Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints, or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. Seeing compassion in this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.
Dr Lorne Ladner rescues compassion from this marginalised view, showing how its practical application in our life can be a powerful force in achieving happiness. Combining the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology, Ladner presents clear, effective practices for cultivating compassion in daily living.
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The Lost Art of CompassionDiscovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology
By Ladner, Lorne
Buddhist masters always have emphasized that each moment of life is precious. In any given moment, we can allow life to pass us by or we can be mindful of what's most essential, living with genuine purpose, energy, and joy. Too often we find ourselves hurrying to grab our coffee, commute to work, and get to a meeting, rarely pausing to take a deep breath and seriously consider how we spend the limited number of precious moments that we have. When we're aware and awake in a given moment, we have the capacity to make that moment extraordinary.
So many of us come home from tiring days at work or school and automatically turn on a television or radio. We spend our evenings freely on such distractions, as though we had an endless supply. Once, my closest Buddhist teacher, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, came to stay at our home for a few days. Rinpoche is particularly famous for using each moment of life with great awareness and compassionate purpose. After a busy day we had dinner together, and Rinpoche then retired to his room to meditate. So my wife and I cleaned up a bit and then sat down, as was our habit at the time, to watch a late-night talk show. After some time Rinpoche came out and sat down by us. He said, "Oh, is he the onewho makes fun of people?" It struck me that Rinpoche looked at his own life and our lives as an anthropologist might look at the rituals of a tribe in some remote forest, with a mind always open and fresh, wondering what the purpose of these actions might be. As the talk-show interview about some recent scandal continued, I too began wondering what the purpose was.
We spend so much of our time doing things automatically that it is important to assess whether our habits bring us real joy. Whenever we think that how we spend a given day or even a given hour is unimportant, and whenever we think we need to rush through what we're doing so that later we can get to something more relaxing, meaningful, or important, we are cheating ourselves. In fact, we never know for certain that we'll be around for the future that we imagine. What is certain is that any of us can pause in this moment to consider what's most essential and then live this moment in a deliberate, meaningful, beautiful way.
Wholly in the Moment
Although each of us has only a limited number of evenings, thoughts, and breaths left in our lives, we rarely take the time to consider how they are spent. Such questions usually come up strongly during adolescence and early adulthood, when we challenge the values of our parents and our society and try to decide what in the world to do with our lives. These issues also may come up when we are faced with significant losses or transitions; a divorce, getting laid off, the death of a loved one, or the onset of an illness often cause people to reflect more deeply.
As a psychotherapist and teacher, I often ask people what they believe is most essential to living a happy and meaningful life. Many people say that although there is no question more important than this, they haven't thought about it in years. We become so busy and so engrossed in the small tasks of our lives that we find it difficult to step back and ask ourselves what matters most. If we haven't thought much about such issues and don't have a clear, personal answer, we probably will lack an overall sense of direction in life. It then becomes difficult to tell if we're making progress or going in circles. If we want to have a genuinely happy life, it's important to contemplate this question of what brings us joy and meaning throughout our lives. The more we consider what is most essential, the better our experiences can help us discover deeper answers.
When we ask what makes a happy and meaningful life, one problem that can arise is the tendency to respond with an answer that doesn't really come from the heart. At such times the conscious mind has one answer and the unconscious has another, so we become conflicted. An easy way to tell if you suffer from such an inner conflict is to see how well your daily activities match up with your beliefs. If you say that family is important but somehow don't find much quality time with yours each week; if you say that spirituality is important but spend only a few hours a week actively engaged in spiritual practice; if you say that helping others is important but you can't think easily of recent examples of your doing so, then there's probably a significant gap between the beliefs you hold consciously and the unconscious ones that are running your life.
Tibetans don't talk about unconscious beliefs, but they have a saying that's relevant. They say that a soup won't taste good if some of the vegetables just float around on the surface and don't get cooked. First we need to find our own deepest beliefs about what makes a meaningful and happy life. Then those ideas need to sink down and be cooked, flavoring our whole lives. One simple method taught in the Tibetan tradition to help facilitate this process is to begin each morning by thinking about how lucky you are to have another day of human life. You recall that no one is ever promised another day; you could have died last night, and this very day might be your last ... Continues...
Excerpted from The Lost Art of Compassion by Ladner, Lorne Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“Dr. Ladner’s book is inspiring for all of us, therapists and patients alike.”
“Lorne Ladner is like an inner archeologist brilliantly illuminating the neglected component of personal and global transformation.”
“This book carries the enlightened wisdom to heal relationship problems and mental suffering that trouble our life.”
“Exercising compassion will begin building an unshakeable happiness. Dr. Ladner’s written a wonderful book.”
“Ladner shows us that by nurturing compassion in our lives, we can discover deep strength, intimacy, and joy.”