“You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion.” – Gyalwa Karmapa

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I do have a lot of things to be grateful for. But right now instead of gratitude what I’m thinking about is compassion. And about what a challenge it can be to hold onto it when life hurts you. The Gyalwa Karmapa is the leader of school of Buddhist thought, and Buddhists are nothing if not interested in the art of practicing compassion.

When bad things happen personally to me, people I care about, or out in the world, it’s often very hard to cultivate compassion. It’s difficult to soften, to try to understand, to attempt to see that those who cause pain to others are almost always in pain themselves. Especially when the harm that comes seems amplified, unfounded or needlessly cruel.

I’ve caused pain in my life, suffering, by decisions I’ve made or actions I’ve taken, even inadvertently. I’m no saint or angel. There are many things I wish I could take back, choices I would like to remake. But that can never happen.

Since I cannot unmake the past, the only thing to do is try to make a better future tomorrow. Better decisions, wiser choices, kinder actions. Try to move forward, remembering the harm I’ve caused when faced with any that is done to me. Not with guilt or shame, but with truth and honesty, admitting my shortcomings and allowing for the same in others. I think then compassion can grow even in very difficult times, when we work to move away from just our pain to embrace that of other people. And only then can we all heal.