Because our intention is to wake up so we can help others do the same, we rejoice as much in seeing where we’re stuck as we rejoice in our loving kindness. This is the only way for true compassion to emerge: this is our opportunity to understand what others are up against. Like us, they aspire to open up, only to see themselves close down; like us, they have the capacity for joy, and out of ignorance they block it. For their sake and ours, we can let the story lines go and stay present with an open heart—and rejoice that we’re even interested in such a fresh alternative.
Cultivating compassion for 10 minutes a day can lead to twenty-four hours of joy.
~ Dalai Lama
Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
The practice of patience guards us against losing our presence of mind. It enables us to remain undisturbed, even when the situation is really difficult. It gives us a certain amount of inner peace, which allows us some self-control, so that we can choose to respond to situations in an appropriate and compassionate manner, rather than being driven by our disturbing emotions.
– Dalai Lama
In meditation, we become familiar with letting go. We watch our thoughts arise and let them go. We’re spreading our wings, loosening up, so that we can let go anytime. When we rise from our meditation seat, we can continue the practice of letting go as we bring it forth into our day. Letting go of attachment is the ultimate generosity, because it connects us with our wisdom and compassion.
~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Where do you live?
Buena Vista, Colorado and Austin, Texas
How did you come to meditation?
From an early age, my interaction with the world has been very physical through dance, sports and outdoor adventures. Yoga asana felt very natural for me as a physical as well as a spiritual endeavor, so becoming a yoga teacher was part of my personal continuum. As injuries limited my asana practice, the spiritual side of yoga grew as I learned more about meditation. I attended a weeklong silent retreat in one of my favorite places on the planet: The Esalen Institute on the California coast in Big Sur. The teachers were an amazing team of Tibetan Buddhist and yoga practitioners: Sarah Powers, Tias Little, Richard Freeman, Patricia Sullivan & Ty Powers. I was inspired by the interplay of silence, meditation, yoga asana and philosophy, dharma teachings and science. I came home to an invitation in my inbox for Kelly Lindsey’s second series at Dharma on meditation preliminaries. Kelly picked right up on the topics in which I had just been immersed, and the rest is history.
What inspires you to meditate?
Being part of this sangha inspires me to meditate. The intellectual conversations, the emotional connections, the collective seeking. The calm and focus I aspire to in meditation comes and goes, but the community remains there always to encourage me, see me, and love me.
What does your meditation practice look like?
At first, I wondered if it “counted” to meditate in class. I worried that I wouldn’t develop my own daily practice because I relied on Kelly and her classes to get me on my cushion. In short, I don’t worry about that any more! Meditating with my friends is the anchor of my practice, whether in class, outside at Laguna Gloria, or now online through Mind Oasis. When I sit alone on days with no class, I miss the accountability and the instruction, which I always find new and informative. My practice is also fed by retreats, whether communal or personal. For me these are a time to get away to reevaluate what my heart most longs for what is precious to me. It’s a time to build clarity, courage and compassion.
Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?
I have used the app Insight Timer for many years to bring that accountability to my personal meditation sessions. I’ll preferably use my own Nepalese singing bowl to begin and end my sessions if it’s handy. My altar had to move around with me quite a bit, and has currently been reduced to a Buddha keyring flashlight and some pocket reminders in a travel case! Every day is different for me. Rituals like preparing the body, reading passages, lighting candles, dedicating the merit of the practice and ending with journaling have come and gone over the years. Just getting on the cushion is the most important thing.
How is your life different because of meditation?
Meditation has brought a stillness in my life that I crave if it’s not part of my day. It nourishes the introvert in me. Meditating in a sangha has given me like-minded friends that, like me, seek an understanding of what no one can truly know. I feel warm and held and understood by them. I don’t feel like an outsider trying to explain my deepest questions and path. Instead, I’m walking it with good company.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?
Consistency in practice remains a challenge. I had this “novel” idea that when I began teaching meditation, I would offer the accountability and consistency of a schedule that I myself needed. I just couldn’t figure out how I could be held accountable for that everyday. Then, voilà! Karuna created Mind Oasis and that consistency was born for free seventeen times per week for all who wish to enjoy it! I am currently trying to attend a class everyday, and I love it!
What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?
Just sit. With or without a cushion, with or without an altar, with or without a schedule, with or without a timer, with or without the time. Just sit.
What does your heart most long for?
I try to see and understand all whom I encounter to create a true heart connection. I long most to be seen and understood, myself. This connection is a prerequisite for compassion, kindness and generosity. I’ll continue to strive to bring consistency to my practice, so that I can come back to each moment and each person I encounter with true seeing and understanding. I then, too, will be seen and understood.
Dana Wills graduated from the Dakini Meditative 300-Hour Meditation Teacher Training in 2017. She now teaches meditation online through Mind Oasis’ free program, Meditate on the 8s.
There are three qualities of brilliant sanity: openness, clarity, and compassion. They are unconditional. They are our nature no matter what is going on. If we are sick or well, confused or awake, psychotic or not, we are still brilliantly sane. Whether we believe it or not, whether we feel it or not, still it is our nature. When we can bring openness, clarity, and compassion to our experience – no matter what our experience is – then we are tapping into our basic brilliant sanity. In any moment this is possible. We can always touch our brilliant sanity.
~ Karen Kissel Wegela
The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.
– Albert Schweitzer
Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.
– Pema Chodron
With access to so much news and information, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the pain in the world. It’s tempting to numb out or choose to stop keeping up with what’s happening near and far. I am a strong advocate for taking time off from media to restore ourselves. But eventually our practice means we are called to return to the world and its pain with tender-hearted compassion.
One way you can cultivate compassion is through a traditional seven-step method for awakening bodhichitta, the “soft spot” everyone has within which we sometimes close ourselves off from.
7 Steps to Awakening Compassion
At the beginning of any meditation practice, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes moving the body gently, feeling your way into your body. Then you may settle into stillness and the natural rising and falling of the breath.
It’s called the 7-step method, but there are really eight steps, because we begin the practice by resting in equanimity, which is considered an important preliminary to the practice.
Preliminary: Rest in equanimity. We all want to be happy and free from pain. We all share this same underlying aspiration and intention for our lives. Equanimity is not not caring, it is caring for everyone equally, because we recognize our sameness. Equanimity is wanting happiness and freedom for everyone, not just family and friends and people we like.
1. Awaken a sense of connectedness with all beings. Start with your friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances and people who have contributed to your life. Then radiate outward, opening to include as many people as possible, gaining a sense of the profound interconnectedness of all people across the world. Our lives are dependent on countless others, who endure considerable hardship to help us and bring us the things we need.
2. Recall the kindness of others. Feel all the love and kindness that you have received in your life, starting with your mother, father, family, teachers, friends, lovers. Feel their care, attention and love which has helped you to become who you are. Contemplate all the ways that you have received gestures of kindness and compassion from others.
3. Feel gratitude. Allow your gratitude to grow into the wish to repay the gestures of kindness you’ve received. Begin to cultivate an attitude of care and concern toward all of those who have contributed to your life and well-being in all ways, big and small.
4. Cultivate love and the capacity to care. Invite the wish for others to be happy and to have all they need to live a good life.
5. Develop compassion. Even as you wish well for others, stay open to the pain and hardship that others are enduring in their lives. Feel your deep wish to alleviate suffering in any way you can.
6. Take personal responsibility. Considering your life, work, relationships, and the choices you make every day. Consciously make the intention to use your life to cultivate happiness and alleviate suffering in any and every way you can. You may wish to use this passage to help connect with this intention:
In order to benefit all these beings
who live with so much suffering and
through whose kindness I live,
I offer myself immediately in Service to all.
7. Rest in bodhichitta. Allow the thoughts, images and stories to fall away. Rest in this open-hearted state, staying open to all the feelings that arise within you.
At the end of your practice, offer a dedication. You might say something like: By the virtue of these meditations, may I feel inspired to deepen my own practice and expand my heart’s capacity for loving and caring for others. May I come to recognize the infinite kindnesses that have been bestowed on me by limitless beings, that I may work to repay their kindness by offering love and compassion, that I may take personal responsibility through my heartfelt intention to increase my capacity for helping others cultivate happiness and alleviate suffering.
Everyday Compassion Practice
Every time you sit down to enjoy a meal, take a moment to think about how many people contributed to bringing that meal to your table. From the animals, to the farmers, to the transporters, to the grocers, to the cooks, etc. Allow a sense of connection with all these beings, near and far, feeling gratitude, and just offering the simple wish that all these beings who contributed to your enjoying this meal experience happiness and freedom.