Friday, August 24, 2012

Finding Compassion in Silence

The last post discussed what it means to use our words to bring peace, how our words can be our yoga. What about using our silence?

My senior year in high school, I decided to ask many of my friends and family what they considered a good friend. I got a lot of answers, most of which I have forgotten. But one stuck with me. And to be honest, I cannot remember, for sure, whose response it was, but I am pretty sure I remember. The response was simple.

A good friend is someone with whom you can sit in silence. So profound. So true.

Our interactions with one another can be through words. And often they are. But how do we interact with one another in silence? Is our silent interaction different depending on whether we are in the same room as someone? Does it matter if we know the person with whom we are “interacting”?

The modern world, I think, would try to say yes. Many people believe we cannot interact with someone we do not know. Many people think we cannot interact with someone who is not physically present. But yoga teaches another type of interaction – silent and to anyone in the world. It can best be described as compassion.

I have been reading a lot recently about compassion. This topic consumed me for years, and I read everything I could about it, and then I just stopped. I did not stop trying to be compassionate, but it fell off my reading-list radar. But I see it more and more as a necessity in the world. As the Dalai Lama has said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

There are tomes written about compassion. At its essence, compassion is sympathy for others’ suffering as well as a desire to help alleviate that suffering. Buddhism teaches that suffering is inevitable, so compassion is a connection to all beings because all beings suffer.

Sometimes this sense of compassion is lost when there is too much noise. Noise can be our gossip or our own judgments. Noise can be our words, whether kind or malicious. It is when we are silent that we can truly begin to feel compassion. For me, the yoga mat has been a place to cultivate compassion. It is necessary to have compassion for ourselves on the mat, but it was when I began to offer my practice to others that my practice truly transformed.

At the end of my practice, I always try to remember to offer the practice to others. Sometimes there is someone, or several people, in particular who I believe are in need of the benefits of a yoga practice. Sometimes, when no one immediately comes to mind, I offer the practice to the world. While this practice may seem to be impossible, the truth is that our language is full of our beliefs that it is possible. We talk about sending good thoughts and love. We offer prayers for people. These are all moments of compassion.

But the first step is quieting the mind, getting out of the world where our judgments rule and into the world where we can tune into the heart and find compassion for all beings. My high school friend was onto something. While friendships might be created on playgrounds, late at night in dorm rooms, and at the water cooler, the best friends are those with whom we can be in silence. Because it is with those friends where we truly feel our deepest compassion and connection.

And through our continued silence, we can spread that compassion to the world. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you try to grow and share your compassion.


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved. 


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