A Writer’s Novel Way to Train and Practice Compassion

Like many people, a lot of my emotions have tended to be sources of suffering for me, so like many others, especially the ones I now mainly see the scientific and academic world, I became quite intellectual as a child.  If most of my attention goes to my thinking, my clever words, there is less energy for emotions to manifest with.  I wouldn’t quite call it “repressing” my emotions, but making them more background and less foreground in my everyday life.

When I began reading Gurdjieff’s ideas on spiritual development decades ago, one of them that particularly impressed me was that we have the capacity for three kinds of intelligence.  I say the “capacity for,” rather than simply “have,” as Gurdjieff argued that in most people only one of these three kinds of intelligence is really developed, and the other two are seriously underdeveloped (and, I would add, rather neurotic for lack of development of their inherent potential intelligence).  To progress to higher level of spiritual development, all three kinds of intelligence needed to be reasonably developed, Gurdjieff argued, and then a higher kind of spiritual intelligence could begin to manifest.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  Modern psychology is just beginning to realize there are different kinds of intelligence.

For me, it was (intellectually) obvious that I needed to develop my emotional and body-instinctive intelligence.  I participated a lot in various psychological growth groups years ago to help my emotional intelligence along, and took up Aikido, a Japanese martial art that has a heavy emphasis on mindfulness of what you’re doing in the bodily level, to help develop my body-instinctive intelligence.  I participated a great deal in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way kind of work also, but found, at least in the particular groups I encountered, that while it was developing a kind of sensory and intellectual sensitivity in me to a very high degree, it was neglectful of an aspect of emotion that I knew I very much needed, compassion.  One of the reasons I dropped formal Fourth Way work and became a student of Tibetan Buddhism was because there is much more emphasis on developing compassion in that Buddhist path, although I still generally feel Gurdjieffian mindfulness practice leads to mindfulness in everyday life, where it is very much needed, than the hoped for generalization of meditative mindfulness to life in other traditions.  Both traditions inform my ever day life today.

This essay is to share a little technique I’ve developed for continuing to develop my compassion.  It’s just a small part of a much larger life task, but others may find it useful.

A background experience that probably helped me develop this technique was a conversation with a friend years ago.  He mentioned that when he read the daily newspaper, he made a practice of turning to the obituary page and praying for several of the people mentioned in the obituaries there, even though they were complete strangers to him.  I was impressed.  It’s kind of easy to feel compassionate love for people that you already know and love, not so easy for strangers, and especially hard for those who are your “enemies.”  I was impressed, but nothing came of this idea for many years.

In the last year, I’ve been doing a lot of writing.  Much of it is “creative writing,” in the sense that I try to describe understandings I’ve come to about our psychological and spiritual nature in ways that I hope will be helpful to people, and it’s some blend of tradition, modern psychology, and my scientific and engineering background.  The particular stimulus for these kinds of essays is usually some sudden understanding on my part, or a possibly more effective way to express an old understanding.  If circumstances don’t interfere, I sit down at the computer and start writing.

My style of writing is usually to write steadily as long as I’m feeling the inspiration, and then reach stale and blocked periods where I really don’t know what I want to say next.  Rather than sit at my computer and feel frustrated that the creative juices have stopped flowing, I’ve found it’s better to do something else for a few minutes, and maybe the creative juices will start flowing again.  There’s no guarantee that they will, but diversion ups the probability that they will.

(I can remember 50 years ago that one of the kinds of diversions that was helpful was sharpening my pencils.  Does that memory date me?  Does anyone sharpen pencils anymore?)

One of the qualities of a successful diversion is that it should be intellectually or physically engaging to a fair extent, so I really do have to take my mind away from the writing and concentrate fairly well on the diversion, but it should not be so engaging that I get wound up in the diversion activity.  That can happen too easily for me, off I go on this new idea or activity, and lose the thread of what I was creating before.

One of the things that’s very useful to me for this optimal level diversion purpose the last couple of years is the online game Bubble Shooter.  There are many versions of this available online, but I’ve settled on the one at http://www.puzzlebubbleshooter.com/.  I picked this primarily because the colors of the different bubbles are quite distinct, so I don’t get confused.  So many times my creative juices will stop flowing, I’ll boot up the game and go pop some bubbles for a few minutes, I feel the creative juices begin to flow again and switch right back over to writing.  It doesn’t always work, of course, but it works a lot.

An unanticipated “extra” that came with this particular version of Bubble Shooter is shown in the screenshot below.  Eight small pictures of various people’s Facebook pictures are shown, and you can click on any one of them to see the picture in more detail — and receive an invitation to join Facebook.  I don’t do Facebook or any of the contemporary social media, I simply don’t have time for them, but I discovered this little extra could be used to help train my compassion.

(I’ve blurred out the faces in the screenshot below out of respect for their privacy.  Perhaps I’m old-fashioned to care about people’s privacy but that’s my ethic, and I’ve read too many stories about various social media not respecting people’s privacy wishes.)

When this bubble shooter screen and accompanying Facebook people’s photos first come up, I remember that I want to practice compassion for a few moments, so I select one of the pictures and click on it so I can see it in more detail.  Sometimes I pick someone at random, often I pick on the basis of which person looks most different from the usual kind of people I associate with.  I’m trying to broaden who I care for.

Here’s an example of the kind of larger picture I get on my screen.  Again, I’ve blurred the picture out of respect for the person’s privacy.

Then I say a little prayer for the welfare of that person, or use a Tibetan Buddhist mantra as a wish for blessings for that person.  Then I click back to the main Bubble Shooter screen, shoot bubbles for a while, waiting for the creative juices start flowing.  When I do, it’s back to writing.

This is a particular method that I’m finding useful, and it might be useful to some other people.  I’m feeling stuck, I divert my mind for a while in a way that’s interesting but that doesn’t really suck me into it, and when the creative juices flow again I write.  I hope this or something like it might be useful to you.  Maybe your creative juices will flow!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *