Tag Archives: Compassion

On Being Loved

If you have as many true friends as you can count on one hand, that’s a lot.

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but it’s stayed with me for years. It has held me up when I’ve been alone, afraid, and unconvinced that there was such a thing as feeling better. It’s what keeps me holding my friends close and trying to be to others who they are to me.

Since friends are special and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I wanted to say a few things about friends, about the people who have come to be my people. February 14 is the day we’re supposed to remind our people that we love them, though I try not to let mine forget.

True friends are the people who have stopped what they were doing to be happy or sad with me, who tell me when I’m wrong and cheerfully admit when I’m right, who have welcomed me into their arms and homes and lives all over the world, who have seen me grow, who want for me what I want and don’t mind how often that changes. These are the people who I turn to at any time for any reason because they’re always glad to have me. These are the people who I can (and have) called at odd hours with laughter and with tears. These are the people who witness my life the way that I witness theirs.

Like any relationship, that with friends ebbs and flows. The people who immediately come to mind when I think of counting on one hand (which, admittedly, is a very rare occurrence) have remained largely static for some time, but I always find it interesting to observe how, why, and when that changes. Life changes. People change.

But what doesn’t change is the warmth and love that all of these people make me feel. Being reminded, flooded, with all of that love augments my desire to bring warmth and love to everyone else. I’ve found loving-kindness meditation to be particularly helpful in guiding me to let go of frustrations, irritations, and anger that get in the way of the compassion and caring that I prefer to feel. It’s also a good reminder of everyone who loves me – and I admit that sometimes I do need a reminder.

Valentine’s Day can be difficult for people who don’t feel like they have people. The circle of people in loving-kindness meditation ultimately extends to all humanity, so I can assure you that you’ve got me.

DSC02290 (1)
Made by Hmong women in Sapa, Vietnam

To all of my people, thank you for everything. Love you now, love you always.

Compassion is Still a Practice

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I change it regardless of the time of year. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Over the weekend I sifted through some old writing and reread my post on compassion  from May 2015. While I previously committed to practicing compassion to myself and those around me, I’d forgotten the journey I took to get there. I’d forgotten the finer points of the thought process that helped me understand what it means to be a kinder, more compassionate individual. Rereading that blog post reminded me and I’m glad it did.

Reflecting, I think I’m more judgemental than I want to be. While there are definitely  circumstances when passing judgement on another person is appropriate, there are likely many more when it is not. Anything that qualifies as gossip almost certainly falls into the latter category. There are few things we can unequivocally determine about others, yet we are quick to draw conclusions that may be dangerously inaccurate or at the very least, misguided. Those conclusions affect our actions towards others or our thoughts about them, often to the point of never attempting to know or understand them. The mere thought of engagement with someone we have condemned becomes abhorrent and inconceivable. This then leads to a breakdown in social relationships, an unwillingness to step outside of our tight circles, and a refusal to hear or recognize perspectives that might differ from our own. We are uncomfortable admitting that whatever we heard might be more complicated than we initially thought.

This is what happens when we are quick to appraise others, especially those we don’t know. We smile knowingly at those in our confidence and say things like, “I’m in no position to judge but. . . .” We admit to knowing that we don’t have the knowledge or understanding to say what we’re about to say.

And then we say it.

I’m guilty of this, too, which is why I’m writing this post. The next time I catch myself (or you catch me!) beginning such a sentence, I’d like to stop with, “I’m in no position to judge.” And then I’d like to take a moment to think about what I want to say. Maybe there is nothing to say, which should be the end of the conversation. I expect this to be the case rather frequently.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, I believe we need to accept Matthieu Ricard’s explanation of ignorance as “the mental confusion that deforms reality and gives rise to an array of mental obstructions such as hatred, compulsive desire, jealousy, and pride”. We need to accept that ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. From there, we have to accept that people who do harmful things are suffering in some way due to ignorance, due to mental confusion. When we approach others and their actions already knowing that the actions are a mere glimmer of what might be happening internally, it far easier to approach other people mindfully, thoughtfully, and compassionately. It is far easier to extend a hand in love, kindness, and generosity to help them return to a place where the inner confusion and turmoil do not take such a hold.

This way of seeing others, truly seeing and not just looking at or looking past, paves the way for dialogue and understanding, essential aspects of building a better and more peaceful world. Though I firmly believe this, I’ve been negligent in my practice of compassion because I often find it challenging. I tend to feel emotion very intensely and can be uncomfortably reactive in my thoughts, though that’s now much rarer in my actions and behavior. I’m much better at keeping the thoughts to myself than I used to be but I’d like to grow stronger at tamping down the thoughts as they begin rather than letting them flare until they burn out.

Compassion is a practice. It is ongoing. It can hurt, it can heal, and it will wax and wane as we work at it. But it will ultimately get easier and hopefully become a deliberate habit. I have a renewed understanding of this. Practicing compassion is necessary if we are to create a better, more peaceful world. Simple as that.

If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, I might put this one aside for next year. I might brush it off as something to do someday but not quite today. But I don’t, which is why I’m writing about it tonight. Life is about getting better daily and this is one way I’m trying to do it beginning right now.

On Living

Yesterday I thought I saw a former student walking towards me on 14th Street. I felt a grin spread across my face and nearly called out to say hello. And then I remembered.

That student passed away earlier this year. She was shot.

The stranger came closer and I realized they hardly resembled each other. I turned my head away. No one looks too long in New York.


Early last week my mum called to tell me that a dear friend of my sister’s had died. Drug overdose.

I was on the train home when she called and I had nothing to say. After staring out the window in silence for a few stops without seeing any of the stations, I called a friend and asked for help. He told me, There’s nothing to say.


On Friday, I had a conversation with a student, a rabbi’s son, about what happens when God isn’t there or isn’t listening. This child is suffering and doesn’t know why God can’t hear him. He suggested that maybe God has grown too old, too frail, and is now incapable of doing all that God used to do to intervene in the lives of everyday people and propel the world towards a higher plan. My student mentioned that he thought people who believe in God are less likely to commit suicide than people who don’t. Why? I asked. Because even if you can’t live for yourself, you can live for God, he explained. Statistically, I think he’s right, but I said a few words about mental health and the importance of medication for fixing a sick brain, just like medication fixes a sick body. You mean depression? he asked. I nodded. Yeah, he said, I know about that.

My student asked what I thought about a God who doesn’t listen, and I told him I no longer believe in anything I can’t prove. What about air? he asked. You can’t prove that you breathe air. I cupped my hand in front of my mouth, took an audible breath, and blew into it. Yes, I said, I can.

I asked my student how it felt to think that God really isn’t listening, really isn’t anywhere, and really can’t do anything at all. He wasn’t ready to go there. That’s okay. In times of suffering, it’s helpful to think that someone or something is watching and cares.

This I know because I’ve been there.


What makes you good at what you do? my therapist asked once.

I don’t like the self-promotion part of having a career.

I think that kids just want to be treated like people. I think a lot of adults lose sight of that and I try really hard not to.


Last summer, I read an article on one of my favorite blogs about The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. Shortly thereafter, I read the novel and recommended it to everyone who asked for a good book. I’ve yet to see a more moving portrayal about what it means to live and to love.

The article contains a quote that has been saved on my GoogleKeep ever since. de Botton says,

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

That’s what I’ve been reminded of this week. That we’re all fragile, that life is fragile. That we’re all holding ourselves together to get from one day to the next and that allowing others to simply be, to breathe freely and deeply, is perhaps the greatest act of compassion we can perform for one another. An act in which we merely stand by the sides of those we love, holding their hands when they need it and letting them go when they don’t.

We are all these incredibly fragile beings. This acknowledgment should give us permission to err, to be forgiven, and to grow, both together and apart, as friends, partners, lovers, and just as people.

We are all doing the best that we can. Knowing this means going easy with one another, as de Botton suggests. Understanding and accepting others for who and what they are then comes from a place of genuine care and concern for well-being. It means meeting individuals where they are, not where we think they should be.


You act like there’s no one left
Alive in the whole city
Well maybe the end is upon you
And what then?
Here, repeat after me
It goes, I won’t stop loving
I won’t stop loving
You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to play well
You don’t have to fix everything
All by yourself
Now don’t laugh ’cause I just might be
The soft curve in your hardline

-“Hardliners,” Holcombe Waller

Whoever you are, whatever you need, I will go easy on you. You’re safe here.