Tuesday’s Quotes – November 21, 2015 – Gratitude

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

— John Milton

In keeping with the spirit of this week’s Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, I wanted to share Milton’s reminder that feeling, and expressing, gratitude has the ability to positively impact our lives.

Image of john Milton from http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Milton

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Thoughts about gratitude and compassion

Originally posted November 21, 2015

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

— John F. Kennedy

The quotes above is one of my favorites. It serves as a reminder that expressing gratitude is more than saying ‘thank you’.

It’s fitting that this month’s optional theme for the #1000Speak posts is ‘gratitude’. After all, here in the US, the Thanksgiving holiday falls on the 4th Thursday of the month. And, although, I have no regard for the highly idealized, largely untrue, story of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims sitting around a big table eating turkey, I do appreciate the notion of having one day a year set aside to think about what we have to be thankful for. Especially those of us living in an area not plagued by war or famine, with steady jobs, and homes, and cars, and families to connect with – even if not geographically close.

So then, this month’s post should have flowed so easily, but it hasn’t. Just as Pope Francis has recently expressed his frustration with the state of the world at to the start of global Christmas celebrations “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace…. The whole world is at war.”

I, too, am having issues expressing gratitude for what I have when so many have so little. And when many others have no regard for human life. And it’s discouraging that the kindness in the world, and there is still quite a lot of it about, gets lost in all of the reporting of violence, and the fear-mongering hate speech that drowns out the voices asking for reason.

“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.”
― Dalai Lama

Fundamentalists from all three of the major Western religions have convinced themselves that the end times are upon us, and they seem to feel obligated to do their part to make sure it happens. There is a massive refugee crisis now due primarily to the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. And yet, too many people choose to focus their time and energy on manufactured outrage – like whether or not Starbucks’ holiday cups are an affront to Christianity. Which is discouraging, at best, when there are so many real things happening that we should be concerned about.

So yes, I feel like what I have matters little in comparison. Which is not to say that I’m not grateful, I very much am. But I’m frustrated. I just wish that there was more that I could do to affect a positive change for the rest of the world.

And so I have to remind myself that, while changing the course of the rest of the world is out of my hands, the small things I can do for others, and even continuing to share thoughts about compassion in my writing, do in a small way help bring about change. Every person that I touch in a positive way has the potential to share that positivity with others that they come into contact with. And the very fact we do pay positivity forward, even when we don’t realize that we do it, is something else that I’m thankful for. AIt demonstrates that there is hope for humanity  to somehow move past the current traumas, and find a way to build a better tomorrow.

“To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn

The future is indeed a succession small events. And in order to maintain our own inner balance, and remind ourselves good can be done, we need to build from the small. Self-improvement and spring cleaning gurus will always tell you to break your list down into small manageable pieces so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and just give up. So it is with life and hope. Focus on what you can do, and work from there.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Changing through the years

#1000Speak repost from October 20, 2016.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

I was a bit more stumped than usual about this month’s #1000Speak topic of Comapssion and Age. There were so many directions to wander off in. Most of us figure out, eventually, that we do not remain the same person throughout our lives. Physical growth brings many changes, as does the process of aging at the other end of the spectrum. Our brain chemistry changes, our experiences alter our responses, the path we take for spiritual/emotional growth impacts our choices and our responses. This is all a part of the larger package of living life.

Although there is much good, conflicting, research around all sides of the issue of compassion – and empathy – through various life stages, spiritual/emotional/psychological research is inherently limited. And humans are multidimensional beings, so we set ourselves – and others – up for failure when we look for perfectly consistent responses all of the time. What all of that means is that I don’t know. But now that I am old-not-old, I’ve amassed enough experience, and anecdotal evidence, that I’m reasonably comfortable offering up my thoughts – inexpert though they may be. So please take my stream of consciousness thoughts as what they are – just me, once again, trying to make sense of the universe.

“What does it mean to be compassionate? Not merely verbally, but actually to be compassionate? Is compassion a matter of habit, of thought, a matter of the mechanical repetition of being kind, polite, gentle, tender? Can the mind which is caught in the activity of thought with its conditioning, its mechanical repetition, be compassionate at all? It can talk about it, it can encourage social reform, be kind to the poor heathen and so on; but is that compassion? When thought dictates, when thought is active, can there be any place for compassion? Compassion being action without motive, without self-interest, without any sense of fear, without any sense of pleasure.” – J. Krishnamurti

So I’ll start with childhood. Certainly not an expert, but I was a child once, long ago, and I’ve had a couple – both very different in their levels of, and expressions of, compassion and empathy. I realize that my views on whether compassion is truly inherent are somewhat at odds with many of my compatriots, but the difference may really just be one of perspective and degree, and perhaps in the tendency to conflate empathy with compassion. I think that we all have the capacity for compassion, but that it needs to be taught, and that it, like all behaviors, is best taught, and encouraged, by modeling . Empathy, the more internalized, is inherent, but, for most of us, it requires a common thread, or shared experience for it to be triggered – it needs a frame of reference. Young children are quick to comfort a crying playmates, or to help a fallen friend get back up – or to reach out to a sad parent. And surely this is compassionate, and kind, behavior, but I think it is also borne of empathy. Young children, having limited experience, do easily empathize when something happens that hurts or upsets another because, in their universe, there are fewer possible causes – so they really do relate (even if their understanding of the true cause of the distress is wildly off-base). They feel your pain, physical or emotional, and, having few internal controls, act on that empathy by, quite literally, reaching out.

As we grow up, we also experience more of life, and we begin to conform to society’s demand that we control our impulses. Those two factors conspire to interfere with both our ability to empathize and to act compassionately. Having more experiences should make us more empathetic, but, those increased experiences also increase our knowledge that there are more reasons for suffering – and we have internalized enough of them that we know longer have that instinctive empathy that very young children have. Compassion, which is the compulsion to act, is dampened down by rules that make it ‘inappropriate’ to give the spontaneous hugs and cheek strokes that young children so freely provide. The older children grow, the more that is actively discouraged. And children do not instinctively know how to verbally express compassion and often lack the means or the skills to do much else without adult support or encouragement. We still feel sympathy, and we may still be kind, and that is all good, but there is more to compassion and empathy than sympathy and kindness.

Older children and adolescents are busy becoming independent beings, while finding how they fit in society. That sometimes makes them seem anything but compassionate. That should be where the adults come in – to model, to reinforce, to channel the swarm of feelings that come with that time of life into something positive. With my own children, I found that one was highly empathetic as a young child, and markedly less so as she got older, while my other one showed a disturbing lack of empathy as a young child, and possibly a surfeit as a teen. Both are compassionate, and have been raised in an environment that fostered that compassion. Care for animals, volunteering at food banks, and caring for the environment are some of the ways to encourage compassionate growth – there are many others. But it is on us, the busy adults in these children’s lives, to live the lives that we want them to live. They may not always listen to us, but they do see us, and they do hear us.

During the earlier stages of adulthood competing priorities sometimes make us downright oblivious to the needs of others – especially those outside of our immediate circle. We are simply too busy, and often too overwhelmed, with careers, marriage, parenthood, and life in general, to pay attention to any compassionate impulses. Sometimes we may assuage that need to do something, anything, by donating money, or food, or clothing, to this charity or that.

Then we start to age and something happens, often because our parents are also aging and we begin to see them as fragile. Those that were our rocks now need us, and our perspective changes again. We also may have more time now that our kids no longer require most of our energy and our careers are better established. We’ve been through more – directly and with our friends and family. Our ability to empathize becomes stronger – and we may have the time and energy required to heed our compassionate impulses. We are the sum of our experiences, and as we continue to age, those experiences further open up our ability to empathize. If we have the means, that empathy, and the compassion it engenders, leaves us more likely to spend our retirements volunteering or otherwise giving of ourselves as we leave the workforce and adjust to our new reality.

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Nothing reflects the passage of time better than the pillars of creation – photo courtesy of NASA.

Food for thought

Variations on an oft-repeated theme.

My volunteer job, in conjunction with my paying job, is taking up quite a bit of my time recently, so I find the need to pause a bit to re-focus. I’m hoping to manage a compassion specific post this month, so this seemed a good way to start – with a reminder that we are too divided right now. And we allow ourselves to be manipulated toward our natural inclinations toward blame, and away from empathy and compassion.

It’s hard to escape all of the inflammatory rhetoric so I’m sharing this quote as a reminder to keep our perspective, and our compassion, as we navigate our way through.

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society. It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others….Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
— Pema Chödrön

 

 

Image from https://www.pinterest.com/explore/water-ripples/

 

Thoughts about Compassion and Peace

Repost from September 20, 2015 in honor of yesterday’s International Day of Peace. Have a peaceful weekend.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

— Lao Tzu

Back in February, when the wonderful initiative started – what an awesome idea it seemed having 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, by blogging on the same day – I wanted to take part, but struggled a bit with an approach.  Since the blog is for my thoughts, I decided that the best thing to do was to be me. Since then, the quarterly piece I’ve started twice, and not managed to finish, has been on the subject of compassion being at the core of societal DNA, falling second, really, only to our own instinctive need to survive. We need others to help us survive, and they need us. At it’s very core, this is how and why non-familial communities form, and from those smaller units, larger groups from, governments are developed, and on, and on. Without compassion, the entire structure comes apart.

Perhaps December will be the right month? Because I decided to switch gears a bit, again, this month when I realized that the International Day of Peace was Monday, September 21 – merely one day after this post was due. So first, the pitch for PeaceNow, and their quest to obtain one billion signatures on their petition to the UN to adopt a resolution containing a framework for establishing global peace – please read the resolution, and sign the petition, if you haven’t already done so >>>  International Day of Peace  http://www.peacenow.com/.

“The true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms, but in mutual trust alone.”

— Pope John XXIII

When I gave it some thought, I realized that the gear switch wasn’t as big as I’d feared, for after all, a lack of peace – internal or external – indicates a lack of compassion. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves, we cannot find inner peace. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves first, we cannot adequately feel compassion towards others – we may very well be polite and kind, and very nice people, but practicing compassion moves beyond that. Bringing about true peace globally requires a very large commitment from a very large number of people to act with compassion.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

— Lao Tzu

Human nature, at its very core, may well make that impossible – there has never been a time of peace throughout the entire world, and, sadly, it is unlikely to happen. But knowing that, sometimes even despairing in that knowledge, does not mean that we should give up our quest. Like ripples in a pond, the acts of compassion spread out – they can impact others in ways we may not even be aware of – and they encourage others to act with compassion, and so the ripples extend further and further out. Conflict is unavoidable, but if enough people are able to act as voices for reason and compassion, perhaps the conflicts that flare up will not escalate into huge conflagrations if there are enough people surrounding those in power, and, perhaps some conflicts can be avoided entirely simply by recognizing the humanity of those we disagree with.

In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru:

“Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.”

And finally, because Peace and Compassion cannot be separated, I’m also reposting the Charter for Compassion:

For additional information & resources, please check out the Charter for Compassion website, and consider signing on.

The full Charter For Compassion is reprinted below:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Photo taken near home – December 2016

Tuesday’s Quotes – September 19, 2017 – Peace

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

— Ronald Reagan

It is not often that you will find me quoting our 40th President, but everyone makes sense sometimes. As we approach the International Day of Peace on the 21st of September, it’s important to remind ourselves that the world has never been conflict free – or even war free – but when we have choices, when our leader have choices, the first choice should be diplomatic, not militarized.

The idealist in me still wants to believe that it is possible for the majority of people to find the means to achieve peaceful, compassionate solutions because the desire to avoid the painful alternatives is universal. And the pragmatist in me knows that survival of the species is actually dependent on it. And we are hard-wired for survival.

But achieving that requires education, and it requires patience. And it requires leadership that sees peaceful conflict resolution as a clear path. Sadly, that seems to not apply to may of our modern politicians, particularly on the extremes. The voting public needs to understand the folly of that war-mongering rhetoric. And in the face of the posturing by North Korea that may be an impossible task.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
― Nelson Mandela

 

A portion of this post initially appeared on February 5, 2016.