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Compassion Floats

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The word compassion comes from the Latin roots com and pati, meaning “to suffer with.”

This brings about a beautiful dose of irony — that those who are the most compassionate are also the most joyful.

The evidence is all around. We need only to look with eyes filled with mindfulness, and we will see. And as we peer out, we'll uncover a striking commonality among these joyful beings: A deep awareness of the nature and causes of suffering in themselves, accompanied by a passionate desire to help others understand and overcome their own.

These joyful individuals often dedicate their lives to this cause. You needn’t take my word on this. Please, just look at your current time and the times that have passed. What is it you see?

I think of Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh, but there are many, many more.

Some questions we may ask are:

How can these "joyful" people not suffer themselves from such a flood in their awareness, from such a lack of ignorance to so much suffering?

And what about the phrase "ignorance is bliss"?

Most of us grew up hearing this phrase, about how some forms of ignorance could be thought of as blissful, like somehow our ignorance saved us from feeling unwanted feelings.

It may be true, that it "saves" us from feeling certain things, but to think it is for our benefit is incorrect.

This misunderstanding gives undeserving validity to a saying filled with ironically imbued ignorance.

A more useful saying is:

Ignorance causes pain. It does not free us from it.

And an answer to these questions posed is — Equanimity.

With equanimity, we're able to feel the pain of others without being swept up in it, which helps us open to it even more. And it is an error to think that because compassion means "to suffer with," we must suffer ourselves to understand or relieve another's.

"We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna (compassion) is there."
- Thich Nhat Hanh (The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching)

With compassionate equanimity,

we're able to sit in torrential rainfalls,

but as water levels rise,

we, too, rise,

always maintaining our breath,

never falling victim to the flood.

Our suffering and joy are like opposing sides of the same precious coin, with compassionate equanimity, as a hand able to hold it.


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