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Don’t Try This Alone


About 600 years before the writers of the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke penned Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed, Buddha told a parable of a mustard seed.

It revolves around a woman, Kisa Gotami, who lived during the time of Buddha. Kisa’s only child had died, and unwilling to accept his death, she carried him from neighbor to neighbor begging for someone to give her medicine to bring him back to life. Eventually she was told to go to Buddha and ask him for help.

She pleaded with Buddha, so he told her to go to her village and gather mustard seeds from all the households who had never been touched by the death. He promised he would create a medicine to bring her son back to life. Relieved, she went back to her village and began asking her neighbors for mustard seeds.

Compassion is a way of life – that sense of interconnectedness that nurtures the soul and manifests itself in action.

All of her neighbors were willing to give her seeds, but they told her that their families had been touched by death. After an entire day she was still without any seeds. Slowly she realized the universality of death, and with this realization her grief began to lessen. She gently buried her son in the forest and returned to Buddha, confessing that she had not been able to obtain mustard seeds from a single soul.

This story is a powerful example of self-compassion, yet it is almost impossible to talk about self-compassion without including another. It’s not a solitary proposition. Compassion is not a feeling, it’s a way of being. Compassion is an attitude, a way of life, which arises out of spirituality—that sense of interconnectedness that nurtures the soul—and manifests itself in action.

Stop Pulling It Apart
When something painful or tragic happens, we oftentimes take that experience and, in our aloneness, we try to pull it apart. We want to understand the pieces because we think if we can makes sense of what we have pulled apart, we can stop the the aloneness and the suffering. We want to gain some new insight from the pieces and then put it back together in a way that might awaken us and bring us some measure of healing.

We are taught early on to pull problems apart in order to solve them, to break them down to better understand the experience or challenge. Yet in the landscape of spirit and relationship, in the sweet territory of compassion, we often need to let the experience enter us as a whole, rather than try to break it into pieces. Stop and ask yourself each day: How often do I try to pull an experience apart before it has a chance to free me? Compassion is about inviting ourselves to stay with the suffering as a whole, to leave the thing alone that we so desperately want to separate – it’s how the pain can free us, heal us.

Mindfulness, Common Humanity, Kindness
In the world of self-compassion, we must let things in rather then break them apart. This is the first step with self-compassion, being mindful. Be present to the present – whatever you may be feeling. Mindfulness is about focus. When the suffering arises, pay attention to the task at hand, even if it’s unpleasant – like collecting mustard seeds. If you focus your attention on the little pieces of a task in front of you it relaxes the brain, like unclenching your fist. You will not feel drawn to pull apart the experience of suffering, rather you will be mindfully letting it live within you.

The second component of self-compassion is “common humanity.” Suffering is a part of everybody’s life, it just looks different for each of us. This is why self-compassion is not a solitary endeavor. When you feel the suffering, close your eyes and put your hands on your heart and remember, as Kisa learned, other people feel this way. Feel your gentle, warm hands touching your chest as a physical reminder of our common humanity – you are not alone.

Finally, practice kindness. Ask yourself, “What words of kindness do I need to hear?” What would you say to your best friend or child? Something like, “I know this is really hard, and it makes sense you are feeling so angry. I’m here.” Now say it to yourself. Create words of kindness that resonate with you, words you can speak to your body, mind and soul.

To see oneself in the experience of another and do something to heal the experience, is compassion. Self-compassion means we are directing that attitude towards ourselves. Once we stop trying to pull apart our suffering, we step into self-compassion, and can reach a place of peace. Kisa’s act was to bury her son, thereby awakening her to life. Ask yourself, when pushed and pressed by life, do I isolate and pull it apart to try to solve the pain? Or do I mindfully reconnect to life, listening to its wisdom?

Ask yourself, when pushed and pressed by life, do I isolate and pull it apart to try to solve the pain? Or do I mindfully reconnect to life, listening to its wisdom?

The destruction or healing of our world hinges on whether we pull things apart or put things together. These acts allow us to carry the experiences in new ways reminding us we are not separate, but very much connected to life. Life will always move beyond our control, and self-compassion is an act of trust in the rhythm of life and the power of love. This trust generates a web of resilience – a generative life of compassion.

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