When the Dalai Lama spoke of fostering compassion at the Seeds of Compassion events in Seattle, he brought up a concept which we often speak of but rarely practice with consistency (myself included). It is a concept which most of us don't even know HOW to foster on a daily basis.
This concept is caring for other children as we care for our own.
When we care for our own children, we want the best for them, no matter how they are behaving. We want to foster kindness in our children and self-esteem. We want them to wake up each morning full of joyful anticipation and snuggle into bed at night overflowing with feelings of safety and comfort. When our children grow older and get into trouble at school or engage in activities which harm them, we still love them with all of our hearts and want nothing more than to help them find their way in life again.
The Dalai Lama asks whether we can learn to feel a similar level of care for children other than our own who come into in our lives. Could we learn to feel a similar sense of responsibility and love for the children in our neighborhood, our children's school buddies, the children of our family friends as we do our own children?
I can't imagine that the Dalai Lama would expect us to have exactly the same degree of attentiveness. The point isn't to exhaust ourselves by focusing on the needs of every child with which we come into contact. If it is possible, then fabulous!
From listening to the Dalai Lama, my understanding is that he believes that we DO have the capacity to experience this level of care for ALL children in our lives. And if we continually fostered this level of care and concern every day of our lives, our world would be filled with a far greater level of compassion on a global scale. Remember: he says that when we give others true compassion, we ultimately foster compassion in the world as a whole.
What I have been doing lately is giving a truly conscious effort to see the good and precious and sacred in every child that crosses my path. Sometimes it isn't easy but I think it is less because I don't feel compassion but that I simply don't have the same natural level of connection that I do with my own children. It takes making an actual effort.
Of course, there are some kids that just drive me up the wall. They grate on my nerves and sometimes even intimidate me. Finding compassion for them can take more concentrated effort! However, they too receive a compassionate attentiveness from me. In fact, what I found is that once I give the effort to truly see these children and foster a care for them, I often end up experiencing an even deeper sense of compassion. It is possible to see the reasons that make them act the way that they do, and how can we not be compassionate for that!
How does the Dalai Lama expect us to get to the point where we can experience this sense of universal compassion for children in our hearts? How do we find what he calls unbiased or unlimited compassion?
He encourages us to perform a kind of contemplate meditation: to give deep thought about what it means to feel compassion toward all children. He firmly believes that it IS possible for each and every one of us to reach this point of compassion. Isn't that an absolutely decadent concept? The richness of a world filled with compassion and the desire for mutual understanding.
All that having been said...
Tonight I'm working hard to experience that abundance of pure and natural compassion for (1) my 4-year-old son who just threw a fit because he couldn't play the Sendung mit der Maus online games because it is way past bedtime, (2) my 6-year-old son who was supposed to be getting ready for bed but instead came into the livingroom with some kind of messy goop all over his foot and cried out, "Hey, look at my new shoe! HAH!" and (3) my 3-year-old daughter who received a sticker for this evening's homeschooling work but in the last 5 minutes has changed her mind about which sticker she wants at least ten times (each time crumpling the current sticker in her hand).
Ahhhh, the joys of finding compassion for our own children. Maybe the Dalai Lama had it all backwards? Could it be that the true task is to learn to have as much compassion for our own children as our sweet, kind, perfect, lovely neighbor children? Hmmm, next time I have the chance I'll ask him.
Either way, I'm sure the Dalai Lama would say to me: "Compassion begins at home!"