‘Spirituality’ Without Compassionate Action Is Selfish
“Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere,” – Elie Wiesel
“It’s all about creation,” said my new friend, a brilliant scientist. That’s when it hit me. The key to living a passionate life is creation with compassion.
In fact, it doesn’t matter what we’re creating. When we create, we feel passion, purpose, joyfulness, vitality, and meaning. Creation doesn’t have to be related to creative arts. It certainly can be. There are many who find great passion in creating beautiful artwork, music, writing, etc. But, creation may also take the form of helping others to achieve better health, physically and/or emotionally, creating bridges between people rather than evoking animosity, creating healthy caregiving environments, creating cures for illnesses, creating joy in others through acts of kindness and generosity, bringing aid to those in need, or any other action that creates healing, joyfulness, and light in the world.
Compassion is an important element of this creation process. By having compassion for those around us, those far from us, those like us, and those completely different from us, we’re creating powerful healing in the world. Many are fearful of facing suffering, their own or that of others. Some well-meaning friends believe that we must ignore pain and suffering in order for it to dissolve. But, in fact, when we ignore our own pain and the suffering of others, we generate a harmful destructive force, rather than creating joy and light. When we run from the pain, we are actually complicit in perpetrating more pain.
And, since we are all connected, the pain of others pains us even if we ignore such it. By bearing witness to the suffering of others, we shed a powerful healing light on it, rather than allowing it to fester in a cold dark corner.
Think of others too
Yes, we do need to take time to go within to find inner peace and give ourselves time to completely focus on what brings us joy. This helps us regenerate ourselves, be more centered, and generate more light from within. But, when we remain totally focused on our own joyfulness or inner peace, then we are holding that light just for ourselves or our own tribe, and this hoarding of the light, so to speak, is, again, complicit in generating pain for others.
Such “spirituality” without compassionate action, I would pose, is not genuine. It’s selfish. The Universe rewards action. If we don’t take action to be part of the change, then we are complicit in perpetuating the suffering of others. And that’s not love or spirituality. After all, we are all connected. When we fully witness the suffering of others and take the compassionate action that witnessing such suffering tends to inspire, we become a bright, brilliant beacon in the world and this gives our lives the true meaning and purpose that we so crave as humans. It is, after all, what life is all about.
“We are visitors on this planet,” wrote the Daila Lama. “We are here for ninety, one hundred years at most. During that period we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives. Try to be at peace with yourself and help others to share that peace. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” And it is what brings us to that path of living a passionate life.
There are also many tangible benefits for us, personally, when we take compassionate action. Science has shown that acts of kindness increase our ability to cope with physical pain and symptoms of chronic diseases. Compassionate action generates more serotonin in our brains, the key neurotransmitter responsible for our mood, energy, sleep, sharpness of thought, digestion, and health.
Examples in history
Psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote about his experiences as a prisoner of two concentration camps during the Holocaust, from which he learned that those prisoners who were the most resilient in this intensely horrific situation were those who found meaning by helping their fellow prisoners, giving of themselves, even if all they had to offer was a crumb. If we find a way to give meaning to our own circumstances by helping others, Frankl taught, we prevent deep despair in ourselves.
“The willingness to come close to suffering opens us to compassionate action,” wrote author and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, Joseph Goldstein. “Are we open to suffering of ‘all the people in the world?’ Are we even open to the suffering in our own bodies and minds?” The iconic singer, Leonard Cohen, sang, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
So, while following your path of dreams, or figuring what your dreams are, don’t be afraid to bear witness with compassion to the pain of others, no matter how different they are to you, and ask yourself what you can do to allow the light to flow into those cracks. If you run from, ignore, or justify the pain of others, you will likely never achieve the passion that you seek. With the increased mind and body wellness brought about by creating with compassion, we are, in fact, already on the path of living the passionate life.
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