The year was 1970. I was stretched out in the dark, atop a floor mattress in a funky duplex in Sherman Oaks. A commanding voice boomed out of the FM radio, spoke to a part of me I knew existed, just had never articulated. Baba Ram Dass might have been the first person to speak directly to my soul, describing the ineffable in a way I understood. There in the pitch black, vast worlds became visible, territory I’d yet to journey, landscapes terrifyingly immense but seductively essential.
He’s been inspiring through the decades, even when he had a stroke in 1997, he moved through to find his way back to expression. This quote by him sparks my excitement for Cultivating Compassion on February 18 because it touches on the essence of our investigation:
“The hardest state to be in is one in which you keep your heart open to the suffering that exists around you, and simultaneously keep your discriminative wisdom. Once you understand that true compassion is the blending of the open heart and quiet mind, it is still difficult to find the balance.”
The dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.” But what about that “discriminative wisdom” piece Ram Dass speaks about? The dictionary didn’t put any qualifications around the “heart open to the suffering” part. Gabrielle Roth says “sometimes compassion is a slap in the face.” Huh?
I’ve been dancing along this continuum that seems to stretch from one pole to another. All the way at one end is someone completely defended, guarded, unavailable. We know this place. Someone who can walk right by a cardboard nest tucking a homeless person into a cold alcove just off the street. And not even look. OK, this does not feel like compassion. But how about that other end of the continuum? Imagine someone who spots this homeless person, immediately merges with him, scoops him up, takes him home, cares for him as long as necessary. Someone who literally does not feel boundaries or a sense of separation. Kinda seems like compassion. Is it? This is the essence of our investigation. What is compassion and how do we cultivate it?
Stanford Medicine is a leader in this field with their Center for Compassion; research shows the practice of compassion is as important for health as physical exercise & diet. The center offers Compassion Cultivation Training programs. We’re gonna be a little more loose and open-ended. We’ll come in touch with our own breath and heartbeat, listen to our own heartspeak, open to self-compassion. We’ll dance and we’ll paint. We’ll learn from each other, move into shapes of defended and merged, paint some more. Dance, speak, paint, dance, write, paint. Cultivate this elusive and potent quality in our own embodied way. No surprise. Arrive at our own unique sense of what compassion is and shed a bit of light on our own relationship to it.
Just some of my own musings on a compassionate heart:
…not a merged heart, but a capably witnessing heart
not a defended heart, but a heart thawed to room temperature
loose enough to feel and firm enough to know
reaches out while simultaneously diving in
knows when to fold ‘em and when to hold ‘em
full to the brim and empty as a bucket…
So curious about your heart…please join me and Majica (artista instigator extraordinaire) on February 18.
P.S. I know some of you readers have never danced with me. Because you write back and whisper to me. This is for you: come for a slow and easy Intro to 5Rhythms , the full gestalt in 90 fascinating minutes. Enjoy christening the learning space upstairs at the new Co-op. And if you’ve never moved with us in Sacramento, free pass to Wednesday or Sunday at Clara included. Come on; you can do it!