By Gord Riddell & Kathy Ryndak
Barely two months since the catastrophic tsunamis hit Southeast Asia, aid agencies have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of monies being donated to them. In fact some have asked that at this time no further monies be donated as they cannot possibly spend it all at this time. They will however need more in the future. It took a major natural event of this magnitude to get the world to open up their pocket books and their hearts. Many wanted to jump on a plane and go to offer hands on assistance to the many affected countries. As we said in our last article in February, it took something this big to shift our consciousness to see things globally and to find a place in our heart for the casualties of this natural disaster.
Our need to maintain our compassion is crucial at this time, if we are to make the leap to a planet of caring from one of fear and greed. Compassion is the inner experience of feeling sympathy and empathy for others while wanting to do something to alleviate their suffering. The operative phrase here is to do something about it.
Not just feel sad with them or empathize with them but to do something about it. Compassion is a selfless act of caring in which we put our ego and needs away in order to put others ahead of our self. We seek to help without regard to whether there is a pay back for ourselves. Payback can be either monetary or emotional. True compassion seeks to act outside of our own small world.
While the Southeast Asia disaster allowed us to think and interact globally which is crucial for the evolution of planetary consciousness, we must be aware of the need for compassion in our own backyard. There is enormous need for our time and money in our local communities. Many our local charities have expressed concern that so much money was given to Southeast Asia that many will feel they have donated enough money to charity this year and not give to local groups. The role of our local Charities is crucial in helping those who have fallen through the safety nets of our society and find themselves without homes or resources to take care of themselves.
Money is not the only way in which we can practice compassion. Time is an enormous gift to give to others. Many agencies and hospitals could not function but for the time that people volunteer to help others. It need not be enormous hours; a couple of hours of our time here and there can make a big difference in someone else's life. Tutoring a child, shopping for shut-ins or delivering to them nutritious meals, visiting in hospitals and hospices are all ways we can donate time. Time can be as valuable as money in helping out locally.
When we travel in developing countries we feel heart broke at the poverty we often see and give to those that ask us on the street. In our own communities the compassion and willingness to help disappears when a homeless person asks us for money. We feel angry and put upon when asked for money as we walk down the street. Why is compassion not exhibited in the same way? Poverty in any country is the same tragedy. Perhaps when we see poverty in our own back yard it strikes too close to home and may make us feel that it could just as easily be us in that position. Perhaps we need to change our attitudes about those in need in our society and exhibit some respect for their plight.
Studies of happiness have shown over and over that the act of helping others is very high on the list of things we do that makes us feel happy. It helps us to focus on something and someone other than our own problems. Remember that the definition of compassion is not sitting at home or in your office feeling sympathy, it is necessary to have a true desire to help make a difference, to do something about it. Many who help others in Service industries from Medical to Counseling feel they have made a contribution, that there is no doubt, but to do things for others without regard to how much you will get paid moves into the realm of true spiritual compassion. As the Dalai Lama said: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
Our attitudes about helping others need to shift locally, to see them as an equal part of the planet and give according to their needs or contribute time and money to those agencies which focus on the needs of our local communities. Rushing in to change things to the way you think it should be is not honouring of the individual who is asking for help. We need to suspend our ego, our control and our sense of superiority in order to truly be of service. The next time someone asks you for money, throw your inner judge out the door, give freely what you can, and talk to that person. Would you not want the same respect shown to you?
Life is precious, fragile and fleeting. Any number of things from financial problems, illness to accidents can change your status quo in a heartbeat. Be mindful of the gift of Life in all people and how quickly that life can be taken from us. Live your life compassionately for both yourself and others. Every human being is on a spiritual path, whether we understand it or not, it is not for us to judge. We do not know the soul learning of others. Most do not know the soul learning of our self. A life lived in gratitude and with compassion are truly qualities that can make a life well lived. Finally in the words of S. Rinpoche:
"...when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings."