as Lara Naughton led us through self-compassion meditations last Saturday at our cypress swamp property I refer to as Ecoutez! (meaning Listen! in French). Lara drew us into silence for guided meditations, then had us write our responses to a series of questions to lead us into the place of self-compassion. Then she invited us to pair up or have small group sharing if we wanted to reveal what we were discovering. Finally, we engaged in walking in silence across our beautiful property, to let the natural world wash over us, and to feel the Spring breeze, as a practice of self-compassion.
I looked around the room as the group of twenty-six of us kept falling back into the stillness, and felt immense pleasure in gathering a community in our home who are seeking to practice the presence of loving-kindness, (which many of us call God), for our own transformation into beings who radiate loving-kindness. This gathering, for this purpose, is what I am here for.
I read a summation of “the highest spiritual ideal” in Tibetan Buddhism from the Dalai Lama’s English translator, Thupten Jinpa, in his book, A Fearless Heart. He says it is compassion. And I immediately recalled how Jesus said the highest spiritual ideal is loving God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. So let’s see, is there a better way we could be spending our time than cultivating compassion for ourselves and others?
For several years we have voiced the mission of our School for Contemplative Living as creating contemplative communities who practice the presence of God, [who is Love], for personal transformation and radical engagement with the world. This is all true. But perhaps when we said “radical engagement with the world” we were not completely clear.
By “radical” we meant “rooted,” as in grounded in the Source of compassion and loving-kindness, who we call God. But maybe “radical” sounds like trying to be dramatic, unusual, spectacular. And maybe it is time for us to become even more clear in voicing what we actually practice. For we are practicing the presence to source our compassionate engagement with the world. We are seeking to radiate loving-kindness wherever we go, (and of course we always do that perfectly!). And as best we can we seek to love God/neighbor/self. Compassion really is our highest spiritual ideal. And our contemplative practices are how we source the expression of that ideal.
When we do this…
we are sourcing ourselves for compassionate service with the world. As we fall into the stillness, in community, we are practicing the divine calling which the Jewish psalmist expressed a few thousand years ago in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Since “God is love,” the psalmist could literally mean, “Be still and know Love.” That is what our experience of cultivating compassion was all about.
I do not believe for a minute what I have heard church people say for many years, that we “should love God first, others second, and ourselves last.” To that I say, “Bull!” That is just a twisted version of the crazy belief that we do not matter, our needs do not matter, and that we are being selfish to even think of ourselves. I cannot recall a single time Jesus said, “Your needs do not matter.” His quote of the highest commands from Jewish scripture were quiet simple and clear: “Love your neighbor AS yourself.” Doesn’t this raise the cultivating of compassion for God/self/neighbor to our highest priority?
I know there are millions of people across the globe who believe that practicing inner stillness is a selfish waste of time, a radical failure of our highest human priority – to be productive at all times. Most of those people seem to live in America. But my experience is exactly the opposite. When I enter the inner sanctuary each day, by myself or with one of our contemplative communities, I find that loving-kindness rises from within. I do not always feel it at that moment, because I am often noticing the thousand thoughts. But the practice of sourcing in the divine Source of compassion still fills my reservoir. And the fruits of that practice tend to come out in feeling compassion with those I see during the day.
We radiate what is inside us. That is a given. If I get caught in the polarization happening across the world, the crazy belief that my side is right and everyone else is wrong, then I will radiate that. I will speak of that. I will act like that. But what if I take time to cultivate compassion in the inner sanctuary every single day? What if I keep doing this…
and move from that inner place of compassion out into the world? No doubt, I at least stand a better chance of radiating compassion instead of polarization.
Our friend Lara spent Monday offering an introduction to compassion cultivation with residents at Louisiana’s Angola prison. This summer she will offer the full 8-week course in Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) for residents and staff at the prison. Lara is living her mission, practicing the highest spiritual ideal in a most challenging place. I hope to join her for one of those sessions on discovering our common humanity. And there is a way you can help. See if this speaks to you:
We are seeking to raise $4000 for her cause. You can support her mission financially by sending a tax-deductible donation to our School for Contemplative Living. You can make out a check to Rayne United Methodist Church, adding SCL-CCT, (an abbreviation for the School for Contemplative Living-Compassion Cultivation Training), on the memo line at the bottom of your check. Then mail the check to Rayne UMC at 3900 St. Charles Ave. New Orleans, LA 70115.
And if this story is calling your name, is it time for you to practice compassion cultivation with a group of contemplatives each week? If you do not know of a group in your area, contact us and we will be glad to help you find, or even create, a contemplative community. It’s what we do.
Blessings on your own unique journey into the heart of compassion.