Want To Help Others? Help Yourself

compassion meditation in action

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor widower, and the student was a young girl by the name of Meda. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act comprised the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground. Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil: ‘Listen Meda, I will watch you and you watch me so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we’ll surely earn enough to eat.’

But the little girl was wise, and she answered, ‘Dear master, I think it would be better for each of us to watch yourself. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.’

This is an intriguing story and can seem counterintuitive at first. “To look after oneself means to look after both of us.” I fly several times a year. When I’m on the airplane and the attendants are announcing the pre-flight safety instructions, the most interesting part is when they give instructions about the oxygen masks. “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” When I remembered first hearing that, I thought, what? No way! How can that be? But after thinking about it, I then realized that I probably couldn’t help anyone if I were dead! 

This is like our meditation practice. Sure, there are many benefits of practicing meditation, but ultimately it means how we can better help others. If we take care of ourselves, meaning if we take the time to look inside ourselves and let go of all the constant mind chatter, we can return to this moment with clarity and awareness. When our mind is clear in this moment, we can see everything that is in front of us just as it is. Then we can respond to people and situations in a clear and helpful way. Ultimately, this will benefit ourselves and all of those around us.

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