Category Archives: earth

The earth teaches us true compassion

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The earth provides us with everything we need to live. It’s a model of compassion. How different is the earth’s compassion from the way we fashion our own?

First, consider that the earth is there for all beings. It doesn’t pick and choose who is worthy to walk on it. And you never see the earth running around assessing needs, trying to be all things to all people. The earth is just there — here — fully present and supportive.

Can we be compassionate like the earth? Can we relax and simply be present for those around us? Can we be solid enough for them to lean on, receptive enough to listen to what they have to say, to accept their tears, without trying to be two steps ahead, figuring out what to do for them? Compassion definitely isn’t about telling people what they should do, is it? But that’s how it comes across when instead of listening, our thoughts leap ahead to how we will save the day with our oh-so-clever solutions. Oh stop! Relax. Let the earth support you and model good behavior.

This may be a real challenge for us if we are used to being in charge, putting our agenda first, thinking we can fix everything. It may be hard to let go of that identity of hero-savior-problemsolver, in order to tap into deeper, more effortless compassion. It helps to realize that our urgent need to help is often rooted in aversion. Except in emergency situations, it’s usually our discomfort with how things are that makes us rush around to implement changes. We cannot bear for a loved one, or maybe for anyone, to be unhappy, so we do everything in our power to alter the situation. How can this not be a good thing?

If we pause to be present with our own experience, we may be able to notice aversion there. Recognizing it allows it a voice in the conversation but not a dictatorial role in what words and actions we choose. It’s just an unpleasant feeling that wants to change the channel ASAP.

True compassion doesn’t try to change the experience of another person. It definitely doesn’t say Look on the bright side. It doesn’t try to take their mind off what they are experiencing. Can we pause to recognize that the impulse to impose that on them is just our own discomfort trying to make the unpleasant experience go away? True compassion is patient, allowing for what is arising to exist without commentary or re-configuring.

True compassion is infinite in nature. It has nothing to prove to anyone. It doesn’t have a to do list. It isn’t trying to gain points or likes on social media. When we feel compelled to solve other people’s problems or prove our love for them by taking on their burdens, we are likely to be operating from a shallow fear-based place, and our energy will soon be depleted. We will exhaust ourselves and the person we are trying so hard to help.

The caregivers among you know full well how challenging it is when another person’s needs dominate your life. How does this sense of earthy infinite compassion help parents of small children and family members of those who are unable to take care of themselves? As a young mother and later a primary caregiver for both my father and brother in their passing, I have experienced the stress of losing myself in trying so hard to do all that was required. But, thanks to my regular practice of meditation, I also found precious moments of being fully present with them. I noticed with my father how the more I relaxed into a receptive mode, letting him have his experience, the more he relaxed his natural defenses. I reminded myself not to exhaust him by making ‘helpful’ suggestions or trying to direct or commandeer what he was going through. He needed every bit of his limited energy for the huge transition he was making.

For perhaps the first time, my love made no demands on him. It was way too late to ask for anything more than he had ever been able to give me. For this time together, I let myself become like the earth, receptive, ever present, available to meet his needs, to let him set the tone and decide whether to have a conversation at all. This quiet way of being with him allowed him his own space for his experience. Behind the scenes I was making sure he had everything he needed to take care of him, but our time together was restful.

While my father’s care was relatively easy and I could provide all that was needed without disrupting his life, my brother’s care was much more intense. It took a whole assembled family team, and visiting hospice professionals, to meet his many needs. And he had needs that could not be met, which was painful for us all. He didn’t like us rushing around, tending to the requirements of the noisy equipment that kept him alive. He wanted us to sit and just be with him. As much as we could, we each found sweet moments of just being there. Giving that kind of compassion also feels like a gift to ourselves.

And that’s an important thing to remember: Cultivating earthy compassion, that sense of just being a supportive receptive presence, also gives us the ability to provide that same compassion for ourselves. When we can support ourselves in this way, we are able to provide for others. When we beat ourselves up over the many ways we have not ‘measured up’, who benefits? No one. Ever.

We can’t offer what we don’t have to give. By becoming aware of the way we treat ourselves, and accessing that deep stillness within, we can become the very earth under our own feet. Through our regular practice of meditation and living mindfully, we come to a level of deep compassion that is infinite and accessible.

And while we are embodying the earth’s compassion, can we develop deep compassion for the earth? Can we stop poking, prodding, fracking, paving, stealing, degrading and destroying this wondrous compassionate place we call home before we render it uninhabitable?

Happy Earth Day! Today and every day.

Wise Action, Well Planet

In the last dharma talk I offered a way to investigate whether an action we did was wise. Even the simple question of whether something is a wise action brings our attention to the present moment, modifying the impact of mindlessness, which is the chief cause of unskillful action.
The other cause is feeling disconnected, separate and therefore lacking in a sense of compassion, for ourselves and others. When we looked at Wise View, we saw why it is that we feel separate when in fact that sense of separateness is simply a convenient shorthand to get things done — handy but if we buy into it too much, we cause suffering for ourselves and others. [Read more.] But we have other ways to investigate an action to see if it is wise. We can ask, ‘What if everyone did this?’ This challenges any sense of personal entitlement we might have mindlessly lurking in our murky motivations. If we can honestly answer that if everyone did this action there would be no negative outcome, then perhaps it is not so unskillful. Another question we might ask is what impact this action could have not just on our children or grandchildren but on down to the seventh generation of our descendants, a wise consideration imparted by native American traditions. Understanding the long term implications of our actions, even small ones, is increasingly important as our population increases and our resources are depleted. To a degree, we as a species have become more mindful, have taken steps to modify and correct our previously mindless behavior with recycling, composting, increases in alternative technologies, etc. But we are far from where we need to be in order to say we are doing our best.

I am happy to say that the Buddhist community is increasingly committed to Wise Action in this regard. And this week, Buddhist meditation teachers have been asked to talk about the importance of environmental awareness to their students. How perfect when we are studying Wise Action!Notice how this feels. What comes up in your thoughts? What happens in your body when I say this will be our topic. Is there an eagerness or a sense of unease? Whatever you are feeling, be compassionate. This is not a scolding, but an exploration of what is true and what, with mindfulness and balanced effort is possible. Take your time and answer these questions for yourself: To what degree does the well being of the air, water and land play a role in your daily decisions? If everyone did what you are doing, what kind of world would this be? This is such a great question because it speaks to our collective humanity, our community. It reminds us that we are not isolated. Yay! But also that everything we do has ramifications. How can we be conscious without becoming strident? How can we be in relationship with the earth and all beings who inhabit this planet in a way that is compassionate, caring, joyful and responsible. Can we do this without proselytizing and fueling an ‘us against them’ mentality that is so disruptive and counterproductive? We are not just all in this together; we are one pulsing energetic system of life! Try this practice right now:

  • Set the intentions to be present, anchored in physical sensation and to be compassionate with yourself and others. 
  • Bring to mind your relationship with all beings and the earth itself. 
  • Notice how this feels in the physical senses, if there is a sense of ease, discomfort or tightness arising.
  • Practice some metta, lovingkindness: May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at ease. May I be at peace….See how that feels, this sense of giving and receiving lovingkindness. Then: May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be at ease. May all beings be at peace.

Sit with the gifts of this simple practice, staying present with physical sensation, being compassionate when the mind tugs like a puppy on a leash, wanting to leap into the past or future. Simply come back to this moment, anchored in physical sensation. Rest in this place a bit, this natural relationship. If there is tightness, you might imagine a furry animal coming and nestling against that area, offering compassion, companionship and warmth, a sense of shared aliveness.

Coming into a tender heartfelt relationship with our planet and its inhabitants is a lovely gift. From that state, what is Wise Action? Do your actions or lack of action reflect your understanding? Or is there a disconnect?


This is where the Eightfold Path is so very useful. It helps us to see what that nagging discomfort is within us. Knowing this, we can take Wise Action, based in Wise Intention, Wise Effort, Wise View, Wise Mindfulness, attended by Wise Concentration. 

What would Wise Action be for you?
For me, I took my commitment to the well being of the planet to another level when I switched to Deep Green level of the Marin Clean Energy program. If you live in Marin County, CA and would like to know that your electric bill buys 100% wind power, rather than a combination of nuclear and other sources, it’s easy to switch.
Again, if you live in Marin County, you might find the Green Up! page on the Marin Group Sierra Club website useful. (I am the volunteer website administrator, and that page is my baby. I am always interested in feedback on how to make it better, so please check it out.)

Earth: The Element of True Compassion

I have never read or heard anything about this, but it seems to me that each of the Four Brahmaviharas has an elemental quality. Metta (loving kindness) is like the radiant sun, shining on all without discrimination. Mudita (sympathetic joy) is like the sparkling water, dancing with reflective joy. Upekka (equilibrium) is like the sky, able to hold sunshine and storm clouds equally with great ease and spaciousness. And Karuna (compassion) is like the earth, receiving our tears, supporting us, nourishing us.

This earth-like quality, Karuna, gives effortlessly from its bounty. You never see the earth running around assessing needs, doling out its nourishment in fair proportions for each plant. The earth is just there, fully present and fully supportive.

So how does this translate for us? Can we be like the earth to someone in need? Can we relax and just be present. Can we be solid enough for them to lean on, receptive enough to receive their tears, and available for whatever they have in mind in any given moment?

This may be a real challenge for us if we are used to being in charge, if we like to direct the show, if we automatically make assumptions about the needs of others, if we have an agenda, or if we have to try to fix everything.

If we cling to the idea of ourselves as generous givers, assessing needs and filling them, it may be challenging to let that identity go, in order to tap in to a level of deep and effortless compassion. It helps to realize that a lot of what we do is based in our aversion to what is going on. In our discomfort we rush around trying to change it. We cannot bear for a loved one to be in pain, so we do everything in our power to make it stop. If we stop and be present with our own experience, we can recognize the aversion and simply accept it as part of what is in this moment. Recognizing it allows it a voice in the conversation but disengages its ability to run the show.

If there are people for whom we can’t be compassionate because of their behavior, then we are letting our judgments keep us at the surface, letting our personality get all tangled up with their personality, instead of accessing that universal quiet core of ourselves that recognizes that the very thing that makes them difficult is the burden of suffering with which they struggle. From our still center we connect with their still center for it is one and the same, and it is this awareness of oneness that allows the compassion to be infinite and ever present, regardless of circumstances.

Karuna, like all the Brahmaviharas is infinite in nature. When we feel that we have to solve other people’s problems or prove our love for them by taking on their burdens, we are operating from a shallow fear based place, and our energy will soon be depleted. What we have to give is finite and we will exhaust ourselves and the person we are trying so hard to help.

Karuna doesn’t try to change the experience of another person, or suggest that they look on the bright side, or distract them from what it is they are feeling by offering ways to ‘take their mind off their situation.’ Karuna simply sits, without anticipating anything more than the need for a tissue.

I remember the honor I felt as a witness to my father’s process of dying in the last weeks of his life. As his primary caregiver, of course I did a lot of behind the scenes activity to make sure that he had what he needed physically. But in our time together, I took on a more receptive mode, uncharacteristic of me. He was thus able to relax his natural defenses. I didn’t exhaust him by trying to commandeer his experience. He needed every bit of his limited energy for the huge transition he was making. My love made no demands on him. It was way too late to ask for anything more than he had ever been able to give me. To the degree that I was able, I let myself become like the earth, receptive, ever present to the point of not being noticed. This quiet way of being with him allowed him his own space for his experience.

The only time I felt like I totally failed him was when we were watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and I kept blurting out solutions before he had a chance to figure them out himself. So thoughtless! Would the earth do that? I don’t think so.

But that brings me to the first most important aspect of Karuna: having a deep compassion for ourselves. How typical it is of us to beat ourselves up over our supposed failings. Would we ever speak to another person the way we speak to ourselves on a regular basis?

The truth is we can’t offer what we don’t have. By becoming aware of the way we treat ourselves, and accessing that deep quiet stillness within, we can become the very earth under our own feet. Through our regular practice of meditation, we come to a level of deep compassion that is infinite and accessible, for ourselves, those around us and the earth itself.