“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama

I like to keep up to date with current developments in mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism. This results in my contact with varying interpretations on the benefits of living a lifestyle which includes compassion for self, for the other, for animals and the environment.

Karen Armstrong

However, it was Karen Armstrong who first drew my attention to the power of this personal quality.  Her interest in compassion arose from her own struggle with religious belief.  When she lost her faith in the Catholicism in which she was raised, she was motivated to study a wide range of different religions.  This led to her understanding of the main role played by compassion in all the different faiths; those of both the East and the West.

Promoting her ideas on TED

In 2007 she drew the attention of a broad audience to the benefits the practice of compassion can bring to the individual when incorporated into our lifestyle.   With a beautifully articulated TED talk,   she created an awareness of how compassion needs to be learned to enhance our wellbeing.  “Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other,” she said.

In 2008 that she was awarded the annual TED prize for promoting the importance of developing a compassionate lifestyle.    She believed in a worldwide movement towards minimising war if the benefits of compassion could be learned and practised by a sufficient number of people.  https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion?language=en

Charter for Compassion

Karen worked with an international panel on a Charter for Compassion, which came out in 2012.  It opens with these words: “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.   Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect…………………”

Matthieu Ricard

It was Matthieu Ricard who trained as an engineer and later became a Monk who first drew scientific attention to the neurological changes taking place in our brain when we have developed our capacity for compassion.   It was about 25 years ago when he was the first person to be placed in an MRI machine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to meditate on compassion.   What the scientists observed was profound.   The needle measuring the activity of the delta waves of the unconscious mind jumped off the graph paper.   Due to his thousands of hours of meditation, Ricard had control over parts of his brain that are normally unconscious. You can listen to him here: https://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_how_to_let_altruism_be_your_guide

Meditation and Compassion

The psychoanalytic model divides the mind into the Conscious, the Unconscious, and the Subconscious.   With the long term practice of meditation, you can gain access to both the unconscious and the subconscious mind, which helps you to have greater control of your emotions.  This is what makes the study of the theory and practice of Meditation and Mindfulness so worthwhile.   I put myself through a two-year University Diploma Course on the theory and practice of mindfulness as for the past six years have developed a daily early morning meditation practice.   I do believe that this regular routine has allowed me to maintain my emotional responses at equilibrium and not overreact to stress and the inevitable receiving of bad news.

Self-Compassion

Christine Neff, who is the leader in promoting the capacity to look after ourselves, says very wisely, “Compassion for others isn’t sustainable without compassion for self.  Self-compassion involves “being with” ourselves in a compassionate way, as we naturally do for our friends who struggle.   It also involves protecting and motivating ourselves.   Saying “no” to others who are hurting us, drawing our boundaries firmly, as well as giving ourselves what we need to be fulfilled mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Holocaust Compassion

I recently attended a presentation by Arthur Shostak.   He is an American sociologist and futurist, and former professor of sociology. The last few years he has been travelling around the world to promote the concept of “Holocaust Compassion”; a very different concept to “Holocaust Fatigue” when people become overburdened with the suffering of this period regrettable period of horrific events during World War 2.     Shostak has made a study of people who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save the life of others.

Guards who were threatened with death if they spoke to the new arrivals, would at the times of the selection process whisper instructions to them in an effort to save their life.   People younger than 15 or older than 40, would automatically be sent to their death at the gas chambers.  The guards would whisper this information to the assembled victims allowing those individuals just short of the lower age limit, or just above the upper one to claim on age between 16 and 39!

Compassion and You

If you have not considered learning the art and theory of Mindfulness and Meditation, it is a study which I heartedly recommend. Indeed, it will develop your capacity for compassion for both yourself and for other people.

And, if you wish to share your compassion stories, that would be great as well.   That is what the comments session on this blog is all about.

 

 

 

 

Wisdom

If you look at the Merriam-Wester dictionary, you will find the word Wisdom defined as:  “The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships.”    Somehow, I have the feeling that there is more to Wisdom than described here, so I decided to make this concept the theme for this month’s meeting on Conscious Ageing.

The six participants were offered the opportunity to discuss in pairs what they understand by the term Wisdom, to make some notes, and then bring their ideas back to the group.   And, here is some of the feedback which emerged!

As it materialised, there was a considerable amount of conformity in their findings.   Wisdom, the participants concluded was found in a fair number of personal qualities.    Such characteristics as having an open mind, being non-judgemental, having gratitude for what one has, accepting responsibility for one’s relationships, being a good listener, as well as possessing both humility and tolerance, were all part of the wisdom concept.

Participants felt that it is vital to have respect for the views of others.   This respectfulness did not necessarily require agreement but demanded an openness and a tolerance for ideas differing from their own.

Populism

The lack of tolerance for views of others has become a critical part of the current political discourse.   A semi-retired professor of Political Philosophy, Leonard Suransky, is offering our local University of the Third Age a course on the rise of Populism, a movement which is evident on both the left and on the right.  These extreme views result from feelings of insecurity and a lack of respect for the ideas of the other.

Many political analysts view Donald Trump as the arch-Populist at this time.  America is followed by many European countries for the emergence of Populist leaders, while in South Africa we have the Economic Freedom Front on the Left being led by Julius Malema and the extreme Right-wing Freedom Front Plus party at the other end of the spectrum.

Tribalism

Professor Robert Wright, who is a visiting professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York, has teamed up with Tricycle Magazine to run an online course on Tribalism.   The concepts of Tribalism and Populism have much in common, and Wright with his interest in Psychology, Buddhism and Politics is teaching his ideas of how to neutralise present extremism with an understanding of Evolutionary Psychology, Mindfulness and Meditation.   The course has just started, and I recommend you have a look at it here:  https://learn.tricycle.org/?utm_source=trikehdr&_ga=2.140385459.1430994263.1558263600-1994547164.1558263600

My personal belief is that Wisdom has a great deal in common with both Conscious Ageing and Sageing.   Both of these world-views have been introduced into the lexicon of ideas during the past couple of decades.   An era in which there has been a growing backlash against Ageism – the view which promotes the idea that the greater your chronological age, the more dependent you become on society. Another feature of Ageism is the belief that after a specific arbitrarily defined birth date, you are not capable of learning new material.

One of my motivations for running groups on Conscious Ageing is to encourage people that you can maintain your capacity to learn new ideas and new concepts until the day you die.   To accept this outlook may well be considered part of Wisdom and encouraged me to share with the participants two new concepts I learned while surfing the internet this past weekend.

Mansplaining and Digital Dementia

Mansplaining defines the attitude of a male when he describes condescendingly to his female acquaintance, the meaning of a word, a statement or an idea.   I believe this is a  useful addition to my vocabulary and I am just waiting for an opportunity to say to a man, “You know; you are ‘mansplaining’ me, and I take offence to your attitude!”

Digital Dementia is a scary contemporary diagnosis for the situation when a child loses his capacity for emotional control, or whose cognitive abilities are prejudiced because of an overexposure to the screen or the different devices available in today’s environment.   The increase in the number of children with both behavioural problems and learning disabilities is profound. Parents need to be educated in ways in which they can limit their children’s screen time, as a deterrent to having the developing brain’s neurone development of their growing offspring’s retarded. It is essential that children have plenty of physical activity for developing neurons to be adequately stimulated.    Static time, staring at a screen should be limited, and the amount of time recommended will depend on the age and the needs of the child.

Sageing

I believe that Sageing is an integral part of both Wisdom and Conscious Ageing.   Sageing International   www.sage-ing.org   has grown from a seed planted by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in 2004.    It promotes some concrete activities around creating a vibrant and flourishing senior lifestyle; as well as training leaders to connect with others through programs such as Wisdom Circles.

Let’s hear your ideas

Anybody who has read this article, reached the end, and has interest in further pursuing the concepts of Wisdom, Sageing, or Conscious Ageing can contact me through the comment section on my website, And; I look forward to hearing from you!