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?
Is it compassion fatigue … or just a pit stop?
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.
A great guide to compassion, inspired by your father.
Albert’s competition looks good.
Thank you for this Arvind, I reread it a few times to slowly digest your beautiful message. Your courage and heart really shine through your words.
Thanks again for sharing this with all the GO! Smell the flowers gang, Arvind. That striking image of your father in his younger days will remain with us forever.
Thank you for sharing your story of your father’s passing. I’m sorry to hear he is no longer with us, but it’s great to see him living on forever through you. It’s also very touching, both in personal words, quotes, images, the works. I’m glad I have my tissue box with me here. Also thanks for taking part in the GWP.
My heart goes out to you at this difficult time for you. I know that shortly after losing your father every gesture of kindness matters enormously.
My own mother passed away earlier in 2007 – and she was a tremendous woman, full of courage and inspiration. Frequently she would speak to a stranger – and find that stranger to be in real need; displaying a gift of great sensitivity and compassion.
The fact that I had cared for her for many years – and it had been very challenging – she had dementia – is neither here nor there. It was, as I am sure it has been for you – a tremendous and awesome privilege to know and to be the son/daughter of that parent.
I too gave the address at the funeral – it was something that I needed to do – it was both an honour and a privilege to actually put into words the life of a great woman.
I recognise in you Arvind someone who will, whether you realise it or not, be a champion of compassion yourself – and I look forward to hearing of your impact on the world in 2008.
I know the world is a better place for having Arvind Devalia in it.
every encouragement and blessings to all in need or grieving this January 2008
My first visit to your blog.. I feel a bit nervous 🙂
I like the post on compassion. To be honest, I’m not sure if compassion is a value that can be acquired. I believe it is something that some people are blessed with and some not.
Compassion to me is a feeling of instantaneous empathy and a desire to make things better for someone THAT SPRINGS NATURALLY IN YOUR HEART when you seem someone in pain, sorrow or trouble.
I am amongst the lucky ones, God blessed me with the ability to feel compassion. Nothing to gloat about, it’s not something I worked for. I don’t have to think to be compassionate. It comes naturally. So much so that sometimes I’ve actually wondered if it’s really a blessing. When you give and give and give… and the receiver turns around and slap you in the face.
But we’re told that what man’s eyes mock and belittle, God’s angels bear witness to and value. No good deed is ever lost.
Just sharing a different perspective 🙂
I look forward to more thought-provoking posts from you here. And pictures of the Rift Valley if possible please.
I’d also like to invite you to my diary. If you visit (I’d need your e-mail to give you read access), please don’t expect posts along the lines of this comment here. After all I do have to live up to my namesake don’t I? 🙂
Excellent post, Arvind. Your father must have been a marvelous person. Thanks for sharing him with us.
A beautiful post, Arvind. Full of love and a worthy tribute to your father.
At the risk of sounding flippant, maybe some of our more contentious friends over at Flowers should read this…
A brave post and a beautiful way to celebrate the start of 2008. Thank you for sharing this with us
arvind, that was beautiful, you have done your father proud.now i understand where you come from and why you choose the life path you do.wow i never knew that about your father, his image was striking.and his big heart shined in it.i understand what makes you the person you are today,what an amazing father figure if not idol to have.you are so right about being truely present to access compassion, to listen and be a space for someone else.this could not of been more perfect timing for me personally to read such a beautiful piece if not master guide on compassion.
as a jewish woman i wish you a long life, may it be just what you want it to full of compassion and service, and may you continue to help awaken, move , touch and inspire those around you in your ever loving celebration of life.my deepest sympathies with you my dear friend. let us now be the ones to shine torches for you in your grief,and join you in your celebration of your fathers life.much love and jewish chicken soupxxxxx tallixxx
What a truly outstanding blog post and I believe your father would be truly proud with the message it conveys.
I so wholeheartedly concur with your message, it’s something I’ve always said to many people, that at times of death or disaster, it brings a whole new side of people but it should never take those kind of events for that to happen.
I’m going to post a link from my blog too as I truly your sharings!
All the best,
Arvind, This is such a beautiful glimpse of your father and your words have expressed his lasting impression on your life so eloquently. His legacy will go on through you, because you have recognized how his compassion and love for others made him the person he was. You shall walk along his path.
Sending a hug,
It is obvious where you get your compassion for others (and your good looks!) from.
I think this is my favorite line:
That perhaps is a key thing about compassion – you need to be fully present to really understand and empathise with another person’s pain.
Ha! I thought no one visited your blog! 😉
You should write more often mate! I come back to this same post after.. months ha! 😉
I have been having a break from blogging whilst grieving our loss. But I am back!
So watch this space….
So sorry to hear about your loss. My father also passed away 3 years ago suddenly with a heart attack (we had no warning that he even had heart problems). My heart is with you through this difficult period…I know how difficult it is. I am touched and inspired by your blog post celebrating his life. I am sure that he is also very proud of what you have achieved in your life and how you are handling his loss.
Lots of love
I’m so sorry to hear of your loss.
This post was sincerely amazing. Compassion is so important in our lives and you conveyed that message perfectly.
Thank you Arvind.
My dear Brother,
My heartfelt condolensces on your loss. Forgive me, had I known I would have been in contact immediately.
Life is indeed an opportunity, to grow, to find ourselves and in the service of others, selfless and pure, we discover the beauty of the Soul within others and ultimately reaslise our own wonder.
I am here as indeed are the family and countless others to help at this difficult time. You need not ask, only say so.
I recognise and applaud the strength and the inspiration and colours you bring to the lives of so many, may radiance and sunshine light the path ahead.
Thank you Arvind for your inspring words
well expressed,credit to your father.
It’s a long time since we’ve been in touch although I’ve felt connected through receiving your newsletters which always have notes of inspiration which touch deeply. Thank you for them.
What you have expressed about your father is beautiful and profound. It has led me to reflect on the loss of my own father in 2001 and I think that your words have helped me to unlock and revisit the qualities he had.
Thank you for the love you so openly share with others.
Thanks for your kind words – it is a major event in our lives when we lose a parent.
I am so glad that my words were in some way of comfort and healing to you.
And I am sure we will meet again soon.
Love and best wishes
As always your words come from the heart and that really makes them memorable. I have been thinking about compassion and I agree that the world will be a better place if we are all more compassionate, with ourselves and others. I also think it is compassion when someone is being less than nice to you and is even maybe giving you a hard time about something, to be able to stand back and not take it personally, but to see that this person is probably dealing with or reacting to a problem in their life – and to therefore try not to judge them – or get into a tit for tat situation. This is something that I am being conscious about – and granted its not always easy, but I think the more conscious you are about it the easier it becomes. So thanks for the reminder and spreading the love!
Thank you for your feedback about compassion. I too feel that it is compassion when you stand back from retaliating and accepting that there is something going on for the other person.
Funnily enough I am currently attracting a lot of messages from books and new friends along this theme. It is always about how we react to events outside of us that makes us who we are. The learning is to remain in total acceptance of what goes on outside of us and to be non-judgemental at all times.
I have been applying this lately in my life and it is amazing just how freeing it is! So much of our energy is invested in firstly judging everything and everyone and secondly in resistance or non acceptance of external things over which we have no control anyway!
I am finding myself becoming more and more present day by day….
Yes, and you too keep spreading the love.
Love and gratitude
Lovely to receive your newsletter today and thank you for the time you have taken to write it.
You have so many of your father’s qualities – now I see where you get your beauty and love from!
Sending love and warmest wishes, as always
Thanks Helen – I really do appreciate your love, support and kindness.
It is friends like you who have helped me get through the last few weeks.
Thanks Helen, it has been incredible the level of support and love I have received from friends, family and even relative strangers.
Makes me wonder how I would have otherwise got through the last few weeks.
Thanks for sharing about the loss of your own father.
And you got it bang on when you say that the important thing is to try and show compassion every day in our lives.
Thank you once again for this very insightful and heartfelt words on compassion. I am especially touched by your reference to the little downsyndrome bow, complete with bowtie at the Indian wedding party. Down syndrome children/people are especially close to my heart as I worked with them when I was young and know how wonderfully loving they are. “YES” his mother was correct in her acknowledgement of your kindness to her son. So many people become invisible to us. It is a true gift (which you, like your father have in abundance) to “see” with your heart and not just your eyes. It is a gift that brings acknowledgement and heartfelt joy to those that you “see”. Your father was indeed a beautiful human being at all levels and I believe Arvind that you are his true likeness and in you he lives on. Congratulations and thank you for your continued friendship my dear friend.
Love and kind thoughts Fiona ( she of many words and tortoise like progress)
Sometime it is better to have many words to say than none!
Thank you so much for your kind words and also for all yuor support over the last few weeks and months.
I have a cousin who is also a Down Syndrome boy and he is the most delightful, loving person I know 🙂
Love and best wishes
I finally read your message about compassion – lessons learned from your father. It is very moving.
I have been thinking about my family lately and have started to recognise some of their qualities i have never seen in them before.
I think this is true especially of people we know a long time (hmmmm, a life time in our parents case….sic) where you tend to have formed an opinion of them and you do not tend to revisit it. so we tend to see the same facets of those people, rather facets that we choose to see.
we also tend to fall into a relationship dynamic that is a little like pavlov’s dog – you react the same way, they react the same way and in many cases unfortunately there is little growth because we sit in this comfort zone (even zones of discomfort) based on years and years and years of knowing each other and repeating the same role.
I have inserted a conscious trick with my closest friends – maybe we should do some version of it with our parents – where every so often we ask of each other the following questions:
– what do you like about me
– what do you not like about me
– what have i done to hurt you
– what could i have done to support you
– what can we change to improve our friendship
Obviously the conversation has to be honest and open for it to be meaningful.
I would add to your message to not only do we need to learn to be more compassionate but we should also learn to receive compassion from others.
I watched a great movie the other night – I am sam. Your story reminded me of it. It is a wonderful movie about love and what we think is ‘normal’. It also reminds me that we can learn from everybody – no matter if they are ‘normal’, smart, poor, different colour, etc…..will say no more not to spoil it. Well worth the time.
Thanks Ana for your kind comments.
I totally agree with what you say about Pavlov’s dog – only this evening I had a telephone conversation with a friend and I could sense myself getting agitated in the same way that I often do in conversations with her.
I just feel that she acts helpless and like a child most of the time and yet is very capable. Sometimes I just feel like shaking her up a bit!
Hey, I also know that this is all about ME, and not HER.
Thanks for sharing about the conscious trick you use with your friends – great ideas. Why not try it with your parents too next time you see them?
I really wish I could have asked these questions of my father in his last few months as he was getting weaker and weaker and yet able to surf the net etc. Maybe one day I shall have this conversation with me – honest and open of course.
Perhaps I should try this anyway and use the NLP technique of perspective positions whereby you put yourselves at position 1, the other person at position 2 and a neutral observer at position 3.
During the grieving period for my father in December, one afternoon we were all sitting around in the lounge in a circle and I suggested we go around the room with each person sharing what they remembered about my father and what he meant to them.
It was a magical 10 minutes as everyone shared their fondest memories about my father – and funnily we even learnt a few things about him that we didn’t know from my aunts etc.
At the end of the session after everyone had had their say, I suggested we should do this more often, but with a LIVING person and not after he or she had passed away.
And then I said we didn’t even need a group. We could mentally picture a person in our life and imagine all their positive qualities and just what they mean to us. We could go one step further and write everything down and share it with that person.
We could expand on this by writing down things about a person we hardly even know and sharing them with that person. (I wonder what we would say about each other!!)
Can you imagine how the world would be a better place if we all lived our lives with this attitude of appreciation, complimenting and noticing people’s finest points?!
Finally you say that one should not only learn to be more compassionate but also learn to receive compassion from others.
So true! I have a major challenge receiving anything from people but in the last few weeks, it has been gratifying to find so many people wanting to support and help me. I am always the one helping so many people, so it actually felt great that I had this support during my greatest need.
Ironically, I actually miss this now as people get on with their own lives and it is as if the tap of compassion has been switched off abruptly!
I have not watched the movie “I am Sam” but it sounds great. I just checked it out on Google and would love to watch it soon…
Thank you as always for your inspirational courage at a time of real loss! I am a an occupational health nurse and I work in a Trust, everyday I try to support those who are unwell and sometimes unable to work for many reasons. But more and more often I find that if those who manage the teams of staff who work in hospitals, were just a little more compassionate, a little more understanding and patient, then people would be less likely to become ill. The physical so often has its roots in the psychological and when individual’s give unstintingly in their daily work, but do not receive the recognition and support their inner strength becomes depleted and they lose their way. Your words help me to believe that there is some hope for humanity and that each person supported to decide their future is perhaps the most important thing, that I do not need to change the whole only parts of it.
Thank you again for all that you give when I read your words!
Thanks Vanessa for your input and kind words – we all just need to do a little bit each and it make a huge difference to all the people around us.
Arvind ~ Oh, my goodness! What an amazing post. You definitely brought tears to my eyes. I am so moved by your pledge to make compassion and service your priority for life.
I love the Tibetan word the is usually translated as “compassion” but has far more meanings including:
*generosity of spirit
The Dalai Lama says It is both the source and the result of patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and all good qualities.”
Thank you for this incredible inspiration!
Thanks Sandra for your moving and kind words.
I wrote this post almost 3 years ago and it feels like I only wrote it yesterday.
And I would like to feel that I am still fulfilling my pledge of living a life of compassion. But it always feels that I could be doing so much more.
Lets see what unfolds in 2011.
Thanks again Sandra for your kind words.
Love and blessings