Compassion has been at the heart of my interspiritual attempts for years. As I wrote in Co-Human Harmony, I’ve defined compassion as the ability to empathize with others and act accordingly. Perhaps I got that idea from Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh in my late twenties. He wrote that “Compassion is a verb. It’s not just something you feel, but something you do.”
Here are some of the other interspiritual influences I’ve relied on to inform my
Knowing Our Darkness
A handful of books have earned the description “life-changing” in my life. Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart is one of them. His way of blending Buddhist teachings with psychotherapy has deeply influenced the mindfulness movement as we know it today.
Kornfield writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
I second that opinion. I’ve found more compassion in support groups where people are willing to be vulnerable and share their pain than with therapists who keep their distance. The same is true about my coaching clients. When I tell people, “Yeah, I feel that too,” they often exclaim, “Really? You? That makes me feel so much better.”
We all go through struggles in life. Trying to appear perfect may save face, but vulnerability can be the better choice if we want to be compassionate.
Informed by the Golden Rule
Naturally, because I was raised culturally Christian, the Golden Rule has been central to my efforts.
“Do to others what you would have them do to you” has two parts in my mind.
First, I require a sense of self-worth, a feeling that I am worthy of being. As I’ve written many times, hurt people hurt people because they don’t feel deserving of love and compassion and lash out at those who are good to them.
Second, once I feel that sense of worthiness, I extend it to others and treat them with the same respect I treat myself. I also attempt to be good to others when I feel bad about myself, but those attempts often feel performative.
Albert Schweitzer summed up the teachings of Jesus beautifully when he said that “the only demand that is made upon us is the demand to love.” So simple, yet so hard.
The Nonviolence of Yoga
Unlike most people, I became interested in yoga’s philosophy and psychology before becoming a yoga instructor in 1998. The importance of ahimsa—the principle of non-violence and compassion towards all living beings—influenced me greatly. The Bhagavad Gita states, “The one who is steadfast in yoga and has control over the self, who is without attachment and without hatred for any being, attains peace.” I have thankfully been able to abstain from hatred ever since, although I am still working on lesser versions, such as irritation and resentment. It seems like I always have plenty of room to grow.
In Each Other All Along
The Sufi mystic Rumi said, “The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Think about that. We are in each other all along.
Interspirituality Has Informed Me
Overall, interspirituality has been a valuable tool in my journey toward compassion. By learning from the wisdom of different spiritual traditions, I have been able to deepen my understanding of compassion and use various ideas and practices to become more compassionate.
Author, Coach, and Mindfulness Teacher
Recommended books by GB:
- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)
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