A Meditation for Compassion

Try this meditation to avoid falling into harmful ego traps.

November 2, 2015

The feelings of loneliness, disconnection, and separation that can plague a hero on a journey, feelings that can also predispose you to illness, are born of a separation story created by the ego. The ego tells us we are separate from divinity, separate from each other, separate from love, when this is a bald-faced lie.

We are all connected to divinity, to each other, and to the Force that unites us, yet the ego needs to make itself "other" in order to feel relevant. The existential angst that arises from this tragic and artificial otherness creates suffering in us.


But you need not suffer. Notice any feelings that arise from this ego story, a story that demonstrates two sides of the same coin. One side feels like inadequacy, unworthiness, or negative comparisons and leaves you feeling inferior, judgmental, or jealous of others. The other side feels like specialness, superiority, arrogance, self-cherishing, or being better than others. (Try the 21-Day Practicing Compassion Challenge to transform yourself and the people you touch with compassionate actions!)

Both are ego traps that separate you from divinity and from the other Divine souls with whom you are connected in a web of perfect Divine cosmic unity.

More: How to Cultivate Compassion

If this sounds familiar, don't fret. There's nothing to do other than notice your separation story. Become the observer of how your ego operates, without making yourself wrong or beating yourself up. The minute you realize your Inner Pilot Light is infinitely more powerful than your ego, you create distance from that separation story and realize you are not the small, lonely self your ego wants you to believe you are. Instead, you are this expansive, powerful, loving, connected Consciousness that is tied into your own Divine Essence as well as the Divine Essence of every other human being, animal, and plant on this planet. Your Inner Pilot Light is the essence of who you really are, underneath who your parents taught you to be or how society influenced you.


Hero's Practice:
Tonglen Meditation for Compassion
Try this Tibetan Buddhist practice, which I described in The Fear Cure. This meditation practice of taking on the suffering of others and replacing it with your happiness, compassion, and peace through your breath has numerous benefits. It dissolves the self-protection, clinging, and fixation of the Small Self and opens the heart. It reverses the Small Self's tendency to avoid suffering and seek pleasure and liberates you from the prison of selfishness. What is the Small Self? Inside your mind, you'll hear many voices. The voice of your ego—your Small Self—comes in many disguises. I call it the "Small Self" because it's like a child. It is small and can't be trusted to make healthy, discerning, spiritually mature decisions, but it's not something that needs your judgment; it needs your compassion. 

More: The Most Powerful Exercise You'll Ever Do for Yourself

In the beginning, you may find that you resist this meditation practice. It may bring up all your revulsion, resentment, frustration, anger, and avoidance of suffering. If you experience these feelings, use them to deepen the practice. Let the poison of life's suffering become the medicine. By doing this practice, your heart will open more and more and you will become a vessel of compassion that heals others with your presence. Imagine a world in which we all practiced tonglen every day.


• Start by cleansing your emotional landscape. Sit quietly and focus on your breath as you allow your mind to become still. Using your breath, see yourself breathing in any negative emotions you might be feeling right now and then breathing out peace and joy. Purify your emotional landscape by repeating this process until you feel calm and clear.

• Next, cleanse yourself. See yourself as two beings—your Inner Pilot Light and your Small Self. As you breathe in, visualize your Inner Pilot Light breathing in all of your Small Self's suffering into its wide-open heart. As you breathe out, see your Inner Pilot Light sending your Small Self healing, peace, calmness, love, and compassion. In the compassionate embrace of your Inner Pilot Light, your Small Self responds by opening its heart, too, and all the suffering dissolves.

• Cleanse your wrongdoings by considering a situation where you didn't behave as your best self. Maybe you feel guilty or ashamed or regretful. As you think about this situation, accept responsibility for it as you breathe in, and then as you breathe out, acknowledge your wrongdoing and send forgiveness to yourself and offerings of love, peace, and reconciliation to the ones you harmed.

• Now that you've cleansed your emotional landscape and your Small Self's pain and moved into the energy of forgiveness and reconciliation, expand your tonglen practice for others. Start with just one person you want to help. Invoke the presence of the Divine in your heart, and then as you feel the pain or suffering this person is feeling, visualize the pain as grimy black smoke that you breathe in. As you breathe it in, this toxic smoke dissolves in the openness of your heart and purifies your heart of any of the Small Self's grasping, self-protection, or self-absorption that prevents you from sensing the Oneness of all beings. As you breathe out, see yourself spreading light, love, compassion, and happiness to the one in pain.

• Now expand this practice beyond one person into the collective. Breathe in the suffering of others, and then as you breathe out, see the rays of light, love, and compassion touching every soul on the planet. This practice can be very powerful, infusing the energy of compassion into the culture and connecting us in our web of Oneness.

• If you find yourself resisting this practice, notice any emotions that come up: resentment, fear, anger, sadness, terror, revulsion, feelings of revenge.

Also notice any physical sensations: tightness in your chest, gripping in your solar plexus, or a feeling of heaviness or darkness. As you breathe in, feel the Oneness with all the other people on the planet who are feeling just the way you do. As you breathe out, send relief to all suffering beings, including yourself.

Adapted from Anatomy of a Calling