Traits of the Awakened Mind, Part 1: Compassion

July 31, 2023   |   Leave a reply

Hello Open Heart Project,

According to Buddhist thought, the awakened mind has three qualities.

Although I’ve said many times that having goals for your practice is a bad idea, I’m now going to suggest that there actually are goals and they are to realize these three qualities. However, the path is not accomplished by conventional means. Interestingly, these qualities arise spontaneously when we let go of our other agendas, no matter how well-thought out.

Meditation is, of course, the path.

The first of the three aspects of the enlightened mind is compassion.

Compassion is often confused with soft-heartedness. We might think that compassionate people are super sweet and always feel sorry for you. However, there is nothing sappy or weak about true compassion.

Compassion is an expression of the greatest strength. You are so confident that you can allow the sorrows of other people to touch you.

It is a gesture of bravery. You are so fearless that you can extend yourself to others.

It is an act of joy. You are able to connect, heart to heart, and, as far as I can tell, there is no other source of joy.

Some people might call this vulnerability, and it is. But here, vulnerability is synonymous with pure warriorship.

At the same time, it is extremely, heart-breakingly ordinary. We have all had the experience of compassion at some point in our lives.

I want to share a story from my book, “How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life.” It remains for me a visceral experience of compassion.

When I was a little girl, my father taught me how to fly a kite. We were on the beach in Atlantic City and I was running up and down with my kite. I was so happy—the connection with the sky, the love of my father, the feeling of mastery. At one point, though, the kite got away from me and blew out to sea, higher and higher. I ran after it as hard as I could. I chased it until it was completely invisible. I was heartbroken, devastated. If you’ve ever chased anything that moves away from you on the wind and into another sphere (and I’m sure you have), then you know how shocked and hopeless I was. I remember the loss until this day.

One other person also remembered it to the end of his life—my father. Many, many years later, somehow the day of the lost kite came up and he called it one of those moments in his life that pierced his heart the most. He never, ever forgot the look on my face. He watched the kite fly out of sight, too. He longed to get it back, too. He would have done anything, anything to get it back for me. My sorrow was his. My loss was his.

My father didn’t have to stop and think, “Oh, my little girl has lost something that brought her happiness. I feel sad for her.” He didn’t have to do any math, like, lost kite + no hope = unhappy child, thus: I feel sad. There was no gap between my feelings and his, my experience and his, my loss and his. They were the same.  This is what compassion is. It is spontaneous. It arises as love and pain, mixed together, exactly 50-50.

If you have children, I’m sure you already know about this and, on behalf of all daughters and sons, I thank you. Know that this is the state of mind our meditation practice is urging us toward and which the great beings of this world, the meditation masters, saints, yogis, and enlightened ones feel for beings, on the spot, without thought.

How, you might ask, do they not fall apart completely? It is so terrifying to be this open and this vulnerable. Well, yes and no. The opposite is actually the terrifying option and our meditation practice, fortunately, thankfully, teaches not only how to open our hearts, but how to stabilize within the open state so that every time we are touched, we are not also knocked down. Instead, we are strengthened in our resolve and ability to be even stronger in our vulnerability.

This is true strength—the ability to remain soft and open under all circumstances, not just in those that are made to order.

I’d love to hear your stories of true strength—what comes to mind when you imagine a time you witnessed or exhibited strength?



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