A Touch of Compassion

"When your fear touches someone's pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone's pain it becomes compassion."

Stephen Levine

"To train in compassion, then, is to know all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone."

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

What can we do when someone is suffering? What is our response when we know someone is dying? Too often we avert our attention. We become involved in other things. It is easier to stay caught up in busy lives than to reach out to a person in pain, to visit the sick person, to just be with a person who is dying. How many of us have had the intention of visiting an aging or ailing relative or friend, but never quite got around to it, and then they are gone?

What is it that gets in the way of extending ourselves? Fear perhaps. We may be afraid that we won't know what to say. Maybe we fear the other person will see the discomfort their misfortune creates in us. Perhaps we are afraid to see the pain in another, lest we have to confront the pain that may await us in similar circumstances.

Succumbing to these fears leads us to avoidance and guilt. Overcoming them may lead to an experience of love and an opportunity to ease another's pain. Here is a meditation that may help you to be with a sick person in a way that may be useful to both of you.

Sit with the person who is ill. Talk with them for a while, and be ready to sit with them in silence if the opportunity arises. You may even say to them, "I'd just like to sit quietly with you for a while, if that's all right with you." Look into their eyes, if their eyes are open. Look at their face. What emotions do you see there? What experience is written on their face? Look at that face as a wonderous representation of a life lived.

If it seems appropriate, take their hand in yours. If you aren't sure of their response, you may ask them, "May I hold your hand?" Gently hold that hand in yours. Feel the life there. Sense the warmth or coolness. Be aware of their hand in your hand. Let your hands resting together open up a new channel of compassion between you.

Touch base with your heart. What emotions are you having? Look there for the seed of compassion. Let it grow. Let your heart open. Look there for the emotion you may have known in a special moment with a loved one. This is an emotion of comfort and warmth. Feel this warm and comfortable emotion and imagine that it is a brilliant light in your heart.

Let this light grow in your heart. Let it grow so that it fills you up and fills the entire room. Remind yourself that love and compassion are limitless and that they fill the universe.

Imagine that the love of the universe is a light that shines on you and upon the person you are sitting with.

Let the love shower you with light and empower your spirit.

See yourself as a conduit for all the love and compassion in the world, which you channel to this other person.

See the light shining in your heart flowing through you to the other.

Feel the compassion and loving kindness in you and in all the world flowing from you to them. The supply is limitless, so you need not be depleted. Feel your life energy grow as you draw it in from the world. Feel it passing to your companion.

Silently, say to yourself, "May you rest in the light of healing love. May you be free of suffering." Extend this wish to yourself and to the other person.

Sit this way for several minutes. While you are passing loving energy to your companion, remain aware of their subtle responses to you. Avoid becoming lost in your own process. You are there for them. You are responsive to their needs. You are sensitive to their fatigue and the passage of time. You know when to withdraw and take care to leave before your presence becomes a burden. Yet, you are willing to stay with them in the light of compassion while this seems helpful. After you have withdrawn, again shower yourself with the light of loving kindness. Release any negativity or pain that you may have encountered, and say to yourself, "I release all pain and unhappiness. May I rest in the light of healing love."

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© 2002 Tom Barrett