“Out in public, we have the opportunity to notice and interact with people who are different from ourselves. Perhaps they are richer or poorer, handicapped, a different race or ethnic group, gay, straight, young in a place of old folks, or old in a place full of young folks. Spiritual practice is the art of taking time to see each other, to let our eyes meet, smile,” wrote Christina Baldwin while giving impetus to journaling about our spiritual journey and manifesting its core values in the mundane, the often uninspiring, and dreamed-through parts of our life. “Spiritual energy brings compassion into the real world. With compassion, we see benevolently our own human condition and the condition of our fellow beings. We drop prejudice. We withhold judgment.”
Compassion is one of the core Buddhist practices that allows us, at least for a few moments, to step out of our ego-created protective shells and direct our energy towards others, wishing to relieve them of their suffering, to feel what they feel, and soften our hearts. But this is often very hard to do, for to truly allow ourselves to feel another person’s pain requires not only open-heartedness but also courage.
This is exactly what Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun of immense wisdom and kindness, sets out to teach us with a simple, on-the-spot practice called “Just like me,” included among 108 other whole-souledly exercises in Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. When we find ourselves in an unwelcome situation, for example, stuck in a waiting room or a traffic jam, we should look around us not to see the obstacles or causes of our frustration but our common humanity, “Just like me, these people have somewhere to go. Just like me, they feel trapped and frustrated. Just like me, that person doesn’t want to suffer. Just like me, she doesn’t want hatred coming towards her.”
JUST LIKE ME
by Pema Chodron
As a result of compassion practice we start to have a deeper understanding of the roots of suffering. We aspire not only that the outer manifestations of suffering decrease but also that all of us could stop acting and thinking in ways that escalate ignorance and confusion. We aspire to be free of fixation and closed-mindedness. We aspire to dissolve the myth that we are separate.
I do this sort of thing in all kinds of situations—at the breakfast table, in the meditation hall, at the dentist’s office. Standing in the checkout line at the market, I might notice the defiant teenager in front of me and make the aspiration, “May he be free of suffering and its causes.” In the elevator with a stranger, I might notice her shoes, her hands, the expression on her face. I contemplate that just like me she doesn’t want stress in her life. Just like me she has worries. Through our hopes and fears, our pleasures and pains, we are deeply interconnected.