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Dude, Where's My Compassion?

You should hear my internal monologue. It's pretty embarrassing, but it's entertaining, and it's all about me. Me, me, me. It's interesting how my opinions are the right ones, and how everyone else's choices are wrong. I suppose the fact that I have some awareness of this is a good thing, but damn, I am one self-centered dude. Over the past few days I've found myself judging a stranger's parenting qualifications, as well as friends, college students, Facebook friends, and blog commenters' reactions to Osama bin Laden's death, a food server's priorities, and the audiences going to see the hit film Fast Five.

I have some awareness around this judging, and I'm generally able to shift my thinking fairly quickly to just like me, they wish to be happy and free from suffering. But it's funny how after years of practice these things still come up. I can't wait for that one day in the future when I'm finally "fixed" and no longer have these issues. And then I notice I'm judging myself, and the present moment, and wishing for it to be other than the way it actually is. And my judgments are just thoughts, and I can let them go.

But still, I get embarrassed, by my judgment of others, by my wish for my own happiness without regard to others' welfare. By my material selfishness. But I don't want to let the embarrassment paralyze me. My tendency is to harden my heart; I notice suffering, bodhichitta arises, and so I do something to distract myself and move away from the soft spot. And then I'm back to square one, Selfish City.

Watch the video below; it won't teach you much you don't know. You know already that you possess the resources right now to save the lives of those less fortunate. Last week at the airport I bought my son a starfish souvenir for $3. That's more than three days' pay in some parts of the world. That's enough to buy some food for the starving, enough to buy vaccines and medications that can actually save lives. But you knew that. Just like I did. But (mindfulness be damned) it's so easy to pretend you don't know that. After all, the boy needed a starfish. I bought my daughter a "Bop" magazine which was perhaps a less wasteful purchase, since I was able to determine via quiz that Justin Bieber and I are not a perfect match. But still, five bucks can do a lot.

Watch this video and notice the relative bodhichitta arise. And maybe it's accompanied by some embarrassment, or some horror, or something else. The instruction I've heard repeatedly is to stay with the emotion, not to run away from it. To drop the storyline––I'm a bad person, I don't have the time, I don't have the money, I'm a terrible Buddhist––and just watch. I'm committed to moving toward that emotion, the embarrassment, the sadness, and experiencing it, and seeing what arises. I'm convinced that by connecting to it that my natural compassion and wisdom will arise and I'll take the right actions. I am not talking about acting out of guilt, I'm talking about getting connected to my own basic goodness.

Maybe I'm even doing it right now.

If I occur to myself in the world as powerless, then naturally, the actions that flow from this way of occurring will be powerless. I might stomp my feet, I might forget to vote, or I might even think, fuck it, I can't do anything anyway, so why bother? Anything I do is just a drop in the bucket. And so I might distance and distract myself.

To paraphrase the book and the video, what if that drop in the bucket were your child?

Opening up to the sadness in my heart allows me to see myself as responsible; I occur to myself in the world as responsible, as powerful, as necessary. When I occur to myself in that way, I naturally find myself wanting to give in any way I can. By connecting with this relative bodhichitta, anyone becomes someone for whom I can make a difference. For whom I must make a difference. Dana arises spontaneously. As His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa taught, "once unbearable compassion takes birth in our hearts, we will immediately be compelled to altruistic action. We will automatically start thinking about how we can free sentient beings from suffering."

I'm taking a closer look this month at where and how I spend money, where and how I spend my energy, and by bringing some mindfulness to this process I'm hopeful that the results will be full of compassionate action, rather than guilt, distraction, and upset. I have a choice about how I spend my money, and I can express my generosity in that way as well. Do I buy a Justin Bieber magazine, or some processed food in a polystyrene container, or do I notice the opportunity to practice dana?

Dana isn't just about giving money; I recently learned that Mother Teresa instructed all of the nuns in her order to always have a smile for anyone they encountered. She knew everyone needed love and compassion, and what a gift it was to simply offer a smile. Whether you're in the mood to or not. Thich Nhat Hanh taught, "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." I'll admit that for a time I thought that was a real "fake it 'til you make it" attitude. Just pretend you're happy and maybe you'll eventually be happy. But then I realized that a smile genuinely has the ability to transform sadness into joy, if only because by giving a smile, we're giving a gift to another, and we are naturally happiest when we are giving.

So my practice continues. I'll keep cultivating compassion, keep up the dana practice, keep a mindful eye on my consumption. I'll expect to screw it up, too, and I hope during those times I can remember to have some compassion for myself.

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Comments

Great post, Jon

I just hope I wasn't one of those parents you were judging. :) (I know Soren needs a haircut). This is a great reminder of how we all need to reboot our mindset and think outside of ourselves as often as possible. It's a tricky bit but a worthy endeavor. Thanks for the reminder. I have to work on smilng more for sure. And for the record, I don't think you're a self-centered dude.

No way man

You're awesome and don't you dare cut Soren's hair. Thanks for the kind words.

Great post, Jon

I just hope I wasn't one of those parents you were judging. :) (I know Soren needs a haircut). This is a great reminder of how we all need to reboot our mindset and think outside of ourselves as often as possible. It's a tricky bit but a worthy endeavor. Thanks for the reminder. I have to work on smilng more for sure. And for the record, I don't think you're a self-centered dude.

Many hands make light work

A great read, a great reminder - and timely. Definitely one I'll be coming back to. Thank you so much, Jon Rubinstein.

Thanks for Sharing

It's so great you posted the Peter Singer video.  I really admire him and his efforts to create a more equitable world; he's one of the few people who really wants to talk about distributing wealth more fairly.  You are a very kind man to consider how your purchasing decisions impact everyone, and a great example to everyone about thoughtful consumption and interdependence. 

Love hearing about your internal monologue and glad I'm not alone with all my instant judgements and "shoulds"!

Kim 

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