Compassion is a kind, friendly presence that allows us to stay in contact with the pain we may feel when we’ve caused harm to deepen into it rather than turn away from ourselves. It has the same connecting quality as empathy but also a desire to help.
Whether it’s a pain in the body, a mind that doesn’t seem to know peace or a world at war with itself, we can pay attention to the hurt and care for the wound, honoring it instead of just trying to get away from it. We can then rest in the simple truth that we’re here and care about what’s difficult.
When we genuinely tend to our hearts and allow them to be touched by what is difficult, let them break from the fear of pain or hurt; what arises is a natural tenderness. As Stephen Levine wrote, “to heal is to touch with love that was previously touched by fear.” So when we bring compassion home to include ourselves, especially when we have failed, we finally get to honor the hurt. This is the alchemy of presence.
Living with an undefended heart is a profound expression of freedom and the promise of the sure heart’s release. We do this inner work so our lives can become an offering to all those we dare care about. Because ultimately, compassion is a verb.
A Practice With Pain of Failure and Accountability
1. Find a comfortable seat. Settle, and breathe. Now, begin your inquiry. To start, we’re looking for two components: clear seeing and willingness. Ask yourself: “Do I see clearly?” and at this moment, “Is there willingness present?”
2. Since self-criticism is not helpful, don’t get lost in the story of why things shouldn’t be as they are. Instead, allow yourself to feel the pain, and naturally, there’ll be a compassionate response to it. Because If we can’t handle it, we can’t heal it.
3. Don’t take it personally by becoming over-identified with your role in the situation. When it’s not taken personally, we realize we can practice with anything we encounter—stress, frustration, pain, nothing outside our care. You didn’t give birth to these energies; they are universal; they belong to this realm, not you.
4. When something painful or difficult arises, allow yourself to feel that compassionate response and see that pain is not the only guest at the party. Allow yourself to experience yourself fully. Then you can wrap yourself up with warmth and affection and kiss your wounds, as you would anyone you care for.
5. Open up to not only your pain but the pain. You are not lost in the story of why me, but opening to all the beings that know this particular pain. Only when we understand that can the most caring part of ourselves become known. With the courage of the undefended heart, it can transform into something beautiful.
Grief is a recognition of endings—a natural part of life but can also be painful to work through.