Footprints in the Sand
Compassion exposes us to experience the pain of the other. We discover in this sharing that the other is not the other. No one's suffering is their's alone. No one is alone, for no one is apart from. So, all suffering is our suffering. This is shown to us in Love, and we come to know a joy realized in sharing suffering. This joy has nothing to do with what does or does not please us, nor is it feeling sorry for someone. Joy, like compassion, is of a much finer quality than pleasure. And in these times of social unrest, we need to give ourselves to be compassion. As the Buddhist, Zenju Earthlyn Marelean Manuel, writes, "Now is the time we have been practicing for" (Sanctuary). In fact, the pervasive social unrest results from deep suffering, as societies have become disconnected from the Sacred and one another and, thereby, lost the sense of wonder and awe. With all the technological progress, we have regressed from the sense of the Holy.
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Thich Nhat Hanh replied to a letter from a prisoner, Daniel, who had been incarcerated since age 19. Daniel had received a death sentence. He read one of Nhat Hanh's books as the time of execution, after thirteen years in prison, was nearing. He wrote the Buddhist teacher. Nhat Hanh wrote in the reply letter -
Many people around you have a lot of anger, hate, and despair, which prevents them from getting in touch with the fresh air, the blue sky, or the fragrant rose. They are in a kind of prison. But if you practice compassion, if you can see the suffering in the people around you, and if every day you try to do something to help them suffer less, then you are free. One day with compassion is worth more than one hundred days without it.
*Thich Nhat Hanh. At Home in the World.
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Mother Teresa of Calcutta went to a meeting with kings, presidents, and statesmen from all over the world. They were there in crowns, jewels, and silks. Mother Teresa wore her simple sari held together by a safety pin. One of the world leaders spoke to Mother Teresa about her work with the poor in Calcutta. He asked her if she did not get discouraged due to seeing so little success in her ministry.
Mother Teresa answered, "No, I do not become discouraged. You see, God has not called me to a ministry of success. He has called me to a ministry of mercy."
*Stories from the Heart. Compiled by Alice Gray. Story by Alice Gray.
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Presently, I work on a chaplain team in Maine. Our present assignment is in league with the Department of Health and Human Resources. Within DHHS is a work called Covid Services. We chaplains get referrals for calls to persons in quarantine.
In making these calls, I receive little pleasure, if any. One reason is that the work is via phone, not face-to-face; another reason is that clients usually do not express a need for what many would consider religious or spiritual care. Chaplains are trained to provide spiritual care. Our work can challenge us to broaden our understanding of what "spiritual" means.
What do I get from this work? The joy of doing it, of fidelity to offering compassion. If I wanted to be pleased more than faithful, I would choose to do something else. If an ego could speak, it would never request to do the work. Yet, there is a deep, quiet joy fulfilling a work of mercy. This is so, for compassion is of the heart.
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I have come to see that compassion is not spiritual or unspiritual, not religious or non-religious. In showing care for those in need, we can be one with the act itself without labeling it. When showing kindness, we do not have to think of it as humane, religious, spiritual, logical, or anything.
Is a smile, for example, something other or more than a smile? Does it need an appellation? Kind smile? Holy smile? Good smile? No, a smile is a smile. And compassion is compassion. And it is not even that, for it is more than that.
Compassion, mercy, kindness, empathy ... point to something that happens, but no one can say what happens. The happening is known only in union with the happening, while outside it, we use words. I say this to challenge our putting these beautiful happenings in categories that would limit our appreciation and practice of them. If I approached the clients I serve now with the ideas I once had of religious or spiritual, I would not be able to do the work I do. I appreciate the work even more for forfeiting those earlier ideas as having any substance whatsoever.
If I were to try only to be faithful to my idea of mercy, I would restrict the mercy I could do. Yet, in being merciful, mercy shows itself to me. I know mercy, so to speak, from its inside, not outside amid words, definitions, and explanations.
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We could say that any expression of kindness is religious or spiritual. We could say not. What is important is that in giving compassion, we give ourselves. Then, we are truly being compassionate, so compassion.
In giving ourselves, we are faithful, regardless of the pleasure or not of doing it. Yet, the quiet bliss arising from the heart is what we need more than pleasure, and loyalty is more needed than some idea of success.
Love is beyond the duality of success or failure. Love is outside words and thoughts. Love shows itself when we are drawn inside Love. One with the act, we know the reality.
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*©Brian K. Wilcox, 2021.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.