Monday, November 30, 2009

survival of the kindest

Compassion, in Tibetan Buddhist terms, is a spontaneous feeling of connection with all living beings. It's not 'feeling sorry for' or even love in the usual way we understand the word. Instead, it implies a direct expansion of the heart and the deep understanding there is no difference between us.

I know we're programmed at a biological level to avoid threats to our survival and to grasp opportunities to enhance our well being. You don't have to subscribe to the daily papers or watch television to understand our history is one of violence to one another. But I don't believe that's all we are and it's equally apparent we may have an even stronger biological tendency toward kindness, compassion, love and nurture.

There were amazing stories throughout Europe during the Second World War of ordinary people risking their lives to shelter their Jewish friends and neighbors from the Holocaust. We often hear stories of people here doing extraordinary things in times of crisis - like the thousands who helped at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and the thousands who went to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina - as examples of a general human tendency. There are smaller examples too, ones we've all experienced, whether the small acknowledgement of holding a door open, giving money to someone in need or even a shared smile between strangers.

Just the simple fact that we've been able to build societies and civilizations that at least concede the need to protect and care for the poor, the weak and the defenseless supports the idea that an ethical sense is part of our make-up as human beings. I think we're not as bad as we sometimes imagine we are as a species.


I've decided to put aside the silk painting for a time and go back to paper and watercolors. There's an immediacy with drawing and painting I truly enjoy which maybe you'll notice about the pencil sketch above that I did on the weekend. It will be a small painting (5x7") and will change during the process but that's what I seem to have the energy for right now. It's called 'Joy'. It's okay if you call me sentimental :-)


  1. The little girl reminds me of my granddaughter; of how she runs up to me to give me a big hug when I come to visit. That feeling is of joy I must admit.

  2. A very pleasant post. Kindness is a splendid thing, difficult to fault, if a little quiet and hidden sometimes.

  3. I think we're not as bad as we sometimes imagine we are as a species.

    Weirdo neo-optimist. ;-)

  4. There are times when I learn of acts of selflessness (eg the Righteous Gentiles) that I still have some small faith in the goodness of our species

  5. I'm so happy that you are going to do more drawing and painting!

  6. liberality - The utter faith in us expressed by children is a marvel of life.

    joss - Yes, it is.

    randal - Why, that's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said about me.

    jams - Me too.

    marja-leena - The very good thing about it is not requiring a lot of supplies and equipment. I'm glad you think it's a good idea.

  7. delight.
    that's what i feel, looking at your drawing.

    tiger lying still
    child running past, arms wide
    tiger's dancing eyes

  8. p.s. it's no accident that the tiger and the mountain are compassionate and indistinguishable from each other.

  9. sera - The image just came together all at once and I'm quite looking forward to painting it.

    Interesting that Kwan Yin was saved from slaughter by a tiger who carried her to a mountain cave then disappeared.

  10. i too would rather be loved than feared.

  11. a wonderful start to a very fun watercolor...your drawings and paintings always possess such joy, i find myself wondering if you always dwell within that space...

    this is the best piece i have read about our compassion and love for one another, so succinct and to the point, and am so glad i is just about what it's about ,in real terms, brilliant...

    and with such compassion, i wanted to cry...there are times when this medium is not enough and this is one of them....i would reach out and kiss your cheek if only you were sitting by my side.

  12. It will be 2 years this February that I joined The Longest Walk II, a walk across America for peace and justice, to save sacred sites among other purposes. There were many Buddhist Monks on this journey. This event was my first encounter with Monks. I learned so much just by watching them and their interaction with others. Even in the midst of someone showing that violent, selfish side against another or them, they stay poised and actually walk the walk of forgiving and love.
    I've never lost faith in humankind. Kindness is all around if we pay attention. One just has to go to the VA hospital for an appointment to see people helping people.
    These are wonderful thoughts. Peace begins in one's self, and to put forth this "good" side of one's self is a start for lasting peace.

    As for your art, I love the drawings, and some of the watercolors you've posted in the past are beautiful. Your creativity is very different than some, then again, we all can't be the same, that wouldn't be fun at all.


  13. I would certainly like to believe that we're not as bad as we sometimes imagine...but then I read the paper every morning and see that another child in Chicago has been gunned down, kidnapped, raped and beaten to death, or a senior citizen living alone has been beaten and robbed. We need a newspaper that gives only good news...stories like the ones you mentioned, people helping other people.

  14. I actually believe we are going to resonate with this side of ourselves more so, very soon. I believe we have needed this world-wide humbling to reconnect us with those parts of oursleves that want so desperately to be kind and compassionate.

    Wishful thinking?

  15. I believe in kindness and love and forgiveness. I struggle with the later at times but I can keep resentment and anger at bay if I work at it. Working at it includes making room in my mind and my heart for thoughts such as the ones you express in this lovely post.

    I look forward to your watercolors. Very much.

  16. sera - Yes, that seems best.

    linda - What very sweet things you've had to say. I felt the kiss on my cheek :-) In answer to your question I've been in love with life for as long as I can remember.

    spadoman - Since I live up here near several major hospitals, including the VA, I've had a number of interesting experiences like the ones you allude to. One of my favorite things is to sit near the front of the bus coming home from the odd jaunt downtown because that's where all the VA patients hang out with each other.

    I'm glad you like the drawing and the paintings. It's like a mutual feedback loop for me.

    nunly - It's not like I'm living on Cloud 9 or anything but I really avoid the news. For every event like the one you mentioned there are many more good ones that never get told. No money in it.

    nancy - There's much very good stuff happening but there's also a delusional quirk that runs deep among many. I hope you're right.

    pagan sphinx - I think Jesus said it best: 'Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do'.

  17. Hi Susan

    As we become increasingly aware of the intricacies and limitations of cognitive processes of the human brain one thing strikes us- we are not all the same in our thinking and understanding nor do we all share the same degree of cognitive resources.

    Just as wars, atrocities and misunderstandings inevitably arise from what seems as intractable differences, only a collective expanded compassion societal viewpoint can ever seek to readdress this aspect of human nature away from the pathway of violence.

    I think your drawings capture creatively that mood of compassion contained in your post.

    Best wishes

  18. i noticed this the other day too: when you leave a comment at encore seraphine, the link back to phantsythat doesn't work. you have the extension as .cm instead of .com. just fyi. your blog is too good to have a bad link; i hate to think of anyone missing out on you!

  19. I have moments when I find myself wrapped up in sad circumstances that I can sometimes give too much airtime to in my own brain. And then comes the crossing of paths with someone who reminds me of the goodness that's right in front of me.

    And there's loads of that--it's sometimes more about me than it is about anything else......

    Thank you for reminding me.

    Be safe, stay well.

  20. lindsay - You are yourself a most compassionate man. I think the hardest walls for people to tear down are the ones they build around themselves. It's something that takes its own time for each person.

    I'm delighted to like my artwork.

    sera - Thanks for telling me. I'll come by to fix it but I still won't expect more visitors. Phantsy is an acquired taste.

    mel - That's true of most of us depending on the circumstances. All we can do is be aware of the tendency and try to ameliorate it.

    Thanks for visiting. I'll reciprocate soon.

  21. i'm one of the lucky ones, i guess. at the recent training in Kansas City, one of the presenters said it very well.... "we have the best job in the world, folks. people go out of their way to GIVE us stuff so we can sell it to build homes for families. does it get any better than that?!" though there are a few worms in the apple barrel, most of my day is spent with people who want to give, or who shop at my ReStore because they know the money they give me is going to do good for someone.... or because they know they just might find something really terrific for an incredible price.

    like you, i don't watch the news. Don't even own a TV. when i want information i go online or listen to the radio. all received with a hefty portion of salt, as i find the stilted nature of most media coverage a little disturbing. it's one of the things i love about the blog world. it's a place where i can hear what intelligent thinkers are saying about big issues.... and, unlike the media, they seldom agree on anything, but continue to respect each other.

  22. gfid - A long time ago Jer and I decided that since it appeared we had to work for our living (rather than getting paid for simply being geniuses) we decided to work in medicine for much the same reason as the one you've chosen. Naturally, there are problems - where there are people there will always be misunderstandings - but overall it's been a good experience. I'm amazed and delighted you've had the fortitude and belief you've shown this past year starting up such a huge endeavor as a new Re-Store. Nice going.

    I'm convinced most of the news on television especially is just a way of keeping people confused about the important issues.

  23. Yay!!! Another painting!!!

    There are significant aspects of evolution on this planet that can ONLY be explained by a strong appeal to COOPERATION. In many ways cooperation out-competes violence... Goods guys do finish last - but that often means they have the final word, the last laugh, the stage to themselves in the end.

  24. steve - A wise and thoughtful insight :-)