Monday, January 6, 2014

Compassionate New Year!

Have you made your resolutions? I haven't and I am not going to make any. But that doesn't mean I don't have any ideas for 2014. I am approaching this year a bit differently than I have started my previous New Years.

To be honest, I didn't set any resolutions for 2013 either. But that wasn't a conscious decision. I was reeling from events of 2011 and 2012 and the thought of having resolve about anything other than breathing in and out was more than I could imagine. I spent most of my time in last half of 2012 and all of 2013 seeking solace on the mat, making myself breathe. Here it is, 2014, and I am still breathing in and out, but still not making any resolutions.

Maybe it's the yogini in me or maybe the past few years have made me believe that control is a complete illusion, but setting out a list of firm decisions for myself seems pointless and a set up of sorts. You know what is said about the best laid plans...they often go awry and leave us grief and pain for promised joy (said Robert Burns to a mouse). With that in mind, intentions rather than hard resolutions seem a bit more forgiving.

They also say that a certain road is paved with good intentions. So I guess I better tread carefully with my intentions.

Most yoga classes begin with an invitation to set an intention for your practice. Lately, without premeditation, the same intention has floated into my mind repeatedly. Compassion. By definition, the sympathetic concern for the sufferings of others.

Compassionate is not a word that I would have used to describe myself in the past. I would not say that I have been indifferent to others' suffering. But I haven't invested myself in considering the suffering of others. By setting an intention of living compassionately, I am bringing an awareness of others' plights and adjusting my responses and reactions accordingly. I said it myself in 2012, on my list of 45 Things.
#15: Be kind to everyone; we are all carrying some load.
That's compassion. In honest retrospect, I am not sure that I could be truly compassionate without the events of the past few years to ground me in my own suffering, experienced and potential. I have not suffered nearly what Anna, her parents, my mother-in-law or countless other families have suffered, but I have a glimpse of that suffering when I look in my brother's and sister-in-law's eyes. I won't always recognize suffering when I look in a stranger's or friend's eyes, but I am assured now that some is there. And they need kindness at the very least.

But what does it really mean to "live compassionately"? That definitely sounds like an easy thing to say on the safe confines of a yoga mat, where the real world is shut out for 60 minutes at a time. But to put it into practice in daily life is another matter. Aside from being kind, donating to charity, opening doors for people, minding your manners, how else can you live compassionately? One way is just realizing that everyone has a load (see #15 above). If you recognize that, you can hardly continue to push your own agenda with disregard of others. And with that realization comes a change in your own agenda or at least an understanding of those with different agendas. Interactions based in compassion are fertile ground for progress and positivity even when differences exist.

Compassion is not reserved only for extreme suffering or for the stranger in need.  We can't all just pick up, move to the needy corners of the world and offer our services. Thankfully there are people who can do that. They are living compassionately in a grand, global sense. But compassion can be expressed on smaller stages too. I have a family here that needs my compassion. As a mother, my sons need my compassion as they navigate this world, filled with obstacles I never imagined for them. My compassionate responses will help them over, around and through these hurdles.

Compassion can be directed inwardly too. Choices we make for ourselves display the compassion we carry for our own heart. Practicing thoughtful dietary choices, good sleeping habits, uplifting friends, daily exercise and positive entertainment all are displays of personal compassion. Think of it as a garbage in, garbage out approach. And personal compassion is contagious. Are you unconsciously creating your own personal waste heap, adding to the worldly garbage dump? Or are you compassionately planting a garden of humanity for all to enjoy?

In yogic terms, living compassionately falls under the umbrella of ahimsa or non-harming. Ahimsa is the very first item on the yogic agenda.  All yogic bets are off if compassion is absent.

So, I am setting an intention to operate from a place of compassion in 2014 and beyond. I do it for me, for my family, for those I know and those I will meet. This road, intentionally paved as it may be, can only lead to good things.

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