Compassionate Awakening

Compassionate Awakening

A reflection on practice by DaRa Williams

“Compassion lies at the heart of what it means to be fully human. It allows us to be at peace in the midst of pain & turmoil. Compassion is an energetic response rather than a mental idea”

Awakening is not a separate state of being that comes into existence without the cultivation of the heart & the mind. We live in a time, a place & a culture in which the cognitive functioning aspects of the brain & mind have been elevated as the pinnacle or place to operate from, where greed, aversion & delusion have been the primary seeds of thought & actions.  This has been at the loss & exclusion of understanding the great wisdom & contribution that the heart brings.

We have become acutely aware in this moment that we have been imbalanced for a very long time, even beyond the inception & manifestation of the conditions existing in & on these lands of the America’s.  I posit that these conditions have been a fundamental struggle for humankind to transform.  What might have been if we had been inclusive & holistically oriented? What might have gone into understanding & discovering who we are as human beings if, instead of separating the heart & mind, we had integrated the two?  What might evolve if we lead with the heart of compassion?

If one connects into the compassionate heart, it’s going to, at times, bring one to a place where you have to be present with personal suffering & the suffering in the world. And that can be a place that oftentimes is so difficult that we find all these ways to turn away from it. The only way we can actually meet each other & meet the world & what’s happening is by strengthening the heart. Compassion becomes an embodied way of moving towards awakening as opposed to this “above the neck” disembodied place of understanding awakening & freedom.

There are many people that have a great deal of compassion. However oftentimes when  self-compassion is not developed & cultivated, we become fairly quickly under-resourced & unable to continue to move forward & be fully present with our own embodied experience as well as with other embodied beings that we move through this life with. The way to know suffering in someone else is to recognize & know it yourself — to be aware of what it feels like, tastes like, smells like, looks like, sounds like. So self-compassion actually can act as a bridge between understanding compassion, having compassion, generating compassion, being compassion & offering compassion to others.

(Adapted from an interview that originally appeared on

DaRa Williams is a trainer, meditation teacher & psychotherapist who is committed to the healing of intergenerational trauma. A meditator for the past 25 years, she is a graduate of the Community Dharma Leaders 4 training through Spirit Rock Meditation Center, the Spirit Rock/Insight Meditation Society Teacher Training Program & is a guiding teacher at IMS. She is the program manager & a core teacher in the current IMS Teacher Training Program. Dara is also the Program Manager & teacher in the Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy & Complex Trauma (IFOT) training programs in the United States.  She & Kamala Masters will be teaching a People of Color retreat at The Mountain Hermitage in October 2020.

“It is my belief that vipassana meditation & the dharma are ideal for transforming suffering, particularly the trauma of oppression & its many vicissitudes – where the chains around our minds & hearts can be broken through & dissolved. Awareness & wisdom become the vehicle for freedom & transforming lives.”

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