On the heels of my recent visit to a maximum-security prison in California with other human-rights activists, a student gunman opened fire at a community college in Oregon. I don’t ever want to become numb to such occurrences; I want to become more conscious and compassionate. In light of this, I can’t help but wonder what has led to our overcrowded prisons, and individuals killing in cold blood without compassion. What can we do as a society?

Obviously, the causes and solutions are complicated, but we need to start somewhere. I believe that each one of us needs to be in control of our own life and instill it with a sense of awareness and compassion. By doing so, there’s a chance that the ripple effect will inspire others to do the same.

In his essay, “Social healing: herald of a shift in human consciousness,” James O’Dea says that social healing is an emerging field that deals with wounds created by conflict and collective trauma, and that charismatic leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were essential for facilitating huge waves of transformation and change. Essentially, these leaders didn’t attempt to arbitrate moral questions, because there is often no clear right or wrong, but what they tried to do was restore a sense of community and harmony to the world so we could all live together peacefully. Healing from violence is a collective effort that stems from consciousness and compassion.

Leaders such as Gandhi and King heal others not only by being positive role models, but also through their sheer existence. We all know when we’re in the presence of truly compassionate individuals. Their presence can heal us. We feel stronger, more peaceful, and more uplifted in their company.

Yesterday I paged through Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s book Ultimate Healing: The Power of Compassion. He deftly stated that “compassion doesn’t drop miraculously from the sky or come simply by saying over and over, ‘I need compassion, I need compassion, I need compassion.’” He said that we need to develop compassion in order to free others from their own suffering, and this can lead to happiness and possibly a sense of enlightenment. When we’re compassionate, we also bring peace and joy to ourselves and others.

Here are some ways to generate compassion in your daily life:

  • Establish a daily ritual, such as meditation, taking a walk, and/or setting an intention where you contemplate compassion.
  • On a regular basis, express gratitude to yourself and others.
  • Practice empathy by first being aware of your own pain. Recognizing it in yourself will help you see it in others.  
  • Understand the various problems inherent in individuals, animals, and nations.
  • Acknowledge your similarities with others.
  • Consider the regular practice of lovingkindness. For example, smile or say kind words as often as possible, even with strangers.

In summary, if someone is unkind to you, detach yourself and reflect on the situation. There’s a good chance that you were the recipient of their unkind behavior, but probably not the cause. Instead of reacting with anger or rage, offer compassion. Chances are, the next time they’re faced with a similar situation, they’ll remember your response and possibly emulate your positive reaction. Being in a state of conscious awareness and living in a compassionate way can be contagious—and that’s a good thing!

References

O’Dea, J. (2005). “Social healing: herald of a shift in human consciousness,”  in Consciousness & Healing by M. Schlitz, T. Amorok & M. S. Micozzi, eds., St. Louis, MO, Elsevier.

Rinoche, L.Z. (2001). Ultimate Healing: The Power of Compassion. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.

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