Becoming Compassion-New

Step 7 – Part 2

by Sara Neall

When I look out into the world and see so much suffering, I want to do something. This desire to ease suffering is the root of my compassion. However, when I pay attention, what arises next is often judgment and righteousness.  My mind often fixates on how I think things ‘should’ be rather than on seeing the complexities that exist.

Step 7, of The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life offers me clarity on how to understand the righteous quality of my mind.

In this step, Karen Armstrong asks us to “make place for other.” (p.117)

She outlines how to ‘make place’ in three ways:

  1. to recognize and appreciate the unknown and unknowable
  2. to become sensitive to over-confident assertions of certainty in ourselves and in other people
  3. to make ourselves aware of the numerous mysteries of each human being we encounter

As I contemplate these steps through my lens of the Buddhist teachings, it feels to me like the practice of “sampajanna” or clear comprehension. Sampajanna is not a practice of acquiring knowledge; it is a practice of seeing thoroughly. Rather than seeking to be right, it guides me to be more open. With this practice, I imagine that I am training my mind to be balanced, strong and flexible.

I have recently begun to learn to draw. In this pursuit, I realize that drawing what I ‘think’ I see and drawing what I actually see are two completely different things. In order to draw the scene in front of me, I must deconstruct it. I must look at my subject, line-by-line; shape by shape and most importantly see how each part of the scene exists in relationship with the other parts. It requires seeing thoroughly.

In part one, of step seven, Sister Henrita reminds us of, “how little we know about the needs of the world community.” How little we know shouldn’t stop us from acting with compassion, simply it should reminds us to ask questions, to listen deeply and to see how our individual actions are related to the bigger world.  It is this humility that is a key to compassion.