Stories for Contemplations for Compassion

These are teachings that were written by Dr. Joel and Michelle Levey.

Day Eleven: Receiving and Radiating Compassion


“God has no body now on earth but yours
no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he pours out,
compassion in the world, compassion in the world.
His are the hands, blessing me now.
All praise to the One.
Ring the bells that can still ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”
Anthem, by Leonard Cohen

Through this week’s series of Contemplations for Compassion for All Beings, we have learned that compassion is a natural response to the sufferings in our lives and world – an active response that engages the wish to alleviate that suffering.  We have explored how, for our compassion to be effective and not create more problems, it must be guided by wisdom. And we have realized that for our wisdom to deepen, courage is required – courage to keep looking ever more deeply into the web of complex, subtle, and meaningful interrelationships that weave the fabric of our lives and world – to realize that there truly is no separation between us. We have also come to appreciate that for compassion to flourish and be sustained, it must be fueled by our heartfelt commitment, dedication, or devotion.

This Compassion Contemplation for the 11th and final day of the 2013 Compassion Games brings together many of the most essential elements we’ve introduced, and gives you a practice you can do with each breath throughout the day as you receive and radiate compassion for yourself and all beings.


the-prayer-sewardAs you begin, reach up, touch your heart, and smile with a tender sense of deep connection and deep reflection.  Give thanks forthe blessings and the opportunities of your life and dedicate yourself to living ever more deeply in the compassionate spirit you know is most essential to your true being. Allow your mindful awareness to blend with the natural rhythms of your breathing and settle into this state of connection and flow.

As you sit here now, envision yourself sitting at the center of your universe, surrounded by all living beings. Holding this image in mind, pause for a moment to remember, invite, or sense the presence of those who have most deeply inspired you with their examples of compassion in action.  These may be people you know, teachers, mentors, or family members, or people whom you have read about in scripture, books, or discovered on the web.


Reach out now from your heart, and with your hands, to these beings whose compassionate presence in your life is truly a blessing, a source of renewal, deep information and inspiration. Imagine that all of them are right here with you now, surrounding you and shining like a constellation of radiant compassionate suns. Or if you like, envision that these many sources of compassion merge into a single brighter star that shines a radiance of compassion and blessings into your life.

Imagine that with each breath you reach out to them and hold their hands, and that through your connection with them you can draw strength and inspiration to deepen in your compassion. In fact, the stronger and more sincere your own aspiration, the deeper and stronger the flow of inspiration becomes. Imagine that each of these inspiring people in turn reaches out to hold the hands of those whom they look to for guidance, strength, and compassion, and that they in turn reach out to those who have inspired them. Sense your teachers reaching out to their teachers who reach out to their teachers. Envision yourself balanced within and receiving from this endless cascade of wisdom and compassion as it flows to you and through you from countless inspired ancestors of the far and distant past.

Sense this inspiration flowing to you as the light of compassion, soaking into you and enlightening you. It energizes the parts of you where your life force is weak. It balances what needs to be balanced, and heals what needs healing within you. This light of compassion floods, cleanses, and opens the spaces and places within you that are clogged or congested, and nourishes the seeds of your deepest potentials to blossom in your compassion. Like sunlight filtering into a deep clear pool, sense these waves of inspiring grace flooding your body-mind-energy-spirit. Every dimension of your being is illuminated, blessed, and renewed with compassion. With each in-breath you are filled, saying silently to yourself “receiving.”

Now envision that you can radiate and expand this circle of compassion with each out-breath. Receiving with each inhalation, radiating this compassion with each exhalation. Breathing in, imagine the inspiration and blessings flowing into you, filling your heart. Breathing out, sense, imagine or feel that your heart is silently radiating like a bright, shining, compassionate star. Effortlessly offer the natural radiance of your compassion to all beings.  Allow it to shine through the darkness within or around you. Allow it to light up your inner and outer world effortlessly, immediately. Let this be the light of your love, the light of your peace, the light of your presence, the light of your goodwill and positive regard.

Now, having enhanced and expanded your radiance, begin to direct your attention and energy to the world around you. Reach out now to those who look to you as a source of compassion, inspiration, guidance, and loving support. Reach out to your children, to your students, to your patients, to your clients and customers, and to all those who look to you as they seek for balance and belonging in their lives. Receiving compassion, inspiration, wisdom, and strength from those you draw guidance from, reach out with your hands and from your heart, and let each exhalation radiate this compassion to those who, in turn, look to you.

Envision each person you reach out to taking the light of your compassion to heart, and feel that it deeply touches, strengthens, and inspires them. As your compassion reaches out to your children, envision them receiving and taking this light to heart and then passing it on to their children, who pass it on to their children, who pass it on to their children and to all whose lives they touch or ever will touch – directly or indirectly. Envision your students reaching out to their students who reach out to their students. Imagine that all those to whom you reach out to, take this light of compassion to heart, and pass it on to those who will pass it on in an endless cascade of inspiration and blessings that reaches out into the world to help affirm and presence the light of compassion for countless generations to come.

In this way, receiving and radiating, sense yourself balanced here in deep time, reaching out from this fleeting moment where all the experiences of the infinite past and all the potential for the boundless future converge. Viewed in this light, realize that your real life-work is to increase your capacity to reach out and realize your connectedness and wholeness, to increase your capacity to gather inspiration, wisdom and compassion, to take it to heart, and to then expand this circle of compassion to, as Einstein said, “embrace all living beings and the whole of nature in all of its beauty.”  With each breath, receiving, and radiating, expand the light of compassion for the benefit of all beings.

Now, out of compassion, as you breathe, gather the raw energy of any agitation or discomfort into your heart, like raking coal or wood into a furnace, and let it fuel the fire of transformation, giving you more light of compassion to radiate. With each breath, breathe in compost, and breathe out flowers and fruit. Breathe in fear, and let its energy be released into the radiance of confidence. Breathe in imbalance, and let it too fuel the radiance of your steadiness and resilience. Radiate the light of compassion out on the waves of your breath as a blessing of balance and peace in the lives of all those who share your world.

In this way, with practice, begin to understand that you can embrace any experience that comes to you as a vehicle to open your heart ever more widely and deeply to compassion. When you are faced with fear and suffering, let it fuel the radiance of your compassion for yourself and for others who “just like me” suffer in similar ways. Faced with beauty and the sweetness of life, let it intensify the radiance of your gratitude and joy. Imagine yourself as a light-bearer of compassion illuminating the world. Imagine the silent light of your innermost being blazing with radiant compassion. Holding your loved ones and friends in mind, radiate this light to them. Bring to heart and mind the leaders of the world, the children of the world, the beleaguered nations and species of the world, and radiate your heartfelt compassion and care to them.

In this way, receiving…. radiating… each breath affirms your deep relationship and compassion for the whole of creation, and with all beings in time past, present, and future. In this way, each blessed breath becomes a gesture of compassion for all beings.

Artist: Alex Grey,

Artist: Alex Grey


Twenty one thousand six hundred times a day, we breathe in, and we breathe out, we receive and we radiate.  For most people, most of the time, these breaths and moments flow by mindlessly, unnoticed, unlived, and irretrievable. But an alternative is available and we can learn, through practice, patience, and dedication to keep the light of our clear presence and great compassion aglow more moments of each day.

If we were to hold in one hand, all the moments when we are truly awake – when our wisdom eyes and compassionate presence is aglow in us –  and all the moments when we are mindlessly adrift, compelled by habit, and unaware, in the other hand, we would likely see that the balance is disappointingly skewed.  For most people, only 5 to 10 percent of the moments of their lives are mindfully lived, while the vast majority of moments are forever lost to mindless inattention.

Though such reflection may be humbling or even unsettling, it is heartening to realize how much room there is for improvement, and to realize that we can actually set our intention to improve the quality of our lives, to wake up, and presence the light of our compassion more fully and more often in our lives and world.

As we wake up to this limitless potential and engage in these practices, we can be assured of greater and greater success if we embrace this great work.  And as we do, each precious moment, each precious breath, can be an affirmation and dedication of our compassionate spirit, reminding us that in each moment we truly breathe with and for all beings.

As this cycle of contemplations comes to completion, may your cultivation of compassion continue to deepen, to expand, and to be a source of blessings and inspiration for all you meet along The Way.

“There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter.  We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain.  Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”
— Mother Theresa

“When we seek for connection, we restore the world to wholeness.
Our seemingly separate lives become meaningful
as we discover how truly necessary we are to each other.”
–Margaret Wheatley

“The whole idea of compassion is based on the keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings
who are all part of one another and all involved in one another…
The whole purpose of life is to live by love.”
— Fr. Thomas Merton

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This series of daily Compassion Contemplations is offered by: Dr. Joel & Michelle Levey; pioneers in the emerging global Compassion Movement; Founders of Wisdom at Work; faculty, University of Minnesota Medical School Center for Spirituality and Healing; authors, Wisdom at Work, Living in Balance, and Luminous Mind.  Their work has inspired leaders in organizations and communities around the globe to thrive with greater wisdom, compassion, and resilience in these times of great danger and potential.

Day Ten: Embodying Compassion

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depth of their hearts where neither sin nor knowledge could reach, the core of reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the divine. If only they could see themselves as they really are, if only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more need for war; for hatred, for greed, for cruelty. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

 – Father Thomas Merton, Epiphany at 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky

Can you remember a time (or times!) when you were really cracked open, and beheld the overwhelming beauty or suffering of the world around you?  Can you remember how it felt to have your heart that wide open, your seeing that deep and clear, and what it felt to simply be present and alive in those moments?
In one of the later Superman movies, there’s a touching scene where Superman takes Lois Lane way up into the sky, and asks her to listen.  “Listen.  Tell me what you hear,” he tell Lois. Lois listens hard, and responds,  “I don’t hear anything. ” Superman then replies, “I hear everything.  All the cries for help from all the people in danger. I hear voices of countless voices of people calling for help.”

In the Chinese tradition, Quan Yin is regarded as the embodiment of Universal Compassion. Her name literally means, “She who hears the cries of the world.”  In Asian cultures it is understood that Quan Yin is really a dimension or quality of our own innate compassionate presence, an innate quality of being that each of us can find within the depths of our own hearts – our most essential being.  In Christianity this archetype of compassion may be related to as the Christ or Mother Mary, in Jewish tradition as the Shekina, the Divine Feminine immanent aspect of God residing within us as “in-dwelling Presence.”

It takes courage to wake up, to open our wisdom eyes, look more deeply, see more clearly, and feel deeply into the subtle, complex, and profound interrelationships that weave the fabric of our lives and world.

To the fainthearted, it may superficially seem easier to live in denial, mindless of the intensity of beauty, joy, and wonder, numbed to the sorrow, suffering, and pain in our lives and world.  Aloof and semi-disembodied, we distance ourselves from the raw, vivid, intensity, and intimacy of our feelings and our visceral responses to the suffering of the world within and around us.  Such self-protective strategies keep us distanced from our heart, our feelings, our loved, ones, yet sooner or later, most of us get cracked open, one way or another, by the raw intensity of the nature of our lives and world.

If we are truly committed to embodying compassion, there is an opportunity for gratitude, wisdom, and dedication to come together at least three times a day in our busy lives.  When is this?  At times when we select and eat the foods that sustain our lives.


The more you listen, the more you will hear.
The more you hear, the more and more deeply
You will understand. “
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

As you look deeply into the food you are eating today, imagine that you can open your “Wisdom Eyes” and your “True Heart of garden-partyCompassion” and look deeply into the actual nature, sources, and origins of your food. Today’s Contemplations on Compassion offer a series of deepening reflections that allow us to look deeply into this mirror of food to bring forth a deeper sense of compassion and connection. These contemplations may be exhilarating, opening your heart and mind in new ways.  They may also raise some challenges for you that require the courage to really see, own, and transform some of your limiting beliefs, attitudes, or delusions into new dimensions of freedom and compassion for yourself and for other “myselves.”

Level 1:
 Set the intention to be mindful and compassionate as you eat today.  When you eat, eat “on purpose” with the clear intention to be more present, to mindfully cultivate seeing the food clearly, tasting the flavors, feeling deeply the tastes, textures, and sensations, attentive to the associated thoughts, feelings, and desires that naturally arise as you shop, make food choices, prepare food, and eat food. Bless your food with your full mindful awareness and honor it and its sources by being truly present, curious, compassionate, and awake as you eat.

As you eat, contemplate that what you are eating is actually becoming your body – your flesh, your bones, your blood, your organs, your brain.  Deepen this contemplation to also be mindful of how you feel after you have eaten your meal.  Reflect upon the choices you have made and how those sit with you and live within your body.

Level 2:  With your Wisdom Eyes and True Heart of Compassion wide open, ask yourself, As I prepare to bring this food into my body and to embody it…

Where does the food I am eating come from?  What was its place of origin?  If I went there, would I find that environment and circumstance pleasing and wholesome – or not?

How did this food get here to me from its place of origin?

How were the lives of all who were involved in this food impacted in bringing this food to me? Were they treated kindly and justly?  Were they safe, respected and well cared for – or not?

If all of these “constituents” and “contributors” to my meal had “a voice,” what might they be saying to me or what would they have to teach me about compassion?

Were all involved benefited or harmed, ennobled or diminished?

What kindnesses or sorrows were part of the life, preparations, and delivery of these foods to me?”

As you deepen into this meditation, be mindful of the images, thoughts that come to mind and the feelings, or responses that arise in your heart and your body.  What do these revelations have to teach you about compassion?  What do these insights, images, and emotions tell you about your degree of compassion and your potentials to live and embody compassion even more deeply in your life?

Listen for the stirrings of an intention or aspiration rising from these insights and see if you can identify a step you can take today to embody compassion more fully, and take a stand for bringing compassion into action more fully alive in your life, world, and way of life today.

Level 3:  With your Wisdom Eyes and heart wide open, ask yourself,

“What choices in food would I make if compassion for living beings was truly a priority in how I live my life or raise my family?  Would I eat products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are dangerous for the environment, livestock, people, and communities who live near where they are grown?  Would I eat animal products knowing the cruelty that is part of the conditions in which they live, and that they themselves are generally fed GMO foods?  Would I eat non-fair trade foods that exploit people (often children)?”

Can you identify a compassionate step you can take today to make a stand for bringing compassion into action in your life, world, and way of life?  For example, buying fair trade coffee and chocolate rather than brands that exploit people in the Third World; shifting your diet to be more plant-based and organic, and less reliant on animal products;  being mindful of and avoiding GMOs that alter the nature of our food and chemically poison our environment, and voting YES on Initiative 522 this November (if you live in Washington state) to support the labeling of GMOs and our right to know how the food we buy and feed to our families is produced. . . .

As you deepen into these contemplations, be mindful of the inspirations, insights, or guidance that come to you, and what aspirations distill out of this deep reflection.  Identify a few significant choices or steps that you can take to heart in order to honor this deeper wisdom and insight of interconnectedness.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

Level 4:

Can you imagine eating in a way that truly embodies the spirit of compassion?

Can you envision yourself relying less upon food choices that contribute to the violence of caging, brutalizing, or slaughtering animals?

Are you aware that a plant-based, organically grown diet has, on average, an energy and resource footprint as much as 20 times smaller on the environment than a diet based on animal products, while reducing the amount of dangerous chemicals that poison our bodies, the earth, and our water – and it can be enjoyable and healthy as well?

Can you imagine seeking out the guidance and resources you need to make such changes in your life in ways that allow the health of yourself, your family, and your environment to flourish in sustainable and life-affirming ways?

Can you imagine bringing this same quality of compassion and care to how you select and make every purchase in your life – food, clothing, media, vehicles, etc.?

Can you imagine staying awake, letting your heart be continually opened to deeper understanding of the power and impact of your choices, and embodying compassion ever more fully in your way of life?  Can you imagine inspiring and helping others along the ways to do the same?


Remember, in every aspect of your life, choice follows awareness. The simple practice of mindful eating can either be a mindless, habitual, empty ritual or, it can offer a great source of inspiration, insight, compassion, and spiritual transformation. Moment to moment, bite by bite, the choice is ours, and we can only have that choice when we are awake.  However you approach it, the practice of eating offers a clear mirror to see and know ourselves more deeply.  Since the part of the brain that mediates appetite and relates to food is also the center of our emotions and sexuality, becoming more mindful of our relationship with food can offer profound and transformative insights that open our hearts to deeper wisdom and compassion and free us from a host of deeply unconscious and limiting ways of life.

While our capacity for physical performance likely has upper limits, there is virtually no limit to our compassion to develop wisdom and compassion.  Our capacity for compassion is on a continuum and our journey of awakening to greater compassion has many stages and phases.

When we are motivated merely by self-interest for our own health or well-being, it is easy to fall off the wagon, to “cheat” on a diet or to compromise our ideals and values.  But when our motivation is dedicated to compassion for ourselves, for others, for all beings, and for the earth herself, dedicated to the practice and principle of non-harming in how we make purchases, choose foods, and live our lives, then it is rare to feel conflicted, deprived, or inclined to compromise the integrity of our compassionate values.  Indeed, each purchase, and each meal can become an ennobling affirmation of a conscious life devoted to embodying compassion, to the non-harming, and nonviolence toward ourselves, our environment, our children, our health, and our spirit. As the heart opens to ever deeper compassion, this simply becomes the way we are.
Resources and Inspirations:

Here are some excellent resources to help in your continued contemplations and transformations:

The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle
Wake Up to Compassion
Gentle World

Inspiring Videos:
Forks Over Knives (also on Netflix)
Genetic Roulette
Peaceable Kingdom

This series of daily Compassion Contemplations is offered by: Dr. Joel & Michelle Levey; pioneers in the emerging global Compassion Movement; Founders of Wisdom at Work; faculty, University of Minnesota Medical School Center for Spirituality and Healing; authors, Wisdom at Work, Living in Balance, and Luminous Mind.  Their work has inspired leaders in organizations and communities around the globe to thrive with greater wisdom, compassion, and resilience in these times of great danger and potential.