Monthly Archives: December 2013

On Compassion

Dear friends,

I have been reflecting on the power of compassion. Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is a fundamental path of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interaction.

The English noun compassion meaning ‘to suffer with’ comes from the Latin cum (with) and passion (suffer). It therefore means to suffer together with or co-suffering. Empathy is the capacity to recognize scenes that are experienced by others, but compassion gives rise to a deep desire to alleviate another’s suffering.  It is a deep concern for the needs of others. It is a recognition of and identification with the suffering and misery of others. The sharing is the sharing of the heart.

With an elderly residentThe biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child (Isaiah – Can a woman forget her child?).  The compassion invokes the feeling of a mother for her child. The idea of compassion is closely linked with forgiveness. In the second epistle with the Corinthians God is spoken of as the Father of compassion and God of all comfort. Second Corinthians 1:3-7. Praise be to the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. Jesus embodies the very essence of compassion. He tells his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. True compassion should extend to all even to the extent of loving one’s enemy. The central concepts of non-violence and active peacemaking are also closely linked with compassion.

Compassion has to be cultivated and practiced. Compassion also means sharing the interiority of others in a deep and total way. Before one can have compassion on others, it is necessary to have compassion for one’s own self.

The meaning of compassion is to recognize the suffering of others then taken action to help. Fredrick Buechner describes the meaning of compassion in these words, ‘compassion is the capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin’.

Compassion is a virtue which uproots the wish to harm others. It makes people so sensitive to the sufferings of others and calls of them to make these sufferings so much their own that they do not want to further increase them. Compassion isn’t self-pity or pity for others. It’s really feeling once own pain and recognizing the pain of others. It is a pre-requisite for a just and harmonious society and an essential attitude for progress along the path towards wisdom. Compassion flows both from sensitivity to our own hopes and fears and the ability to place ourselves in the shoes of others.

With Slum PeopleCompassion towards self and compassion towards others are inseparable.  A compassionate mind is purified of the taint of ill-will. Compassion has the power to weaken the defilement of lust and ill-will and bring the mind to a state of peace. Compassion is also connected with the knowledge and inside, and liberated action. Compassion can become our nature as we continue to cultivate it. We move from a desire of self promotion and self achievement towards the strength of compassion which is an outward moving energy.

We need to build communities that foster active, liberative compassion which seeks to relieve the suffering of others, establish greater justice, and a certain dignity and equality of human beings. It is a powerful and peace giving discipline of the mind and an important part of our spiritual path.

With best wishes.
Kiran Martin

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On Gratitude

Dear firends,

These days I have been reflecting on the power of Gratitude. What is gratitude? Gratitude is more than a feeling of thankfulness in response to receiving a tangible gift or a gesture of kindness. Gratitude is a way of life, a fundamental orientation.  It is a conscious choice to focus on life’s blessings rather than on its shortcomings. We recognize sources of goodness as outside of ourselves, coming from others. There is a distinction between a short term feeling, and saying that someone is a grateful person, someone who habitually looks at life with gratitude glasses, with a gratitude focus.

Student's meet at IYC 18 Dec 2013 512

However, gratitude is the fruit of great cultivation. We may not be born with a taste for good music, but it can be acquired. Great art often needs to be researched and studied before a person may fully appreciate it. Similarly, when we cultivate a grateful attitude, we learn to live in a state of  grace. Every event in life, both good and bad, becomes an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to expand our capacity to love. How then can we cultivate gratitude? We focus our attention on grateful thinking. We count our blessings every day, keep a gratitude journal, write a gratitude letter to someone who has meant a lot to us. Children can wear gratitude bracelets as they are not abstract thinkers. We can become grateful to our families, our work places, our institutions.

Finally, what are the beneficial effects of the practice of gratitude? Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present, it is a magnification of the present emotion. It magnifies goodness, and therefore blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment or depression that destroy our optimal well being. We can’t be envious and grateful at the same time. The higher the gratitude coefficient, the lower the negative emotions. Grateful people are more alert, more energetic, more enthused, more attentive. They are more stress resilient because of the way they interpret life’s events. Gratitude also strengthens our social ties and self worth because it means that others are looking out for our well being. We feel supported and affirmed by them and we then become more altruistic, more outgoing, more sensitive, more helpful and less lonely and isolated.

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When we live in gratitude, compassion becomes the foremost emotion when dealing with others. Gratitude and selfless service go hand in hand. Gratitude has the power to heal, to energize, to change lives. The practice of gratitude also enhances healthy behavior and healthy sleep, and it reduces blood pressure. Research demonstrates that even school children get better grades at school when they practice gratitude over the semester.

Gratitude is not always easy. There are many obstacles to a grateful way of thinking, such as pervasive negativity, complaint, dissatisfaction, a sense of entitlement, focus on deprivation and suffering.

Let us accept all of life as a gift and have a deep abiding sense of thankfulness for it.

Kindest wishes.

Kiran Martin

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On Non-Violence

Dear friends,

In the many encounters that I have had over the years with a wide variety of difficult individuals and networks, some of whom have been hostile, ruthless, or even violent, I have come to understand that evil is not final. It is not unchangeable, or irreversible. Active peacemaking breaks the cycle of violence and counter-violence. It leaves open the possibility of conversion. It is unlikely to alienate our opponents.

Non violence essentially means abstention from all forms of violence. This includes not just physical violence, but also verbal violence and violence of thought. There is a complete rejection of aggression and confrontation, of thought, of words and of actions. It is based on the conviction that forgiveness can change even an enemy into a friend. This is the central message of the gospel. Martin Luther King said,’ Nonviolence means avoiding not only external, physical violence, but also internal violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.’ Non violence therefore goes deeper than withholding from violent behaviour or words. It means caring in one’s heart for everyone, even those who are violent, or those with whom one strongly disagrees.

Non violence and peacemaking believe in the inherent worth of dialogue with opponents, in order to understand their motivations. In order to be heard by one’s opponents, one must also be prepared to listen. It also signifies respect for all human beings, created by a loving and forgiving God.

The technique of separating the deeds from the doers allows the possibility of the doers changing their behaviour, and perhaps their beliefs. When the goal is not to defeat the enemy, but to win them over, love and understanding can be created between all. Actively fostering goodwill can help us arrive at the outcome of persuasion and reconciliation. There is no room for coercion, humiliation or provocation.  Also, the better the opponent understands our position and our conduct, the less likely he is to resort to violence. 

Student's meet at IYC The greatest personal challenge posed is to practice non violence. This requires us to practice love and compassion at every opportunity.

Let us have truthful and tender encounters with all, and remember that non violence does not demonstrate weakness, but rather demonstrates courage, dignity, and strength.

With my best wishes.

Kiran Martin

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