by Barrie Risman
“A bodhisattva is someone who has compassion within himself or herself and who is able to make another person smile or help someone suffer less. Every one of us is capable of this.”
I recently listened to an interview with the author of this quote, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, author, and peace activist. He was speaking about compassion, that quality of empathy, kindness and care that has the power to ease our suffering and the suffering of others. As a result of his many decades of practice, Thich Nhat Hanh is a being of great power and great gentleness that embodies compassion fully.
As I listened to his words, I felt the strength of his attainment. His voice and the energy it carried shifted something in me. My shoulders relaxed. Tension I had been carrying in my body let go. My breath moved more freely and with it the space inside my chest gently expanded. I felt an inner sense of softness, as if the burdens I had been unconsciously carrying released into a space of unconditional welcoming and acceptance.The space of compassion within me was re-awakened.
It was a precious reminder of how easy it is to harden and close ourselves off to this space of empathy inside. In meeting life’s challenges we are called on to get stronger. This strength is necessary. And yet it can also disconnect us from the openness of our hearts. It is easy to forget that there is a tender, gentle, and peaceful place within us where all is forgiven, where all is OK, where we can give ourselves a break. This is the heart, the seat of compassion.
Yoga practice, like the wisdom and presence of great beings, reminds us. Our practices forge the pathway back to the heart. As we embrace compassion as a means of processing and being with our challenges, we develop our understanding and hopefully lighten our load. In doing so, we naturally become an inspiration for others to turn the sweet energy of compassion in toward themselves.