Compassion for self, others, nation, world, planet.
I have spent the past 2 weeks travelling around the UK, visiting friends and family. It has not been easy. I have shared in personal tragedy and loss of a loved one, struggles to survive health and economic difficulties. I have also listened to comments and thoughts on the state of our nation after the referendum result to leave the EU. The last weekend I went on a Quaker conference about compassion. The outcome of that has made me think about the nature of compassion, in my own life and in our society and how to harness compassion and kindness for all life on this planet.
At Woodbrooke Quaker Centre we were privileged to stay in a room where Gandhi once stayed. Non- violent actions against injustice are part of his legacy. One of our speakers was Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, abbot of the Scottish Tibetan monastery. http://www.samyeling.org/ As a Tibetan he spoke of how he left Tibet and became a refugee. He spoke with an understanding of the joy that can be present in our lives and how his first experiences of the Western world surprised him. We seemed to have forgotten how to experience a deep but essential part of our nature. At the monastery there are opportunities for people to recover from addictions and depression. Lama Yeshe did not intellectualise about compassion. He spoke from a deep place within him where there is compassion for all living things.
Qamar Bhatti Khan gave a lively talk about his own experiences in the Handsworth riots, the aftermath and his role in community cohesion. Michael Barnes gave a lecture on work and studies he has been involved in with Inter Faith dialogues. He compared writings from ancient Buddhist scripture and Augustin. He also touched on work by Joanna Macy. This interested me because it was at a Joanna Macy workshop organised by Transition Ealing that inspired me to start this blog!
Hannah Gilbert gave an illustrated talk where aspects of compassion in new approaches to therapy and mindfulness techniques were explored. Her father Paul Gilbert has researched and written about how our brain works and how developing compassion can support well being, recovery from trauma, depression. http://compassionatemind.co.uk/about-us
There was also time to talk with a range of people and concerns were often raised about the referendum, challenges of Brexit and the political fall out. My previous post shows my concern about environmental issues. However, I also feel the need to understand the depth of feeling and reaction that led to the vote to Leave the EU. It has seemed like a dividing line has been drawn and many are taking up entrenched positions. Much seems to have been based on fear and mistrust on both sides.
I have begun to feel my anger and frustration over the referendum diminish and by being here I find I can try to understand why people voted to Leave. Am I able to be more compassionate and less argumentative about this?
Since then we have also had The Chilcott report. From this and I read an article about how the human mind does entrench itself in a certain position and even evidence based thinking does not help resolve this but rather the person begins to reframe the evidence. The article showed how Tony Blair has kept doing this. The danger is that the more powerful we are the more likely we are to do this. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36744911 A bbc magazine article titled ‘\how we cover our ears to the facts’
I am also aware of all the recent gun tragedies in the USA and the potential to cause division between people. Obama returned early from his State visit to Spain.He seemed to wish to invoke calm and compassion for all who have lost lives. He also seems to understand evidence, facts and take action based on that. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have both inspired succesfull movements to counter great inequality through non violence, reconciliation and compassionate thinking.
I want to end on a sad but hopeful point. A young girl disappeared and her body eventually found along a canal area that I know well in West London. In fact I had been walking with my friend along that route and down to the Thames. The friend had been on the Joanna Macy workshop with me and had encouraged me to blog about nature. It is a lovely and natural place and as we walked on a Sunday busy with cyclists and other walkers. But it can be lonely. Alice Gross lived near here and her body was finally found along the canal.
Her story had been ‘used’ or reframed by the Leave campaign. Her parents felt the need to show her attitudes and ideas through a very thoughtful essay she had had to write in school about the pros and cons of being EU. There is a tragic irony on her comments about criminals crossing borders but she has a very non racist stance. She saw criminals as criminals from whatever country they came from and as human beings .
The black box thinking that has helped to improve aviation safety needs to be a part of all tragic incidences. It helps all learn and improve so that mistakes are not repeated. I am reminded of the Soham murders too. The murderer there was not of another country but another county and the police had failed to link up information across. The parents of Alice in their loss have shown courage and concern . The court inquiry stated that there needs to be an improvement in background checks across countries. It is this procedure that might have saved her life from a man from Latvia who had murdered before.
If I was teaching I am sure I would have asked students to write an essay on the advantages and disadvantages of being in the EU, using reliable sources. I was very moved to read part of the essay of Alice Gross that her parents felt the need to share with the Guardian.
I hope showing some of the extract does not infringe any copyright but shows the careful reflection of a young person. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/11/revealed-alice-gross-argued-against-banning-foreign-criminals-before-her
“It reflects on the good of our country, not only showing the strength and stability of our nation but the trust and cooperation we have to make our world successful, which in turn earns the respect of others,” she says. “Although there are some disadvantages that result in our country having slightly less power over its citizens, but what is power over loyalty and alliance amongst a civilised and peaceful union?
Over 70% of young people voted remain. Perhaps the thoughts expressed by Alice Gross show the concerns of a younger generation with a desire for cooperation, interdependence and non racist approaches to other human beings. A desire to connect, reconnect and be compassionate to all life. Many young people demonstrated their expression of frustration with the vote and their support for their fellow Europeans in a peaceful and non violent way.
We now look forward to some leadership from the conservative party. I hope there will be more compassionate conservatism as Theresa May pledges to address the inequalities that have clearly been shown to exist in our very divided United Kingdom. Maybe the Labour party will have compassion for each other and take a strong role in the new or old road that the country is taking.
Compassion needs courage, a different way of thinking and feeling.It is possibly more than kindness and caring but begins there.
Here are some compassion focus groups that I have encountered at different stages of my life.
The Samaritans. ( And the bible story of the Good Samaritan)
Compassion in World Farming ( A charity started in the 1970s to campaign to end the suffering of farm animals)
Listening with Compassion ( Listening without judgement, from Lew Epstein and Trusting You are Loved)
Compassionate mindfulness ( Paul Gilbert and compassionatemind.org)
Buddhism has no absolutes but if there is to be one it would have to be compassion ( The Dalai Lama)
Joanna Macy workshops on creating compassion for ourselves, others, and the planet.
The hallmarks of a bodhisattva: compassion and insight into the interconnectedness of all beings
My thoughts are with the people of Nice and perhaps the outpourings help and remind us of how interconnected we are.
Black Box. Thinking. The Surprising Truth About Success. (and why some people never learn from their mistakes). MATTHEW SYED. JOHN MURRAY.