Nurturing Compassion

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.” - Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War

On the yogic path of inner exploration one has opportunity to address both our personal psychology and our deeper spiritual nature. This can involve three principles; grounding, letting go and awakening the heart. Thus counteracting the obstacles of spiritual bypassing, ego-centric self involvement and numbing distractions. A really useful tool to connect with these principles would be the practice of meditation. Along with that, a method of self enquiry is helpful in addressing the unconscious patterns and emotional complexes that interfere with living more authentically, with roundedness, openness and heart.

Tantric Buddhism used the metaphor of the snake uncoiling to describe the process of awakening. The coils of our neurosis have raw, wild energy entangled in them. To uncoil these tangles, so that we do not remain ensnared does not require us to kill the snake or even sublimate its energy into more socially approved forms. Instead by simply allowing it to do what it naturally wants to do - unwind - we tap into its power and aliveness. What allows this coiled snake of the mind to unwind is awareness and gentle compassion. Compassion doesn't try to suppress the snake's wildness, but rather draws upon the energies entangled in it to propel us forwards on our path. Liberating the qualities of our being, proclaiming and celebrating them, using them to help ourselves and others is a never ending path and with great compassion we can tap into them.

The ego mind is a learned set of behaviours and programs and the ultimate goal in yoga is to move beyond them by virtue of the radiant Self. The presence of the Self is experienced as compassion for all living beings, in all their expressions, including its evolution as one's personal self. As a consequence, condemnation is replaced with forgiveness, which is a sign that it is now safe to proceed deeper into inner inventory without undue stress. I find it useful to remember that the world benefits from wisdom and not from hatred, blame or guilt. An Indian yogi I trained with once explained that compassion is like recognising we are all part of the same body, that I might be an arm, while another a big toe, or the other way round. This doesn't prevent the need for healthy boundaries in practice, however it can remind us of what connects humanity in a time where there is so much out there that seeks to separate us. 

The capacity for forgiveness arises from accepting with honest humility the limitations of the human condition, which is on a learning curve as our consciousness evolves. This process is on-going and a practice. Consider in your practice how you relate to yoga, how you see yourself through your practice and how you communicate internally as your body expresses itself through movement, breath and form. What is your conversation within? When you fall off balance, do you sigh in condemnation? Or are you compassionate, accepting of where you are at and resolve to carry on and do better? The simple act of observation can be incredibly illuminating especially when we are honest with ourselves.

In my experience, self-honesty requires courage, humility, patience and compassion for the immature aspects of the conscience, which after all, arose originally as a product of childhood while nurturing a sense of humour along the way can ensure that the deep sincerity is met with the lightness of heart.


By Jessica Brookes
Yoga Teacher / Founder at The Shanti Space

Toward a Psychology of Awakening - John Welwood
Oneness With All Life - Eckhart Tolle
Practicing Peace in Times of War - Pema Chödrön
The Yoga Tradition - Georg Feuerstein