“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depth of their hearts where neither sin nor knowledge could reach, the core of reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the divine. If only they could see themselves as they really are, if only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more need for war; for hatred, for greed, for cruelty. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
– Father Thomas Merton, Epiphany at 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky
Can you remember a time (or times!) when you were really cracked open, and beheld the overwhelming beauty or suffering of the world around you? Can you remember how it felt to have your heart that wide open, your seeing that deep and clear, and what it felt to simply be present and alive in those moments?
In one of the later Superman movies, there’s a touching scene where Superman takes Lois Lane way up into the sky, and asks her to listen. “Listen. Tell me what you hear,” he tell Lois. Lois listens hard, and responds, “I don’t hear anything. ” Superman then replies, “I hear everything. All the cries for help from all the people in danger. I hear voices of countless voices of people calling for help.”
In the Chinese tradition, Quan Yin is regarded as the embodiment of Universal Compassion. Her name literally means, “She who hears the cries of the world.” In Asian cultures it is understood that Quan Yin is really a dimension or quality of our own innate compassionate presence, an innate quality of being that each of us can find within the depths of our own hearts – our most essential being. In Christianity this archetype of compassion may be related to as the Christ or Mother Mary, in Jewish tradition as the Shekina, the Divine Feminine immanent aspect of God residing within us as “in-dwelling Presence.”
It takes courage to wake up, to open our wisdom eyes, look more deeply, see more clearly, and feel deeply into the subtle, complex, and profound interrelationships that weave the fabric of our lives and world.
To the fainthearted, it may superficially seem easier to live in denial, mindless of the intensity of beauty, joy, and wonder, numbed to the sorrow, suffering, and pain in our lives and world. Aloof and semi-disembodied, we distance ourselves from the raw, vivid, intensity, and intimacy of our feelings and our visceral responses to the suffering of the world within and around us. Such self-protective strategies keep us distanced from our heart, our feelings, our loved, ones, yet sooner or later, most of us get cracked open, one way or another, by the raw intensity of the nature of our lives and world.
If we are truly committed to embodying compassion, there is an opportunity for gratitude, wisdom, and dedication to come together at least three times a day in our busy lives. When is this? At times when we select and eat the foods that sustain our lives.
“The more you listen, the more you will hear.
The more you hear, the more and more deeply
You will understand. “
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
As you look deeply into the food you are eating today, imagine that you can open your “Wisdom Eyes” and your “True Heart of Compassion” and look deeply into the actual nature, sources, and origins of your food. Today’s Contemplations on Compassion offer a series of deepening reflections that allow us to look deeply into this mirror of food to bring forth a deeper sense of compassion and connection. These contemplations may be exhilarating, opening your heart and mind in new ways. They may also raise some challenges for you that require the courage to really see, own, and transform some of your limiting beliefs, attitudes, or delusions into new dimensions of freedom and compassion for yourself and for other “myselves.”
Level 1: Set the intention to be mindful and compassionate as you eat today. When you eat, eat “on purpose” with the clear intention to be more present, to mindfully cultivate seeing the food clearly, tasting the flavors, feeling deeply the tastes, textures, and sensations, attentive to the associated thoughts, feelings, and desires that naturally arise as you shop, make food choices, prepare food, and eat food. Bless your food with your full mindful awareness and honor it and its sources by being truly present, curious, compassionate, and awake as you eat.
As you eat, contemplate that what you are eating is actually becoming your body – your flesh, your bones, your blood, your organs, your brain. Deepen this contemplation to also be mindful of how you feel after you have eaten your meal. Reflect upon the choices you have made and how those sit with you and live within your body.
Level 2: With your Wisdom Eyes and True Heart of Compassion wide open, ask yourself, “As I prepare to bring this food into my body and to embody it…
Where does the food I am eating come from? What was its place of origin? If I went there, would I find that environment and circumstance pleasing and wholesome – or not?
How did this food get here to me from its place of origin?
How were the lives of all who were involved in this food impacted in bringing this food to me? Were they treated kindly and justly? Were they safe, respected and well cared for – or not?
If all of these “constituents” and “contributors” to my meal had “a voice,” what might they be saying to me or what would they have to teach me about compassion?
Were all involved benefited or harmed, ennobled or diminished?
What kindnesses or sorrows were part of the life, preparations, and delivery of these foods to me?”
As you deepen into this meditation, be mindful of the images, thoughts that come to mind and the feelings, or responses that arise in your heart and your body. What do these revelations have to teach you about compassion? What do these insights, images, and emotions tell you about your degree of compassion and your potentials to live and embody compassion even more deeply in your life?
Listen for the stirrings of an intention or aspiration rising from these insights and see if you can identify a step you can take today to embody compassion more fully, and take a stand for bringing compassion into action more fully alive in your life, world, and way of life today.
Level 3: With your Wisdom Eyes and heart wide open, ask yourself,
“What choices in food would I make if compassion for living beings was truly a priority in how I live my life or raise my family? Would I eat products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are dangerous for the environment, livestock, people, and communities who live near where they are grown? Would I eat animal products knowing the cruelty that is part of the conditions in which they live, and that they themselves are generally fed GMO foods? Would I eat non-fair trade foods that exploit people (often children)?”
Can you identify a compassionate step you can take today to make a stand for bringing compassion into action in your life, world, and way of life? For example, buying fair trade coffee and chocolate rather than brands that exploit people in the Third World; shifting your diet to be more plant-based and organic, and less reliant on animal products; being mindful of and avoiding GMOs that alter the nature of our food and chemically poison our environment, and voting YES on Initiative 522 this November (if you live in Washington state) to support the labeling of GMOs and our right to know how the food we buy and feed to our families is produced. . . .
As you deepen into these contemplations, be mindful of the inspirations, insights, or guidance that come to you, and what aspirations distill out of this deep reflection. Identify a few significant choices or steps that you can take to heart in order to honor this deeper wisdom and insight of interconnectedness.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
Can you envision yourself relying less upon food choices that contribute to the violence of caging, brutalizing, or slaughtering animals?
Are you aware that a plant-based, organically grown diet has, on average, an energy and resource footprint as much as 20 times smaller on the environment than a diet based on animal products, while reducing the amount of dangerous chemicals that poison our bodies, the earth, and our water – and it can be enjoyable and healthy as well?
Can you imagine seeking out the guidance and resources you need to make such changes in your life in ways that allow the health of yourself, your family, and your environment to flourish in sustainable and life-affirming ways?
Can you imagine bringing this same quality of compassion and care to how you select and make every purchase in your life – food, clothing, media, vehicles, etc.?
Can you imagine staying awake, letting your heart be continually opened to deeper understanding of the power and impact of your choices, and embodying compassion ever more fully in your way of life? Can you imagine inspiring and helping others along the ways to do the same?
Remember, in every aspect of your life, choice follows awareness. The simple practice of mindful eating can either be a mindless, habitual, empty ritual or, it can offer a great source of inspiration, insight, compassion, and spiritual transformation. Moment to moment, bite by bite, the choice is ours, and we can only have that choice when we are awake. However you approach it, the practice of eating offers a clear mirror to see and know ourselves more deeply. Since the part of the brain that mediates appetite and relates to food is also the center of our emotions and sexuality, becoming more mindful of our relationship with food can offer profound and transformative insights that open our hearts to deeper wisdom and compassion and free us from a host of deeply unconscious and limiting ways of life.
While our capacity for physical performance likely has upper limits, there is virtually no limit to our compassion to develop wisdom and compassion. Our capacity for compassion is on a continuum and our journey of awakening to greater compassion has many stages and phases.
When we are motivated merely by self-interest for our own health or well-being, it is easy to fall off the wagon, to “cheat” on a diet or to compromise our ideals and values. But when our motivation is dedicated to compassion for ourselves, for others, for all beings, and for the earth herself, dedicated to the practice and principle of non-harming in how we make purchases, choose foods, and live our lives, then it is rare to feel conflicted, deprived, or inclined to compromise the integrity of our compassionate values. Indeed, each purchase, and each meal can become an ennobling affirmation of a conscious life devoted to embodying compassion, to the non-harming, and nonviolence toward ourselves, our environment, our children, our health, and our spirit. As the heart opens to ever deeper compassion, this simply becomes the way we are.
Resources and Inspirations:
Here are some excellent resources to help in your continued contemplations and transformations:
This series of daily Compassion Contemplations is offered by: Dr. Joel & Michelle Levey; pioneers in the emerging global Compassion Movement; Founders of Wisdom at Work; faculty, University of Minnesota Medical School Center for Spirituality and Healing; authors, Wisdom at Work, Living in Balance, and Luminous Mind. Their work has inspired leaders in organizations and communities around the globe to thrive with greater wisdom, compassion, and resilience in these times of great danger and potential.