Suffering and Compassion

Here is what Dalai Lama said on this topic in The Art of Happiness book:

Problems always arise, avoiding them provides temporary relief. If you confront them, you will get better insight and fighting capabilities. If you have been protected by others all your life and have not prepared to deal with problems, you will get shocked when you encounter them and most importantly it will be harder to develop resilience.

Suffering is underlying part of life, if you try to get out of suffering – you will find frustration. Because as long we have desire, we will experience unsatisfactory nature of existence. By removing the causes of suffering we become free of suffering and find liberation.

3 poisons: ignorance (misperception of true nature of self), craving and hatred. Reduce sorry or worry if you believe in rebirth (reincarnation). It is ok, if you carry wishes of people who died. But if you are overwhelmed by sense of loss, if you worry too much, think of people who have other worries (even worse than you).

Self created suffering is personalized pain. It is when we keep asking why it happened to me and why is it so unfair? If we focus and create a solution, we transform mental and emotional suffering, and then reduce the feeling of unfairness and resistance to change.

We really need to get more comfortable with change (nothing is permanent – no job, no lover, no success, etc.) All things are under the power of other factors… that we experience as suffering of change… There is only impermanent existence of everything like our blood – momentary changing phenomenon. As Dalai Lama mentioned – there will be time when there will not be humans or this planet. Just get over it.

Attention is focused when we have problems – self-absorption. We create our thoughts that magnify pain. It is intense, but there are other people with same problem even worse. You need wider perspective – work with other people. It helps to look at it from different perspectives because there is a wide range of solutions especially to solve big problems. But at the end, change must come from within.

Meditation One:

May my illness/suffering be substitute for humanity’s suffering. May I be able to help others and save other humans who go through similar suffering, it is my privilege and opportunity.

When we understand suffering, we find deep value or meaning in it… Reflecting on suffering is a catalyst. We develop a greater resolution in our suffering. Change in attribute makes us stronger. Physical pain unifies us with living creatures; our suffering connects us with others.

Types of compassion:

  1. Compassion with attachment to the other person is unstable. If anything changes, then your mental projection changes and becomes the feeling of hatred.
  2. Compassion free of attachment acknowledges every person’s innate desire to be happy, just like myself.

It is emotional attachment without compassion vs. genuine compassion. Think of your own suffering – your feeling of overwelming helplessness and discomfort. You don’t want suffering, the same with others – they have a right to happiness. What really helps is connectedness and commitment to compassion.

Meditation Two:

Imagine a person, who is suffering, develop your natural feeling for that person – place your mind on that conclusion – compassionate or loving state.

Meditation Three (to counteract our selfishness):

Visualize a group of people in unfortunate state of suffering. Along with it visualize a selfish person (yourself) and a neutral person. Which one do you feel empathy for?

The group that is suffering has no capacity for relief. You will find yourself feeling empathy for the group that is suffering, as you can really improve wellbeing by taking all their suffering upon yourself – visualize suffering in those forms, all negative and absorb them with your heart. May I live to dispense miseries of the world as long as space and human beings exist.

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How to Be a Good Volunteer

Last summer I wrote these tips/reminders for people interested in volunteering abroad, but the majority of them could be useful to volunteers everywhere.

CHOOSE YOUR ROLE. Look at all possible projects and ask yourself two questions: What would I really want to do and what kind of skills do I have? You could bring increased value by helping using your skill set, however you can always try something new if you feel strongly about a particular project. There are many projects and we are sure there will be at least one that speaks to your heart.

SET REALISTIC GOALS by not trying to change the world overnight or help everyone! It is hard for one person to save everyone, sorry, but you are not a superhero. Instead, begin with one person, one animal, or one group that you can help. Then make one achievable goal and work toward it. Always remember, there are a lot of us and our collective volunteer power is strong. All of your efforts are multiplied by the efforts of others.

HAVE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS about your living conditions and how easy daily tasks should be. Remember, you are not going on vacation: you are doing a project! There will be resistance and obstacles. Sure, you will meet new people and have fun, but it will require hard work in new conditions. Sometimes you will have to share a dorm room with other volunteers; you may encounter cockroaches; have a language barrier or learn that your instructions are not followed etc… It is not the end of the world. You will be there with people who have the same values.  Later in life, perhaps, you’ll remember this time as the best experience, when you were both driven and audacious.

SWITCH OR NOT TO SWITCH, that’s the question when you start to waiver on your project. Do not be hasty. If you do not like your first project, and you feel less skilled think of it as a learning experience. If you feel overwhelmed or have a fear of failing, why not overcome it?  Prove to yourself that you are more than what you thought you were capable of and keep at it.  If you still do not like it or do not feel confident, then switch projects. Maybe you will be exceptionally good at something else.

LEARN. Even if you are an expert, there is always a lesson to be learned. Life is a two-way street: we teach and we learn. You will need to know how to get the assignment done; especially in a new country, things may be very different. This could require learning new skills or using different materials. If you need more training to get ready, ask for the manuals, a demonstration and/or assistance. If you know what to do and how to do it well, it will be easier to help others.

MAKE AN EFFORT! Showing up to do your project is only the first step. It is important to take your volunteer work seriously. You are providing help to people and places that are in real need. Your value to the project is parallel to the effort you put in. Sometimes, it is hard to give 100% to your project, but please try. Specifically, always come on time to your project and be appropriately dressed no matter how much partying occurred the night before or what the thermometer reads that morning. Constantly remind yourself why you signed up to volunteer.

If you push yourself, you will find your own limits, talents, and skills you never knew about. Often people realize their potential is more than what they ever estimated. As you extend yourself, the project will succeed because you gave it 100%. You will amaze yourself and those around you.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE is imperative. Think about those around you who are in need or in trouble. You are there to help them, not bring negative energy. Please, stay upbeat, think of any difficulties as a learning experience, and try to resolve them diplomatically. Always have a positive attitude and demonstrate to others that you are there volunteering by choice.

BE RESPECTFUL Always remember to demonstrate respect for other people and other cultures, no matter how much culture shock you are going through. Keep in mind that your way of thinking or living is not the only one or even the right one. What is normal to you may not be normal to others. If you seriously disagree about something, speak to a project leader first. He or she will consult with you, explain the differences and suggest ways of how to behave in the future. Consider yourself and your actions as an ambassador of your own culture. You want to present yourself well and be respected by others, and this is not achievable if you act snobby or superior. Going to another country means following their rules, as you are a guest, and they are the hosts.

BE FLEXIBLE AND OPEN-MINDED as there maybe a shift in your schedule or a change in your role or responsibilities. It is life. Nothing is permanent in life except for change.

DO NOT GIVE UP! You will all have moments, when you doubt your decision to volunteer. You will have a serious urge to stop and go back to your normal life and to your familiar routine. Sometimes you will feel bored, sometimes exhausted, and sometimes mad at the people you work with who are not cooperating. You may even feel angry with Cheb for getting you involved in being a volunteer. Talk to others and share your problems because you are not alone. Everyone is going through the same phases, but remember this stage is temporary, and it will pass. Always look forward and remember again why you chose to be there. When you finish the project, you will look back and see the progress and be amazed with the results.

BE KIND to others. This could mean your peer volunteers, the project manager, or a local person. You never know what other people are going through as they may be very vulnerable, sad, or dealing with difficult issues. We all need support. If you see someone going through a hard time, try to make him or her smile, offer help or just share your experience. Sometimes all we need are kind words, and also remember people’s privacy. If they do not want to share, please do not force the conversation. If they do engage you, do your best to understand what other people are going through, even if it’s something you’ve never dealt with yourself. You will get so much credit for being kind to someone. Treat others as you would want to be treated, and you will begin to make friends on this adventure as well.

BE SAFE. If you break your leg or get robbed, it will not make your experience efficient or enjoyable. Be prepared in advance and read about cultural norms and safety rules in the area of your project beforehand. Being prepared also means taking the necessary precautions: getting appropriate insurance policies and all needed immunizations, backing up your computer files, pictures, etc. Do not take unnecessary risks. We want you to be safe, so that you can come back and tell about your experiences to others who want to go and continue what you started.

MEASURING YOUR PROGRESS. Many of you will be looking to measure success of your project participation. Did you really make a difference? The answer is yes. Whether you built a house for someone, created a fund-raising campaign, or made a child smile, you did it – you made a change, you made someone happier and improved the world. Additionally, in the process of volunteering, we are sure you improved yourself by simply making an effort to be a better human.

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