Midweek Faith Lift
December 2, 2020
Compassion and Generosity-Pillars of the Heart
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Good Morning and welcome to all on this First Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Hope! We have been exploring The Book of Joy for the past two months and today is our last Sunday with this delightfully challenging book. There are 8 Pillars that support joy, 4 of the mind and 4 of the heart. The Pillars of the Mind are perspective, humility, humor and acceptance. The Pillars of the heart are forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. It is wonderful to combine the first Sunday of Advent and Hope with Compassion and Generosity because they fit together so well! I love it when it works out like that! We are entering the season that is the darkest, with the longest nights and shortest daylight. And in this season of pandemic, we certainly need hope, compassion and generosity, don’t we!?!
The word compassion literally means “feeling with”-com=with, passion=feeling. We often think of it as empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and experience what they are feeling, sadness, fear, shame, joy, elation. Both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama insist that we come hardwired with the capacity to do this because it has ensured our survival as a species and we are hardwired for survival, our own and that of others. The challenge happens when we get overly focused exclusively on our own survival, forgetting that we are really interconnected and that we will either hang together or hang separately! If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us nothing else, it has truly demonstrated our interconnectedness if we have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart that is open.
“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness,” says the Dalai Lama on p. 251 of The Book of Joy. Research has shown that very young children as young as 6 months of age have shown a clear preference for toys that reflect helping rather than hindering. We are actually hard-wired for compassion, but we have to learn the skills needed to express that compassion and many times unlearn all that gets in our way. When we become so completely self-absorbed and full of ourselves, we are planting the seeds of continued suffering. Compassion is the antidote for all this self-absorption.
While empathy is simply experiencing another’s emotions with them, compassion is a more empowered state where we want what is best for the other person. As the Dalai Lama explained it on p. 259, when you see someone being crushed by a rock, “the goal is not to get under the rock to feel what they are feeling, the goal is to help remove the rock.” Wearing a mask during this COVID pandemic is not about freedom or politics, whatever your political beliefs. It is about compassion, about caring for the well-being of others as much as you care about your own. And we can see clearly the damage and suffering that happens when we are unwilling, in large numbers to do that.
Compassion is actually mutually beneficial and contagious. You can watch compassion in action when you see a group of people and one person starts to help with a kind action and suddenly everyone is helping. This was evident in the Derecho clean-up in Iowa last summer. Everyone on our street and all around our neighborhood was out picking up branches and cleaning up the mess. They brought out saws to cut up the biggest branches and just got to work. No one was asking what political yard signs were in your yard, we were just helping each other, laughing together and grateful to have a house still standing!
My prayer is that we will begin to collectively wake up to that mutual benefit and contagion of compassion with respect to the Pandemic and our collective civic life. My call to all of us is to do that with and for each other. We need masks that have messages of compassion printed on them as a reminder of why we wear them! We need masks with messages of civility about how we inhabit this historic moment together. We need a contagion of compassion in our country and our world. And we, as people of Unity, need to hold the hope and the vision that this contagion of compassion is not only possible but probable! And then do all we can to cause a contagion of compassion!
And that brings us to the notion of self-compassion, which is sometimes hard to grasp because it gets conflated with self-absorption and self-centeredness. Every religion, every spiritual practice in the world has some version of what we call the Golden Rule. In Christianity it goes like this, from Mark:
29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (NRSV)
So how is it we learn to love ourselves because that is clearly a pre-requisite for loving our neighbor?
Well, I do believe self-compassion is a good starting point. As I was cleaning up my study this past week, I came across something I had written on a scrap of paper. It goes like this: View your life with Kindsight. Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, “What was I thinking?”; breathe and ask yourself the kinder question, “What was I learning?” Wow, what a powerful shift in perspective and consciousness for all of us to make! We all screw up, we all make mistakes, bad choices, we all fall short, we are all so very human and not always thinking very clearly, ALL OF US! The powerful question really is what was I learning?
We asked that question, “what are we learning?” this past week during our Prayer Circle call and the answers were so powerful and poignant. Let Go and Let God, was one answer, all things truly are working together for good, and I learned that things unfold in God’s time, not my time! Learning to meet people where they are rather than stressing that they are not where I want them to be was another lesson. Holding unconditional positive regard for others and for myself was another lesson not an easy one! As we shared these insights and aha’s, we could feel hearts open and the energy of love was palpable, even over the phone. We were practicing self-compassion together, recognizing ourselves in one another. It was truly a holy moment.
When we are in this field of Compassion, caring for the other as we would care for ourselves, then we automatically shift into the 8th Pillar of Joy, that of Generosity. It becomes a generosity of the spirit as well as of material wealth. It is a generosity of granting another the benefit of the doubt rather than rushing to judgment about their motives and intentions. While the cultural energy may see things as a zero-sum game; I win and everyone else loses and is a loser, that is not how the energy of the Universe works. We are hard wired to share and to give freely to each other in order to ensure our survival. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “We must learn to live together as sisters and brothers, or we will perish together as fools.”
It is a generosity of sharing our time, talents and treasures because, try as you might, you cannot outgive God. Have you noticed that when you front end the giving, it is like priming the pump? You give and it seems like you are making space for more to be given to you! The Universe abhors a vacuum, so when you give and fill that void for another, then more will rush in for you, for your work or mission. When you find a genuine need and fill it, you are creating an opening, a spaciousness for God to give you even more. It is about giving and receiving, not taking and hoarding. It is about having a sense of purpose that allows each one of us to channel our creative energy.
The Dead Sea is an object lesson for us as an illustration of what happens when there is no flow. The Dead Sea has numerous inlets that channel water into it, but it has no outlets so all the water coming into it stagnates and dies and it has no life in it. It receives but it does not give. As Archbishop Tutu says on page 264:
And that is why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more and more joyful.”
We are truly hardwired for life, which means we are hardwired to give our love, our energy, our compassion to the Universe and to each other. That, dear friends, is what gives me Hope, that powerful energy of the first Sunday in Advent. Here is what the word hope means to me: Heart Open, Pure Energy! Let us embrace one another with our hearts open, allowing the pure energy of love, of Spirit to flow through us, to us, and as us to one another especially now in this season of giving when the need is so great. We invest our HOPE in the Contagion of Compassion….may it be so!
Blessings on the Path,