Compassion, a universal cure to what ails us as individuals, societies, and nations, is the response to the suffering of others that creates a desire to help. This attribute, essential to the optimal practice of medicine and healing, gives the healer an understanding and appreciation of the effects of suffering and sickness on the attitudes and behaviors of others. More than mere tolerance, it creates a feeling similar to love, in the universal sense of that word.
While browsing my library recently, I noticed a paperback by the Dalai Lama called Beyond Religion, Ethics for a Whole World. A skilled, heartfilled local meditation teacher, Terry Conrad, uses it when he teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and it found its way to our library through my wife’s work there.
The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist by tradition, pointed out that the compassion lived and espoused by the founders of all major spiritual traditions is often lost amongst their followers. In the name of religion and the defense of various ideologies and creeds, people across time have often violently departed from the teachings of their revered scriptures and teachers. They visit upon others what they would not want done to themselves. Compassion has often been abandoned, leaving the world a worse place.
The philosophically practical Dalai Lama points out that we all share a common humanity. We are not necessarily born into a religion or belief system, but are all driven by a desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. Acknowledging that all other humans share that same basic drive is the basis of compassion. This means seeing others as more like us than different from us, seeing their suffering as our own. Compassion is a necessity to the survival of humanity. Without it, we turn on each other like wild and undisciplined animals.
How do we develop compassion? It is an intrinsic human trait universally encouraged by all major spiritual traditions. Meditating on compassion for others and ourselves helps us bring it into our daily lives and consciousness.
I wrote awhile ago about the “Loving kindness Meditation” which I have found helpful in bridging the compassion gap between me and those I see as different from me. While there are many versions, here is one to consider. I keep it taped onto my dashboard and my phone.
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be filled with loving kindness to yourself and all others.
Consider this kind of compassion building meditation/prayer exercise daily with a focus first on compassion for yourself. As you continue, channel it mentally toward someone you greatly respect and honor such as a spiritual teacher; then to a dearly beloved person such as a spouse or family member; then to a person whom you know but feel neutral toward; and finally direct your loving kindness meditation toward someone who you consider hostile or even hateful.
Do your part in building a more compassionate you and a more compassionate world.
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist! -Martin Luther King, Jr.
*Previously published in Galveston county daily news.
About the Author: Dr. Victor Sierpina is currently the director of the Medical Student Education Program at UTMB, Galveston. He is a WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, and also a Professor in Family Medicine. He is a University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor. His clinical interests have long included holistic practices, wellness, lifestyle medicine, mind-body therapies, acupuncture, integrative oncology, nutrition, and non-pharmacological approaches to pain.