Moving Toward the Pain: A Meditation on Compassion for Australian Bushfire Victims

It is true, the suffering our species has wrought is unimaginable. But we must not look away. We must actually take it as an invitation to go more deeply into the pain, to take this pain on as our own. For it is from this place of pain, of compassion, of interconnection, that we must act.

I had only read reference to it in others’ posts: a charred kangaroo joey stuck in a fence. A victim of the raging Australian bushfires. A victim of our ever hungry economic system. Instead of thanking my lucky stars I hadn’t run into the image, I decided I ought to see it for myself. 

I entered the terms into my search engine, clicked “Images,” and braced myself. A wave of relief came over me after a quick runthrough of the results revealed nothing. And then my eyes fell on one image. It looked like a singed teddy bear, almost smiling, peaceful. Life cut short.

A well of tears bubbled up, and I spent the first five minutes of my workday holding myself with self-compassion and crying. And yet I welcome these tears as necessary — necessary for my own personal transformation, and necessary for our collective transformation. 

It is true, the suffering our species has wrought is unimaginable. But we must not look away. We must actually take it as an invitation to go more deeply into the pain, to take this pain on as our own. For it is from this place of pain, of compassion, of interconnection, that we must act.

A Meditation on Compassion for Australian Bushfire Victims

Allow your eyes to close. Take three deep breaths in and out. Allow your last out-breath to carry your attention to your feet. Feel your feet planted firmly on the ground. Experience your connection to the Earth here and now. Now allow your attention to move up your body, feeling the weight of your body being held by your chair, feeling your back against the backrest. 

Turn your attention to your breath. Notice where you sense it most strongly. Is it in your belly? The rise and fall of your chest? The tickle of your nose hairs? Notice that in this moment you are safe. Put your hand over your heart and say to yourself quietly for a few breaths, “I am safe.” Rest in this safety and know that you can come back to this breath anytime you need to. 

Keep your hand over your heart. Now bring to mind an image or news story you’ve seen about the Australian bushfires. Perhaps it’s the stories of people fleeing the fires to the beach. Or the reports of millions of koala deaths. Reminding yourself that you are safe now, put yourself in the image or story. Imagine the smoke, the flames. Allow yourself to share in the fear, to share in the pain. 

Let any feelings come up. Notice them. Name them. “Fear.” “Anger.” “Sadness.” “Grief.” Know that you can be a container for them all. If you’d like, you can wrap your arms around your body, holding yourself with compassion as you experience these emotions. If need be, remind yourself, “I am safe.”

Recognize in this moment that your ability to connect with these emotions, your ability to step into the experience of another, is evidence of your deep connectedness to all life on Earth. Just like you and me, these beings want only to be happy. Just like you and me, these beings want only to survive.

From this place of connection, we can hold an image of our Australian family members — human and nonhuman alike — and begin to say to ourselves, 

May these beings be free of suffering, 

May they be free of the root of suffering, 

May they be free of suffering, 

May they be free of the root of suffering.

May my work help to bring about the end of suffering,

May my work help to bring about the end of the root of suffering.

Repeat these phrases as many times as you wish, until a sense of calm has come over you. Return to these phrases anytime you become overwhelmed today.

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