A Meditation for Compassion

Sometimes it is easier to let go of panic if we think of others. I know that I am more grounded when someone else needs me; knowing that helps me hold it together through a crisis.

Here is a simple meditation you can do to remember to care for others in a crisis:

First, sit quietly. Feel the floor or the chair beneath you. Feel the air around you. The space above you, to the sides, behind you. You are here. You are safe. You are present.

Then become aware of your breath moving in and out. You may find it easier to do this if you put a hand on your chest and another on your belly. Feel the breath like a wave moving up the shore and out again. Feel the breath breathing you.

Then feel the space inside you. Work your way through your body from your head to your feet or your feet to your head. Perhaps you find it easier to do this if you picture a light illuminating different areas of your body, like a flashlight turning the fingers on your hand pink.

Now you maybe feel the thoughts in your head moving in and out like the waves on the beach. They come and go, without you trying to hold the wave upon the sand or command the sea from the shore. Perhaps they crash at first. Soon they calm to a summer’s day. Perhaps they even become peaceful and soft, reflective.

And picture someone you love, someone who is maybe worried or scared or sick, perhaps your father or mother or grandparent or a small child who needs comforting. Someone who, when you think of them, causes your heart to soften. Feel that softening, let it tenderize you. And send out feelings of care for them, like a mental hug, a big bear hug. Hear yourself wishing them to be safe, to be healthy, to have peace from suffering.

Feel them hug you back and hear them wish you safety, health, and peace from suffering.

Now picture someone else you know and love. Someone who maybe doesn’t provoke such a need for care. And send out feelings of care for them, your bear hug. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And now think of someone you know less well, perhaps a colleague or a neighbor. Picture them clearly, send out your bear hug, tell them, “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And now picture those who have cared for you, perhaps without your even thinking of it. The people who work in clothing or furniture stores, in hair and nail salons, in restaurants and coffee shops, at movie theatres, on cruise lines or airplanes or in airports. Museum guards and people who sell popcorn at baseball parks. People who keep buildings and hotels clean. All the people who are worried now because they don’t have an income any more. We remember you. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And for the people who are still working, because they have to. Police, firefighters, bus drivers and train conductors, people working the fields and food factories and driving trucks, and restocking grocery stores and drug store cashiers. For the scientists working long hours in laboratories, searching for a cure. All the people who are there for us, even as we shelter in place, venturing out to take advantage of the fruit of their labor. We remember you. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And for those who are preparing the hospitals for the pandemic and caring for the sick and dying. Those who put themselves at risk to care for people we don’t even know, who labor to keep us safe, although they are scared and worried and have scared and worried children or parents at home. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And for those who are suffering because we have forgotten them, the homeless living under bridges and on steam vents, many of whom are hungry, and suffer already from lung disease. Who can’t shelter in place because they have no shelter. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And for all the sick people here and in Italy and Iran and China and everywhere that this virus has touched. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

For all the people who have been forced to sacrifice their dreams: the students sent home from college, the athletes unable to compete, Olympians facing the loss of a dream, actors unable to perform on stage or in films. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

For the politicians, who have to make important decisions for us and so often seem confused. While we may usually disagree with them – and may disagree with them even now – we accept that their minds are troubled and they will carry the burden of their current decisions with them into the future. They will look out across the areas they serve and see people suffering and businesses shuttered and streets empty, financial markets tumbling, and know that this is the result of their action or inaction. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

For those who shelter in place, children frightened and bored and restless, parents frazzled and pressured and restless. People who lose their tempers when their parents or their children call with well-meant but ridiculous advice. People who are confused or panicky, who fill refrigerators and cabinets and garages with supplies. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

And to the earth, for her suffering, for so many of her caregivers have been sidelined from protecting her from the selfish and the insensitive. “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.”

In this way, we open ourselves to compassion, remind ourselves to be part of a larger world. Continue to make ourselves available to those who need our help, even when we ourselves are scared.

And to you, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you have peace from suffering.

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