Just over a month ago, my father suddenly passed away after a short bout of flu and a chest infection. The time since then has been rather tender and yet surreal as we come to terms with our great loss.
It seems only yesterday that I wrote about Father’s day and how it was time to remember just what your father has done for you
What has kept us going during our time of grief has been the support and love from so many friends and family. It is amazing just what compassion and kindness people are capable of showing at such times.
Compassion is one of the most important things in our world and yet I think we understand and apply it so little. Indeed a few months ago, when my friend Albert the “Urban Monk” challenged me and others to write about their last ever blog message, I chose to write about showing more compassion.
Compassion is about putting yourself in the shoes of the other person and seeing the world from their perspective. It is about feeling their pain and empowering them to be their best. It is not about pity or patronizing.
As the Buddha said – “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike – each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”
And the Dalai Lama said – “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
I strongly feel that it is high time we really questioned how we are living our lives and treating our fellow human beings and the planet. Just how can we learn to treat each other with more kindness, care, consideration and dare I say it with love?
How can we learn from the events in the world today to bring more compassion into the world?
What exactly is Compassion?
“Compassion as an understanding of the emotional state of another. It is often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another or to show special kindness to those who suffer. It is often characterised through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for”.
“Acts of compassion are generally considered those which take into account the pain of others and attempt to alleviate that pain”. – Wikipedia
By that definition, my family and I have been simply overwhelmed with the compassion shown to us by our many friends and family members over the last few weeks.
I have been contacted by numerous people from my distant past and many friends have sent the most moving messages and cards.
My father was very well known in our community all over the UK for his all many activities in the service of others and it has been heartening to receive so many messages of condolences from so many people who are yet only strangers to me. I am beginning to see my father through new eyes as I realise just what he meant to so many people.
It’s a Wonderful Life of Compassion
On Christmas Day I watched yet again one of my all time favourite movies – “It’s a Wonderful Life!” all about a man who feels like a total failure and just when his spirit is about to be broken, his guardian angel, Clarence, falls to Earth, and shows him how his town, family, and friends would turn out if he had never been born.
Watching this movie did make me wonder and appreciate just how many lives my own father had touched himself through his life of service to others, both in Kenya and in the UK.
Learning about Compassion
The main lesson for me over the last few weeks has been just how compassionate and kind people can be during such a time.
It is really wonderful how human beings have this amazing capacity to be compassionate. For the first few days after the passing away of my father, we all felt incredibly close to each other as we grieved our loss and perhaps also appreciated for the first time our own mortality. Amidst the sadness and grief, there was a feeling of tenderness and closeness amongst my siblings and other family members I had never experienced ever before.
Mystery about Sustaining Compassion
The mystery however is why such compassion and closeness cannot be sustained. Are we scared to show our own vulnerability? If so, maybe it is time to be human and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
The other thing about compassion at such times is why usually we don’t appreciate people and their positive points whilst they are still alive?!
Also, what about the tidal wave of compassion we get worldwide after an international natural disaster such as Tsunami or Katrina?
It is over 3 years since Tsunami caused so much destruction and death in South East Asia. Whilst the Tsunami waves caused death and distruction, the world re-discoverd what it was like to be compassionate.
Then in 2005, Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding region; and later that year there was also a huge earthquake in Pakistan. Again there was a huge “outbreak” of compassion. At the time, inspired by the efforts of two friends I even created a simple website to emphasise that Love is all that Matters.
But just how do we harness this force for good? How can we encourage people to carry out acts of kindness and compassion during “normal” times and not just during a natural catastrophe?
Surely, it is time we really questioned how we are living our lives and treating our fellow human beings and the planet.
The questions we have to answer are:
How can we as humans change our behaviour as a result of such tragedies?
What’s really important to us?
What are our beliefs?
How can we learn from say Tsunami and Katrina, and other such incidents to bring even more love into the world?
What will YOU do in 2008 to bring more LOVE into the world?
Lessons in Compassion from my Father
A month ago I just about managed to do one of the hardest things I have ever done or indeed would want to do – I spoke briefly at my father’s funeral.
In my brief eulogy I said how his greatest gift was his compassion for people. I also urged the attended gathering of over two hundred people that it was now time for the tears to stop and to celebrate his life.
So what are the lessons in compassion that I learnt from my father?
For a start he always had the time and patience to talk to everyone he met. To give someone your total attention is actually quite a gift. And what better way to share any troubles than with someone who you know will totally listen to you without any judgement? That perhaps is a key thing about compassion – you need to be fully present to really understand and empathise with another person’s pain.
Another thing was how he was always genuinely interested in what was going on in people’s lives. He would spend a long time getting to know someone and truly understand them as people. Backed up with his phenomenal memory for names, faces and facts, he created many lifelong friendships with strangers.
Finally, he always had a gift for everyone, ranging from one of his latest books to cards with inspirational words, diaries or beautiful handmade pocket calendars. He remained in touch with many people over the years and he was famed for always sending out personalised Diwali greeting cards and his card was always the first one to be received each year.
However the most important lesson he taught me was his readiness and willingness to really help anyone in distress in whatever way he could. He was actually quite a softie and I could always sense his compassion for others.
Over the years, he directly and indirectly helped and comforted thousands through his many spiritual and philosophical writings.
So looking back on my father’s life he was a very compassionate human being – and I would like to think that somehow he left his mark on me.
Time to Celebrate my Father’s Life
One way of remembering my father and to celebrate his life would be by being as compassionate as he was in his lifetime.
I do believe that we all have this deep capacity for compassion – we just have to get present to it.
To highlight my point here is a story, that has been doing the rounds of the internet and email for many years. Though I am not sure whether this is exactly what really happened or if at all, it does have a wonderful message for all of us.
It also reminds us of the old adage that you can get everything you want in your life, by helping others get what they want. So do grasp the message about compassion from this story, regardless of whether it is fact or fiction:-
Some time ago, at the Seattle Olympics, nine athletes, all mentally or physically challenged, were standing on the start line for the 100 m race.
The gun fired and the race began. Not everyone was running, but everyone wanted to participate and win.
They ran in threes, a boy tripped and fell, did a few somersaults and started crying.
The other eight heard him crying.
They slowed down and looked behind them.
They stopped and came back… All of them…
A girl with Down’s Syndrome sat down next to him, hugged him and asked, “Feeling better now?”
Then, all nine walked shoulder to shoulder to the finish line.
The whole crowd stood up and applauded. And the applause lasted a very long time…
People who witnessed this still talk about it.
Because deep down inside us, we all know that the most important thing in life is much more than winning for ourselves.
The most important thing in this life is to help others to win. Even if that means slowing down and changing our own race.
So who can YOU help today?
This reminds me of a time when many years ago at a wedding party in India I saw a little Down’s Syndrome child dancing on the floor, splendidly resplendent in a dinner jacket and bow tie. He was a better dancer than me any day, and I later found out that he had won awards for his dancing and music, in competitions for “normal” children.
I went up to him, chatted and made friends. A few minutes later his mother came to me with tears in her eyes and said how much she appreciated me talking to her son, as most people just ignored him.
Maybe this was also a cultural thing, being in India, but whatever it was, to me it seemed the natural thing to do to chat to the boy.
So many times, we all hide our true human feelings and we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable and compassionate. Try it today – and do write back on this blog with comments about your experiences.
How Can We Bring More Compassion into the World Today?
To end this post, let us look at a simple yet powerful way of bringing more compassion into the world today.
A few months ago I attended a workshop about compassion at the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. It was quite an inspirational afternoon, and certainly left all of us feeling more compassionate towards ourselves and each other.
The question we have to ask is whether compassion is innately within us or is it learnt? For example, when we hear about starving kids in Asia or Africa, one may well ask what it has to do with me?
Compassion arises with a change of perspective about who we really are and our relationship to the rest of the world.
In the mid-seventies, Betty Williams in Ireland set up an organisation soon after hearing that some children had been shot during the Northern Ireland conflict. She cried – “what kind of people have we become to allow our children to be killed in the streets?”
Within 4 hours, she had galvanised her community and had soon collected 16,000 names in a petition. She later went on to win the Nobel peace prize.
We don’t have to wait to carry out such major acts of compassion either.
Though we all have the potential to be a mother Teresa, we can begin today through small acts of kindness and compassion in our own world.
So how does one simply go about bringing more compassion into our life and into the world?
The first act of compassion is to look at our own needs firsts. Then develop the inner power for the 3C’s – Care, Compassion and Crying in public. By crying in public it is meant being willing and being vulnerable to show your kindness and compassion to the world – being willing to be raw and able to show your humanity.
To get you started today on bringing more compassion into your world and the world at large, here are the simple exercises from the workshop I attended:
1. Think about an event / act of compassion you carried out.
Ask your self – what qualities are already in me to allow me to be compassionate?
E.g kindness, empathy, love, sympathy, goodness, listening, understanding and so on.
2. We are all compassionate and we all have examples where we have been compassionate. But what about the other side?
Think of an incident when you were NOT compassionate.
What characteristics were you showing then?
E.g being judgemental, thoughtlessness, being selfish.
3. Then ask yourself what is stopping you from being more compassionate.
What qualities do I have that stops me from being more compassionate?
E.g. impatience, being judgemental
Remember to be kind and compassionate to yourself when answering this question!
4. Ask yourself what qualities you would like to have MORE of in your life.
What qualities would make me more compassionate?
E.g. patience, understanding.
5. Finally, have the intention to be more compassionate today and every day from now on.
What will you do today to be more compassionate?
• Enjoy quality time with family and show them more understanding
• Thank friend and stop judging him / her.
• Be in gratitude for what I have.
• Stop beating myself up! Remember, compassion begins at home.
• Arrange party at home for friends to show my appreciation of them for all their support over the last few weeks.
Enjoy bringing more compassion today into your life.
Just what will YOU do today to bring more compassion in the world today?
As for me, in memory of my father and his legacy, I aim to make the rest of my life, one of compassion and service to the world.