Tell us a little about yourself and your relationship to compassion?
My name is Meadowlark, Priestess of Cultivating Harmony. I am a mother, wife, healer, musician, psychologist and eclectic pagan garden/hedge witch. I am an ordained Priestess in the Wildflower tradition of CAYA Coven, dedicated to the Goddess Isis and to Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.
Guanyin is short for “Guan Shi Yin”, which means “observing the sounds (or cries) of the world”. She is known as the Bodhisattva of infinite compassion. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who is destined to become a Buddha (and be free from all suffering), but, out of compassion, has pledged to delay doing so until all beings are free from suffering. As a Priestess of Guanyin, I aspire to follow the Bodhisattva path, making loving-kindness and compassion an integral part of my personal, magical and spiritual practice.
Why is compassion important to you?
“Cultivating Harmony” means that whenever I am faced with dissonance and discord, I strive to explore, move through, and resolve it, to promote consonance, and balance, or a sense of “rightness” and order. Compassion and cultivating harmony go hand in hand. Wherever there is suffering, there will be discord. It follows logically then, that If I desire to cultivate harmony, I must also desire to alleviate suffering and promote a sense of well being (which, according to the Dalai Lama is the essence of compassion).
For instance, when performing a beautiful, melancholy piece of music, if I sing with compassion for the songwriter, I explore and channel the painful emotions and experiences that inspired them to compose this piece of music, and allow their story to be told and released; if I sing with compassion for the listeners, they may be touched or moved by hearing the song, feel less isolated and alone in their pain, and the wounded places in their hearts may, in some small way, be healed; finally, if I sing with compassion for myself, I may share in and be touched by the beauty of the music and the hearts and pain of the composer and listeners. In turn, I may feel less isolated and alone, and my own wounded places may be similarly healed. This healing experience reduces dis ease and facilitates greater harmony within and amongst the composer, myself and the listeners.
This phenomenon plays out across all of the various other roles I play in my life as well. Whether I am working as a healer, helping a sick or injured person restore their physical or mental health and vitality; working as a counselor/facilitator/mediator, helping an individual or group process a conflict, crisis or difficult decision; or working in my own home, dealing with family, marital or household challenges- approaching these situations with loving-kindness and compassion fosters change, growth, and/or healing, and leads to greater personal, intrapersonal and interpersonal harmony.
Where is it easy for you to give compassion? Where is it difficult?
Giving compassion is easier when a person’s suffering does not directly affect my own life, at least not in any negative way—for example, compassion for a friend whose father is diagnosed with cancer, or a neighbor who is going through a divorce, or a colleague who has been laid off at work. Most of us probably find this type of compassion to be the easiest. However, when someone’s suffering directly negatively affects my own life, giving compassion is more difficult–like being compassionate with my husband when he’s short-tempered and stormy after a stressful day at work, or being compassionate with my kids when they are fighting or grumpy and moody from running on too little sleep or not enough food. I am actually pretty good at this generally, but I must work on it continually, and I am far from perfect–particularly if I too am stressed, or running on too little sleep or not enough food.
Where do you think the world needs more compassion? How can we contribute to that?
During this country’s economic downturn, joblessness and unemployment has been high, there has been a lack of affordable housing and healthcare, and an increase in the number of people who have found themselves homeless. At the same time, cities around the country have rushed to propose and put into effect laws and policies that marginalize, criminalize, and dehumanize this population of people. In 2011, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty completed a survey of 234 cities and found that 40% prohibited camping, 33% banned sitting and lying down in public places and 53% outlawed begging. This includes cities in our own seemingly liberal Bay Area, such as San Francisco and Berkeley.
I truly have no idea how to solve the problem of homelessness. But I do know that this is an issue where policy makers and the population in general needs to be more compassionate. What would compassionate action look like at the policy level? Its hard to say—definitely there should be a stronger push to address the underlying causes of homelessness and less of a focus on penalizing homeless people for the outcomes. At the individual level, we can research and support policies and organizations–with our vote, time or money–that actually make a direct impact on people’s lives. And on an interpersonal level, we can make it a point to treat each homeless person whom we encounter with compassion–recognizing that they, like us, just want to be safe, happy, and loved, and that they are doing the best they can, with the knowledge, skills and resources they have available to them, to achieve those goals. Personally, I try to give food or money when I am asked and able (I usually keep a number of blessed $1 bills in my wallet for this very reason), but I always try to give something…even if all I have to offer is warmth, direct eye contact, a sincere smile, or a genuine wish and prayer for their well-being.
Any final thoughts you would like to share on compassion?
Many people misconstrue the concept of compassion, believing that being compassionate means being passive, “looking the other way”, and letting others do as they may. They see compassion as a weakness. This is not the case. We can act with lovingkindness and compassion towards a person causing us harm (inadvertently or deliberately), WITHOUT accepting, allowing or condoning their behavior. The subtle difference between taking action with compassion or without is a matter of motivation or intent.
When we strive to hold the sacredness of a person in our hearts and minds, we can have empathy, recognizing that any negative behaviors they are exhibiting are a result of their own suffering (or to avoid future suffering). This viewpoint can enable us to feel lovingkindness and warmheartedness towards that person, independent of their actions, and be less swayed emotionally by any anger, frustration or sadness we may be feeling. Taking a pause to cultivate compassion before speaking or acting allows us to choose the words or actions that are for the greatest good, based on wisdom and reason, rather than emotion and ego.
Of course this is not easy…and I know I will never do this perfectly…but that’s why it’s called a practice.