Reflection on Compassion & Equanimity
A reflection on practice by Kristina Baré
These last years, with Covid, isolation & political tensions, we have all been called to cultivate greater levels of compassion. We are facing many forms of suffering both on an individual & a collective level, and we are continuing to expand our hearts to all that is happening in the world. Thankfully we can find support in the Buddhas teaching on the four Brahma Viharas & the balancing potential of equanimity to support the compassionate heart.
Opening to compassion also means opening to the first noble truth – the truth of suffering. We connect with our own personal versions of suffering, as well as the existential, collective layers of suffering. We see our shared inherent vulnerability & the potentially painful experiences that comes along with the realities of sickness, aging & death. The potential medicine of compassion practice is that it can open the door to a deeper sense of interconnection. And through the deepening interconnection, we can release painful self-identification with suffering as personal & somehow “wrong”. Over time compassion can grow to meet the “full catastrophe of life” with warmth, care & steadiness without needing anything to change. Often the relief is not in trying to get rid of suffering, but in meeting it, breathing with it, and caring for it. Caring intimacy with what is painful has its own relief.
A difficulty with compassion practice is that we can easily feel overwhelmed as we start connecting with various forms of suffering. The heart can have a hard time bearing the unpleasantness, without trying to get rid of it – either by turning away from suffering or somehow trying to fix it. It takes a lot of steadiness to simply breath with the unpleasantness of suffering, letting it be, letting it flow through without reactivity.
Equanimity offers a non-reactive & steady heart space – not having an opinion about whether an experience is good or bad. As a support for compassion, equanimity can help the heart open to what is painful & potentially unpleasant, without needing to get rid of the unpleasantness. While equanimity understands that our experience of suffering ultimately is related to our own reactivity around unpleasant, pleasant & neutral experiences, compassion has empathy for all the ways we are afraid, get caught, get entangled & get lost. Together they support the heart to respond to our samsaric existence from a place of balance, steadiness & care.
May we all know steady, unwavering, courageous compassion.
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