Contemplative Leadership: Born of Compassion
Today’s post is by Leah Rampy
When compassion fills my heart,
free from all desire,
I sit quietly like the earth.
My silent cry echoes like thunder
throughout the universe.
What does it mean for us to be called to compassion, graced with the capacity and the desire? What do we notice about the habits of the ego that can separate us from others-and from that desire? How is it possible for power to shift from dominating and controlling to the power of love? Can we fan the flames of compassion and invite it to become more fully alive in us as we practice open-hearted acceptance?
Compassion, from the Latin, means “to suffer with.” From the Buddha, “Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; it shelters and embraces the distressed.” In Hebrew, the word for compassion is “rachamim,” which comes from the same root as “rechem,” meaning “womb.” Meister Eckhart tells us, “From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth. The essence of God is birthing.” “The view of the Divine as ‘womb of compassion’ captures the vast benevolence that underlies all of creating including our own coming into being.” Born of compassion, we desire to live in compassion.
Scientists have recently discovered that we are gifted with a mirror neuron system. Simply put, areas of our brain activate in alignment so that when others act or feel a certain way, our neurons recognize the action as our own. When we are profoundly connected, our autonomic nervous systems join in harmonious rhythm. And when we do good, there is increased activity in the pleasure centers of our brain. “If you want others to be happy,” says the Dalai Lama, “practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Science now stands behind a premise held by all major religions: we are designed for compassion. What a joyful alignment: out of Divine compassion, we are created in a way that enables and reinforces our desire to be compassionate!
But of course we don’t live in continual connection and compassion. Jerry May once defined compassion as “love with all the desire, control, will, self/other and body/mind subtracted from it.” Ah, yes; there’s the rub! Subtracting out our desire, control, will, self/other and body/mind doesn’t always come so easily!
Our ego invites us to notice what unique and wonderful individuals we are. And of course we are! But when our ego looms large, we begin to differentiate and to make others-well, “other.” This separation that makes you “one of them” breaks the compassionate connection. Race, gender, religion, ethnicity, political party-so many things can divide. To that list, we add the hierarchy of most of our organizations. My ego may relish that I am “committee chair.” Or that I am the “boss;” you are my “employee” or “subordinate.” Our language and our experience often invite us to enjoy the power of being “the leader.” I am in control; you are not. And the way we sometimes speak of the earth and all that lives on this beautiful planet invites us to feel “different and superior” and free to use the “resources” as we wish.
When driven by ego, our power (the capacity to act) is represented by confidence, competence, expertise, titles, success, degrees, stature, money, self-esteem and recognition. It’s a zero-sum game. To “win,” I need to have more than you have. To keep winning, I need more and more. Compassion struggles to survive in this space. And it probably goes without saying that this hardly represents the contemplative leadership we hope for.
Contemplative, compassionate leadership is prayerfully attentive to the True Leader. We lead by grounding ourselves in the deep wisdom that is available to us when we are present and open to God. Power, the capacity to act, is available as the Spirit works through us. This power is centered in the sure knowledge that we are all one. The Good Samaritan crossing the road to bandage the wounds, graced to see the Divine in another person-this is the leadership we’re invited to in every domain of our lives.
This is an excerpt from a longer article entitled Contemplative Leadership: Compassion, Power & Hope. To access more articles and resources contemplative leadership, sign up for With Hearts Wide Open: an Online Contemplative Leadership Seminar with Leah Rampy – available now through May 31.