conditions and content of agony. Perhaps, we even begin to witness and experience our own fear of suffering, learning that we, too, are not separate but are in unity with the misery of others. (We might see the truth in what physicists say: “Nothing is separate.”) Just by being in the here and now in vertical time, paying unwavering attention to the pain we feel, we may find ourselves learning to let it go and pass away. On finishing each session of loving kindness designed for compassion, we may evolve into taking action with all our skill. Even something as simple as being present with another who is in pain is often enough. That person will, indeed, feel our compassion.
Asking ourselves what stops fellow Americans and our leaders from acknowledging the pain and sorrow that truly exists in our society, we soon find ourselves having a solid session of interbeing, the talented communication between our inner and outer selves. So doing, we would have to be as unfeeling as a rock not to be opened by the experience of suffering in front of and within us. Throughout the process, which may become a daily practice, we probably learn more than we knew existed as it pertains to misery, and we see that we, too, can benefit through compassionate action within ourselves and with others. In conclusion, why should we or the people on the political right of our society hesitate?