Compassion and Generosity

The final two pillars of joy from our now dear friends the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, are Compassion and Generosity. As I look at the cover of their book, and in my memory of seeing each of them speak (separately) on several occasions, I can imagine and actually hear them chuckle with one another, as love, mutual admiration, and peace is breathed between them. They exude joy and that joy is based on compassion and generosity.

I also have another memory coming to mind. Do you remember, the song “Joy and Pain” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, on the album It Takes Two, circa 1988? I may be dating myself to most of our readers, but that album and their songs on that album were a big part of my time in high school. The hook in “Joy and Pain” was simply:

[Come on] Joy [pump, pump, pump it up] and Pain
[come on, come on, here we go]
Like Sunshine [what else, what else] and Rain
[Ahhh yeah, here we go]
Joy [come on, come on, here we go] and Pain,
[pump, pump, pump, pump it up]
Like Sunshine, [yeah] and Rain.

I never really paid attention to the rest of the lyrics, it was just “Joy and Pain, Like Sunshine and Rain” that stuck with me. We frequently have both Sunshine and Rain on the same day, in the same hour. And, our lives frequently have both Joy and Pain in the same minute and second. Hey, we are moms, it should be part of the job description.

But what does this have to do with Compassion and Generosity? Probably not much, but it came to mind because sometimes they can feel like opposites – how can I be both, it’s hard enough to be one – and more frequently, they can accompany one another – when I’m most able to have compassion, I am also most able to be generous of mind, body, and spirit, with patience, with time, with benefit of the doubt for others. And, they can feel like opposites perhaps because compassion literally means to suffer with another, which is generous in its own right, but also very painful, very difficult, and very raw. Is compassion enough to offer?

A very common meditation associated with cultivating compassion is Loving Kindness. Here is a guided loving kindness meditation with Emma Seppala, author of “The Happiness Track.” But, my favorite compassion generating meditation, Tonglen, is one that I first learned when I participated in Compassion Cultivation Training (developed by Thupten Jinpa, PhD, the Dalai Lama’s former translator, with Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education). This Tibetan Buddhism practice literally means giving/sending and receiving and I highly recommend you check it out (here is a short video with Pema Chodron guiding you in less than 5 minutes).  It’s very simple in it’s design – you use your breath to take in the suffering of others and you exhale compassion. It always conjured up the image of Absolem, the blue caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland who of course puffed on his hookah pipe into Alice’s face, questioning who she was.


Absolem, for me, was attempting to help Alice really understand herself and I believe with self-compassion, we can do that. If we can tear through the protective layers that we have created even with our own selves, we can see within and understand who we are. That understanding leads to self-compassion for our foibles, for our impatience and our self-criticism. And, therefore, can open us to compassion, to be in suffering, with others, to open our minds and hearts to others. Absolem, though making Alice choke in a haze of thick, dark smoke, was actually exhaling compassion all over her and her companions. His lesson was a difficult one to understand immediately, but one that has stuck with me since I was a child.

And compassion is necessary, but not sufficient, our two joyful mentors tell us. Compassion is the impulse to help others, but the action that follows from that desire is generosity. We experience the most joy when we have a regular concern for others, and therefore a regular act of compassion arm-in-arm with generosity.

We all carry the ‘seeds of compassion’ and it is a skill that we can learn and strengthen. You feel compassion when you witness another’s suffering and you feel motivated to make a difference and relieve their suffering. This is generosity and is what pushes us to give of our money, our time, our energy and our care.

This post really gave me a lot to think about and a lot of images and memories came to mind quickly. I shared those with you this week, whereas I frequently leave them to myself – forgive the seemingly disconnected and perhaps disjointed reflections. I hope you will join us on Thursday, the 19th of April at Grace Episcopal Church on Bainbridge Island for Mom’s Morning Retreat. Over scrumptious snacks, hot beverages, and a community of strong and kind moms, we will talk about what it means to have compassion for yourself and for others, and how generosity appears in your life, for yourself as well as for others. Between 9:30-11am, we will have the coffee and hot water ready, the daycare providers on site, and the discussion and reflections swirling. Will you join us to explore these two pillars?