In the midst of a whirlwind of change, it’s necessary to stop and take care of yourself. Continuing columns by Associate Katie Anders explore how to practice and strengthen spiritual skills.
Compassion is an ever-present need in our world today, and each of us could create a list of things that can block compassion. Blocks include fear of the other, expectations of what we think should be done, the feeling of not enough time, and a sense of separateness. The last one undergirds all of them because we struggle to see how the stories of our lives are intertwined.
The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” When we feel empathy for someone, we feel what they feel. This is the precursor to compassion. When we move from empathy to compassion not only do we feel what another is feeling, we are also moved to help alleviate their suffering.
Researchers on a global scale are discovering that compassion is an innate quality we all possess, and it can be strengthened despite the obstacles. We can grow our natural capacity to experience compassion. How do we do this? One way is by deepening our awareness of how connected we are to one another. My thoughts, actions, and words reverberate through the web of life affecting not only the people I encounter but all of creation. When I begin to close the gap between self and another, my perspective changes and I can see the needs of someone else as connected to my own.
One spiritual practice that we can engage in regularly to cultivate compassion is Metta prayer. This is a prayer form that nurtures loving-kindness by using the repetition of short phrases as a mantra to focus the mind and the energy of the heart. Metta prayer is about generating blessings of well-being to anything and everyone at any time. It can be used in moments of quiet contemplation, while waiting in line, or while walking or driving; in other words, anywhere! Some common phrases that might be used are:
May you (I, all beings) be safe.
May you be free.
May you be happy.
May you know peace.
The quiet, calming repetition of two or three phrases for ourselves or for another deepens our awareness of the basic things we all desire, deepening our connection to one another and watering the seed of compassion that lives within us.
Earlier this year I had an experience of waiting in a very long line at an airport, and as I slowly watched the time of my flight come and go, I began repeating over and over: May we all be safe. May we all be well. May we all be peace. While this prayer did not get me to the gate on time, it did help to keep my heart open, my blood pressure low, and it kept my needs and frustration connected to the needs and frustration of all those around me who were also missing their flights. I also like to think that perhaps it also helped someone else stay a little calmer too.
Metta prayer helps us be a compassionate presence in the world by deepening our sense of connectedness and by acting on that connection.
May all beings know love.
May all beings be free from suffering.
May all beings experience joy.
May all beings be at peace.
This story was featured in:
FALL 2022: Together we participate in God’s creating action, transforming the earth. (BVM Constitution #11)
In this issue of Salt, we celebrate the legacy of our beloved Lou Anglin, BVM; the 103rd birthday of Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM; fifteen 70-year-Jubilarians, and our first in-person Assembly since COVID-19. We look to the future as we continue to adapt our mission, sponsor women in pursuit of education, support children in need, and advocate for justice in society and in the Catholic Church.