Monday, July 4, 2011

So Generous

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion. –The Dalai Lama

This link between happiness and compassion may not be immediately apparent. One dictionary definition of compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Frankly, this doesn’t sound very happy to me.

And yet, compassion opens our hearts and connects us to others. It lifts us out of ourselves, out of our isolation and separateness, to touch with tenderness the heart of another. And there is joy in that touch.

I am not a writer of dictionary definitions, but if I were, I might expand the definition of compassion to recognize that blurred line we sometimes experience between joy and sorrow. Tears flow as readily for one as for the other.

I read something recently that, to me, describes the raw heart of compassion. (I’ve been trying to find it again for the last two days without success, so if you recognize it, please tell me where it came from! I don’t remember the exact words, so I’ll try to capture the meaning as best I can remember.) The author was describing the bounteous generosity of nature. The sun shines down on all without discriminating between the thief and the saint. So generous. The rain nourishes weeds as well as trees. So generous. The flowers display their beauty without regard for who is passing by. So generous.

The passage was infinitely more eloquent than my memory allows, but the concept was much on my mind up at the cabin this last weekend. As I sat by the creek, I watched small insects flit above the water, visible in the sunlight, disappearing in the shadows. The breeze sang in the trees whether I was there to hear or not. A mother duck guided her ducklings expertly through the rushing waters around rocks and under branches. It was all so exquisite. So generous.

I know, that doesn’t sound anything like the definition of compassion I quoted above, but somehow it captures my experience of compassion, as either the giver or receiver. It is the experience of a heart broken open, vulnerable, touching and touchable. Perhaps that is the essence of compassion...touch.

I hope you will share your thoughts and experiences of compassion this month as we focus on Step 7–Practice compassion.

related post: The Joy of Sadness, the Sadness of Joy


  1. Galen...this post gave me chills! So beatifully written...'

    Tracy@Its an average life

  2. Tracy--Thank you for the kind words...and for stopping by!

  3. Hi Galen.....Compassion is such a critical part of loving others and loving one's self. Your post was right on the money.....without it one is always out there searching, searching for something that is missing and should be an essential part of human nature.

    Beautifully said dear friend,


  4. I agree with your explanation of compassion, very well said. I have a lot to say on this topic and I'm glad it's this months topic. I hope to get back here again and share my thoughts and feelings on this topic, I find it very interesting.

    It sounds like you had a wonderful weekend. It's fantastic that you had time to sit and watch nature, amazing for the soul in my opinion!

    Enjoy your week!

  5. The sun shines down on all... I love that. Compassion is love and can't "shine" if we're caught up in the judging and comparing mind..., feeling separate from others (and our own Self).

  6. To me it reads like some poet or philosopher's contemplation of Matthew chapter 5, in which Jesus says (about compassion) at verses 44-45:

    "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

    (I take that as pretty generous, myself.)

  7. Thanks for sharing some beautiful thoughts on compassion. I just have deep gratitude for so many blessings we have from the Lord. Heavenly Father does have a compassionate heart and the beauties of the earth typify his love for us. One of my favorite stories from the New Testament is the one about Christ washing the feet of his beloved disciples. What a loving and ever present compassionate Savior.
    Blessings to you!

  8. Hi Galen
    I think we all come from place of self interest and I also think we all want to be happy. So when you can link becoming more compassionate to self interest and happiness, I think it's a much more compelling argument and a much easier sale to make. Therefore being a really selfish person I want to be more compassionate. LOL

  9. When we awaken to the compasssion from within, we open a whole new dimension to our own lives.

  10. Jo--I guess the Dalai Lama was right on the money. That quote of his has always intrigued me. Thanks for your comment.

    darlin--I am very excited that this topic is of interest to you and I look forward to your participation in the discussion this month. Thanks for commenting.

    Maya--The sun is a wonderful metaphor for compassion, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

    Mikey--Thanks for reminding me of that verse. It certainly conveys the same message. It isn't the passage I'm looking for, but it fits nicely and this time I'm going to write it down so I'll be able to find this referece again! Thank you very much for your comment.

    LeAnn--Compassion and gratitude go so well together because they both open the heart. Thank you for your comment.

    Riley--I love your perspective on this. We all want to be happy, so in that sense we are all selfish. So if being connected to others is the way to go, then sign me up! Thanks for your comment.

    Baker--Yes, the dimension of an open heart. One of my favorite quotes is "The heart that breaks open can contain the entire universe." Joanna Macy, I think, said that. Thanks for your comment.

  11. I spent a great deal of time attempting to understand compassion in my ethics training - it is difficult, but suddenly at the right moment one can comprehend and understand.

    Yes the heart is wide open - wrenched open - even in quiet moments and revealed...compassion for the self is so difficult and usually comes with tears for me...

    Com = with
    passion = action of the heart...

    I think one has to feel it to know it. I look forward to your explorations this month...Pearls before sows?

  12. Galen,
    What a great reminder about what compassion truly is. When we can care and share as much as the rain or the flowers do - we will have nailed it!

  13. For me, compassion is impossible without patience and self-confidence.

  14. Patricia--Thank you for that breakdown of the word compassion. That is so helpful. Pearls before sows?? I think pearls (to the extent that anything I say can be called a pearl!) before sacred beings! Thanks for commenting.

    Angela--Indeed, nature provides the perfect model. Thanks for your comment.

    JJ--Patience, yes. I hadn't thought of the connection to self confidence, but that makes sense. Fear blocks our confidence and closes our hearts. Compassion opens our hearts and makes us vulnerable. That requires the bravery that comes from trust--trust in ourselves and in the universe. Thank you for pointing out that connection.

  15. Great topic to explore. You are right. The dictionary definition doesn't quite capture the energy of it. I am not sure that it necessarily comes accompanied with a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

    On the other hand, I love the part about the sun and the rain, and also on "touch". It helps bring more depth to the meaning of compassion.

  16. I read all of your posts, but rarely leave a comment. Why? You make your point so eloquently I don't feel anything I could say would add to your thoughts.

  17. Evelyn--Yes, I think the dictionary fell short this time! Thanks for your comment.

    Bob--You're a sweetie. Always nice to hear from you even if it's just to say howdy. Thank you for the kind words.

  18. Same as Bob. I also read everything but usually don't have anything to add. So know that although I don't comment I do like everything you write :)

  19. Beliza--I'm always glad when you stop by.

  20. Dictionary definitions very rarely capture the true meaning of words Galen, and here's why. It's because they're static. They can't be flowing. Once something is defined, that definition stays put. The only way to keep up is to continuously change it, and that wouldn't be practical for the dictionary-makers.

    Compassion is what you make of it, but I must also stress the difference between 'compassion' and 'passion'. What does compassion mean to you? And what does passion mean? If you ask yourself these questions, you may be surprised ;-)

  21. Hey Galen... nice post.

    I think for me, compassion comes from when I am living truly in the moment, noticing more of what is happening around me, and genuinely understanding what other people are experiencing in their life.

  22. Stu--Interesting question! Compassion would literally mean with passion, wouldn't it? I will ponder this. Thank you for your comment.

    Andrew--That is a great description! It captures all the elements. Being present, paying attention, and open to others. Thank you for commenting.


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