Goddess of compassion, mercy, and
guardian of humans,
patron of mothers,
protector of infant children,
who extinguishes fear and alleviates heartache.
Goddess of healing,
she, who stands upon the open jaws
of the dragon,
changes darkness to light
by shining her radiant beauty upon it,
compassionately loving it.
Bright Shining Lady:
She who hears the cries of the world,
I dedicate myself to walk with you in Service,
to transform the darkness of the world
with infinite, unconditional love
for myself and others.
And so it may ever be.
To be honest, writing about the subject of compassion seemed a little daunting to me. What ran through my head was the thought, “What could I possibly have to say about this that hasn’t been said before? I’m no Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa.” Then, today as I was searching through some papers, I came upon the prayer above that I wrote when I was in my early 20’s.
So, let me begin with the story of how I came to write that prayer over 30 years ago. I come from a typical middle-class mid-western family. Bottom line is, my parents did a really great job of raising me. They were the quintessential rugged individualists. They firmly believed that life was what you made of it, that there was no “big man in the sky” that they were going to supplicate themselves to, and they scoffed at the idea of organized religion. They ascribed to the belief that religion was the “opiate of the masses.” Both very hard working, achievement-oriented people, their goal was to teach their children to be self-reliant, strong, capable adults.
As I said, they were good people, honest and hard working. However, they were a little flinty in their approach to life. In their minds I was “overly sensitive.” I started questioning the approach to living life from the intellect alone when I was quite young. I did everything I could to make my parents happy, but I felt very much like an alien in my family. You see, I believed. I believed there had to be something more going on here, that the randomness of the universe had to be held together by a force greater than what could be seen or verified scientifically. I yearned for someone to tell my innermost secret to.
My spiritual quest began in my teen years when I started attending churches in my community, shopping around for a spiritual home. Of course, this perplexed my mother, who expected teen rebellion to come in the form of smoking pot and skipping classes. (Which was rather ironic to me later as I see that I picked the perfect way to rebel against my pot-smoking atheist mother!) This began the decades-long debate between us about belief, and her judgment of me as a weak person for using the “crutch of faith to prop myself up with.”
Being a newcomer to the religious scene, I felt comforted, yet not part of the liturgy of the Catholic mass and turned off by the bible-thumping hell-and-damnation messages from others. I came to the conclusion that going to church was not for me. I wanted something more personal.
I found I was more drawn to the feminine expressions of Spirit and was fascinated by the story of Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion revered by the ancient Chinese (and later adopted by most of the spiritual traditions of Asia). What she represented to me was the compassionate and loving mother, as contrasted with my own emotionally unapproachable earthly mother. She filled a void in my heart. I bought a statue of Kuan Yin and placed her on my altar. It was she that I told my secret to, to whom I looked for guidance in those early days of being a closet mystic.
Fast forward to today. I still have that statue on my dresser. While I have not gone further with embracing a Buddhist philosophy or spiritual path, I still revere Kuan Yin and what she represents to me. She is what started me on my path of living an authentic life of heart, of service.
I have regarded the quality of Compassion as a spiritual ideal. I, like so many other women, can feel compassion for others quite easily. I cry easily – you should see the waterworks generated by those SPCA commercials where you see pathetic looking dogs and cats and miserable circumstances for want of a loving home. Where I sometimes struggle is being compassionate with myself. I have the internalized critical voice of my mother that still pops up in my consciousness that tells me I’m not good enough, not smart enough, etc. What I have learned is, when I become aware that I’m being heartless to myself, I extend the compassion and loving grace inwardly and tell myself a new message. The simplest and most effective encouragement I tell myself at those times is, “You’re doing great. Stop being so hard on yourself.”
Many of us who are compassionate by nature express this by giving to others in service, being a caregiver, a mother, a nurturer. I hear the stories of my clients who have had the heart-wrenching experience of being caregivers for their partners as they succumbed to the illness that eventually took their lives. This may even be you. You have poured your heart out, and perhaps you feel there is little left to give to yourself at this time of loss and great pain.
I offer this encouragement to you, which is to step back from the habit of only giving compassion to others. Ask yourself the following questions: “How can I bring 5% more compassion to myself today than I did yesterday? What would that look like?” When I ask myself these questions, the answer comes readily. I can appreciate myself more, forgive more, have more patience for myself when I’m learning something new, be kind to myself, etc. When I give to myself first from the wellspring of loving in my heart, I have the capacity to give to others from the overflow.
When I was younger and learning about my relationship to the divine, I needed to put a human face on the concept of Compassion to make it real for me. My little statue of Kuan Yin did that for me. I could look at her face and the feeling of compassion would wash over me. I now know that Compassion has many faces. Compassion looks like Kindness, Forgiveness, Patience, Empathy, Generosity, Respect, Service. Compassion grants us a sense of belonging, a feeling of connection to all life. It is a practice of mindfulness and gratitude. When in the presence of pain and suffering, Compassion is the face of Love. Be generous with your loving for yourself.
Love and Blessings on Your Journey,