Intentional Compassion or Compassionate Intent

Months before my arrival at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, a wise friend told me that going to prison was not unlike going to a monastery. Admittedly, I had no desire to go to a monastery, but it did seem slightly preferable to a federal prison. I've taken that advice to heart, trying to live life here with that perspective, using this time to attempt to better understand myself and God. This blog has served as a medium to write about that journey. My desire is still that doing so might help others who might be a little lost.

One fact has become very apparent--the more I search for God, the less I know. I'm completely OK with that, and not necessarily because I'm getting dumber. God just keeps getting bigger. I agree with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who wrote, "The extreme human knowledge of God is to know that we do not know God." I'm convinced of one thing though, the lens through which we best see and know God (and ourselves and everyone else) is compassion.

Thupten Jinpa Langri is a Buddhist scholar, translator for the Dalai Lama, and author of A Fearless Heart: How The Courage To Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives. He believes, as do I, that developing a compassionate heart is essential to a joyful life. If living with compassion is our goal, he suggests some practical daily steps we can take to help us.

First, it's important to set our intentions, which are more than just what motivates us. Obviously our motivations are important as they are the primary reasons for our behavior. A close look at the reasons behind our intentions requires contemplation, as we may not be aware of our motivations. Once aware of them, our motivations can help us to remember why our intentions are important.

Intentions should be articulated. If our goal is to be compassionate, we should set that as one of our intentions every morning. This deliberative process may take less than 5 minutes, where we slow ourselves down long enough to ask "What is it that I value deeply?" "What do I wish for, and how do I see myself, my loved ones, and my enemies?" The answers may not come easily, but we should trust the questions and develop intentions for the day around these values, trusting that the answers will come.

At the end of the day, another contemplative exercise called dedication completes the circle, reconnecting with the intentions of the day. It's a time of reflection on the day. If there has been a connection that day between our intentions and our life, we shouldn't get too carried away with ourselves; and if there's no connection, we shouldn't run from or deny it either. We should just stay silently with these reflections.

Lastly, we should think of something from the day we feel good about and take joy in the thought of that endeavor and that it began with our early morning intention. That joy can carry over and help motivate our compassionate intentions for tomorrow.