Mindfulness and Compassion

Mindfulness and Compassion


Just as our compassionate heart can be touched by the sorrows of the world, we must also remember that it is not our responsibility to fix all the brokenness of the world—only to fix what we can. Otherwise we become grandiose, as if we were put here to be the savior of the humanity around us.

Mindfulness and compassion are genuinely undertaken one step at a time, one person, one moment. Without this understanding we become overwhelmed by all the problems that must be attended to: the dilemmas of our extended family and community, the injustice and suffering worldwide.

Compassion is most real in the particulars, in our response to the immediacy of this moment. Every conscious act contributes to the healing of the whole. Small acts can be important, as seen in the story of a man who was walking along a beach after an unusually strong spring storm. The beach was covered with dying starfish tossed up by the waves, and the man was tossing them back in the water one by one. A visitor saw this and came up to him. “What are you doing?” “I’m trying to help these starfish,” the man replied. “But there are tens of thousands of them washed up along these beaches. Throwing a handful back doesn’t matter,” protested the visitor. “Matters to this one,” the man replied as he tossed another starfish into the ocean.

To serve in this way, we must remember one more essential truth—it is never too late to begin. When we see with wisdom, the heavy press of time, the responsibility for all things is transformed. We find perspective, a long view. We are not in charge. In our relationships, in our community, on this earth, we may not live to see all the changes we work for—we are the planters of seeds. When the seeds of our actions are caring and sincere, we can know that they will bear nourishing fruit for all beings. No matter what has passed, we can begin again. We can only begin now, where we are, and it is this now that becomes the seed for all that lies ahead. Our responsibility, our creativity is all that is asked. With such sincere motivation, we will naturally ask wise questions and offer true care, tending what we love with a far-reaching wisdom. This is the long-term tending of a farmer for his orchard, a parent for a child. This broad perspective is that of the elder, the sage. It grows naturally out of a committed life of spiritual dedication.

Whether it is our ailing next-door neighbor or the building of a worldwide campaign to address climate change, each day, each step is like breathing, a practice of expanding the heart. In these small steps our truth can blossom.

Excerpt: “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”

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