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How to Cultivate Compassion and Peace In Times Of Suffering by Mark Van Buren

How to Cultivate Compassion and Peace In Times Of Suffering

2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught his first followers the Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth stated that life is dukkhaDukkha is typically translated as “suffering,” but it can more appropriately be understood as “dissatisfaction,” or “unsatisfactoriness.”

Although this may seem pessimistic, the Buddha’s message was to take an honest look at our human life. Inevitably, there will be suffering because we live in an impermanent world where the only unchanging promise is endless change. Grasping on to any of our experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is like trying to grab water from a flowing stream with our bare hands–as soon we think we’re getting a hold of it, it has already seeped through our fingers.

Of course, the Buddha did not end with “life is suffering,” but went on to explain the cause and the end of the dukkha found in our lives. His approach was an all-inclusive one, based heavily on our ability to be “awake,” or rather our ability to cultivate mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion in every situation of our lives–nothing left out. Suffering, he taught, was not a curse or something to be avoided, but rather a natural part our lives to be embraced and fully experienced. By going right through our suffering we are able to drop our resistance to it, see it clearly, and ultimately making peace with it.

As mediation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said when talking about difficult emotions/situations, “…there is nothing to take over if you are not putting up any resistance.” If we can understand our suffering as an impermanent moment in time and patiently endure it, it will flow through us just like a leaf making its journey down a stream.

How Suffering Can Be Used To Cultivate Great Compassion

Any suffering we experience is shared suffering. In other words, there is always someone else out there who shares the same suffering we are experiencing. We are never alone in our suffering. When we experience any form of discomfort or pain in our lives, we can open up to it, wishing that all beings experiencing this suffering (including us) be free from it.

A great way to do this is by taking one hand to our heart and fully feeling our pain and suffering. We can acknowledge, without judgment, our struggles with this difficult time in our lives. For example, if we are experiencing pain from an illness, such as cancer, we can bring our hand to our hearts, fully feel our suffering, and say “I am struggling with the pain from this illness.” This connects us with the truth of our suffering and also acknowledges it in a direct, judgment-free way.

Open Your Heart, and Wish for Freedom

The next step is to wish all beings experiencing similar suffering, to also experience freedom from it. This may look something like this, “May all beings experiencing the pain and struggles of cancer, be free from it.” With this wish we are not only embracing our pain, but also embracing the pain and suffering of the world. Approaching our suffering in this way connects us with our vulnerability, and allows our hearts to stay open–rather than letting life’s difficulties harden us into stone.

Ultimately, all of our lives will include suffering and dissatisfaction. Aging, sickness, and death are all very real aspects of our lives which we can neither deny nor escape. Instead of allowing these difficult times to make us bitter and fearful, the Buddha offers us a new way: Face the suffering in our lives, experience it fully, and allow it to come and go as it will–it is only the movement of life.

Cultivate compassion for all beings experiencing similar suffering, and keep your heart open to life, no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in.

I wish you all well on your journey.



Non-Yogic man is a divided being, caught in a body of ancestral inertia’s. It is a body, which for generations has had to fight for survival. During the Ice Age, to be aggressive and able to hunt the sabre toothed tiger and other wild animals was an admirable quality, as it ensured survival and food for the cave dwelling family.
Today the qualities of aggression and fierceness when they come to the surface in a civilized community, (for example, at a football match), are no longer considered virtues unless the nation is at war, when the fighting man resumes those qualities that ensure survival.
The inherited tendencies in man to procreate and survive are very strong indeed and every man must recognise the tendency for his head to turn and his gaze to follow every attractive girl that passes by. That which turns his head is patterned deep within his protoplasm and is the pressure of his ancestors seeking rebirth. The same can be said of the female who attracts the male in more subtle ways, with her interest in fashion and clothes. One is here reminded of the sea anemone, attracting the interest of every small fish that passes by. We really associate any of these qualities with individual free will.
Reflexive Self Consciousness
Fortunately man has another quality and that is his ability to be reflexive and to look deep within himself for the answers. To break identification with the inertic demands of the outer world has taken time and often with the guidance of enlightened teachers both religious and Yogic. These visionaries who can see beyond the limitations of the finite world have seen a greater purpose for mankind and have outlined the steps to be taken in order to put their houses in order – Physically, Emotionally, Mindfully and Ideationally – to reach the highest levels of Spiritual Self Awareness.
The Heart Chakra
The heart chakra is central to the way we feel and its seed symbol (Yantra) is a six-pointed star, one triangle is pointing downward to the earth and the other apex upward. For the Nada Yogi listening for the inner sounds both physical and spiritual the H-ear-t is the  centre from which we can listen to sounds of our ancestors, educators, parents etc, that still try to exert control over us at some level as well as those from a much higher spiritual source so that resolution can be found at the very centre of our being.
The Mystic Rose
Meditations of the heart are very much Bhakti meditations that enable us to mediate between the world of spirit and the temporal world of every day life, as the way we feel not only influences our actions but also the health and chemistry of the body. We have here chosen the rose as a Mandala for the heart chakra as it is a symbol of love and development, which when coupled with the light of consciousness can become a powerful link with higher levels of consciousness.
It is important to note at this stage that the foundations of Yoga i.e. the Yamas and Niyamas need to be well established otherwise the more refined levels of spiritual consciousness will find difficulty in finding resolution at the level of the physical, and if not accepted can cause problems of a psychosomatic nature.
When meditating, visualize a rose at the center of feeling within the heart, make it as beautiful and as perfect as you can. The rose is a creation of Intelligence and light, once established let the image of the rose fade back into the light from which it came. Holding the feeling of perfection, allow the image of the rose to return more beautiful than ever, its light refining the way that you feel. Light is a symbol for consciousness and as the meditation continues, the form of the rose and the light or essence from which it arises will become inseparable and the whole body will become filled with light. The breath also will become peaceful and refined and experienced as a healing breath throughout the body.

From deepest part of my heart




Many of our students assume that as Yoga teachers we are conversant with all aspects of meditation, that becoming a yogi sits hand in hand with a diligent and serious meditation practise. That presumption is not unlike the belief that to meditate one must sit bound in the lotus position, empty the mind of all thought and become terribly serious and austere. Of course we know this not to be the case.

Over my years of practise I have been drawn to meditation both on and off my mat. In my youth sitting in meditation would have been torture for me – it was hard enough just to hold a posture for any length of time. The fire in my belly wanted me to move, run, leap and dance. Trapped in my physical body or in annamaya kosha, a powerful physical practise was most appealing to me.

In those early years I would have said my meditation happened when focus was turned inward during asana practise. In fact that was probably the only time my mind was completely still.

I first became aware of the deep stillness and clarity which can occur during savasana. I now know this to be a glimpse into the state of bliss or connectedness with the soul, my anandamaya kosha. I began to look forward more and more to spending time on the mat. Slowly I found it was not always necessary to be doing something with my body to bring my mind into sharp focus. That it was possible to go inward through the five sheaths of existence and into the centre of my being.

When the five koshas or sheaths of being are misaligned one being more dominant than the other we suffer from disease or disharmony within self. This manifests in many different ways. Health, relationships, poor emotional states, even wealth can suffer.

So often we or our students simply exist in the physical state, anandamaya kosha and there is no dialogue, understanding or communication between these sheaths.

The beauty of our practise is that what happens on our mat is simply a mirror of what is manifest in our lives. Therefore through our asana, pranayama and our meditation practise we can bring our koshas into balance then this will be positively reflected in our material existence. Improved health, relationships even our ability to manifest the kind of life we wish to live.

So how do we get in touch with our internal being, our soul, our blissful state?

By switching off the internal dialogue of the mind and allowing ourselves the time and space to look inwards.

But how is this done?

There are many methods which work but here is a method that has worked for me and my students.

Introduce a few minutes of stillness sitting on the mat before you begin asanas. This grounding brings you to a place of deep pratyahara – concentration.

If necessary turn your attention to watching your breath, perhaps deepening it in preparation for asana.

I tried this with my students in class and was astounded at the results. Their own practise seemed more powerful, intense, authentic. They spent less time examining the postures of the other students and seemed to find it easier to turn inwards.

This simple yet powerful discovery led me to intensify my own personal meditation. I would give myself time each day to just be still, to look inward rather than explore the internal dialogue. I learnt simple techniques which would allow me to become non-attached to the stream of distractions which ran through my conscious thought facility.

At first this was immensely difficult. But having seen the results on the mat with my students I persevered. If by being still for five minutes watching the breath the following asana practise can be so much more focused and intense then how would a daily meditation practise change my own interactions with the world. Would I learn to stop the internal chatter? How would my relationships change, my own Yoga asanas, my emotional health?

The practise began really with my own pranayama. I went right back to basics and began to follow the complete yoga breath. I later learnt that this simple practise which had grounded myself and my students so effectively was utilized in Buddhist Meditation as Mindfulness of the Breath. This wonderful practise is the most basic and yet most powerful of all meditations. Even now after years of meditation and teaching this is the practise I teach first, second and last. There are so many layers of awareness which can be uncovered, developed and utilised that no matter what kind of student you have in front of you. This simple meditation holds the key to a state of bliss.

How it works:

Find a place to sit comfortably. Make sure your spine is fully supported and that you feel relaxed. Place the hands palms up on the knees.

Perhaps decide how long you wish to meditate and set an alarm so you don’t have to wonder what the time is. (Aim to build up to 30 minutes but do as little as 5 if you wish to begin with.)

Gently close the eyes and mouth.

Begin to watch the flow of breath through the nostrils. Perhaps you can feel it brushing the top lip on the in and out breaths..

Sit with this for a while.

Feel the change in temperature of breath, cool on the inhale warm on the exhale

Sit with this for a while.

Notice were the breath moves to in your body. Don’t attempt to change it in any way. You are not looking for a deeper breath or more shallow breath. You are simply trying to become a silent observer of the process of the breath.

Sit with this for a while.

Notice the pause or stillness which sits at the top of each breath, between the in and out breath.

Here the breath is held within the body.

Next notice the stillness which sits at the end of the breath between the out and in breaths.

Here the breath is held outside the body.

Take care not to try to change the pauses between the breaths. We are not trying to make them longer or shorter. There is no reward for a really long retention. They simply ARE what they are.

Sit with this for a while.

If you wish begin to add a mantra to this simple breath meditation. On the in breath hear the sound SO and on the out breath hear the sound HUM.

SO HUM meaning, ‘I am that’.

(Many students who find it difficult to focus on a sensation or in other words are auditory rather than sensory will find the practise of adding the mantra a powerful tool to help them along the road to stillness and internal focus.)

So allow yourself to sit quietly simply being aware of all of these sensations, the sound of the breath, the temperature of the breath, the pauses which sit between the breaths, and finally if you wish too the sound of the mantra.

A word of caution, don’t become attached to any one of the processes. Don’t seek and search for some perfect breath, moment, stillness. Meditation is practise. Sometimes it is blissful the mind sliding easily into a rhythm of awareness a potent and heady connection with the energetic body and the energy of the universe around you. Other times your mind will behave in its own way. The nature of your mind may cause thoughts, sounds, sensations to intrude upon your stillness. This is the job of the mind, to react to stimuli, to consider, ponder, engage in the world around you.

The goal of the yogi is not to dissociate from the physical world but to learn to blend the five koshas. To explore the internal nature of being. By discovering our true blissful nature we must understand that that exploration. That journey takes place within our own bodies. We are not trying to lose our sense of self rather this journey brings us closer to a more authentic way of being. Losing the anxiety, expectation and the fear attached to our consciousness due to the non-reality we each have created around us. We become more peaceful, calmer; we have a genuine sense of wellness, health, and a much greater chance of success in our own reality.

So practise non-attachment. Watch the breath but don’t judge it. See or hear the thoughts but don’t engage with them. Feel the sensations but don’t grasp at them.

And as those moments of bliss arise, those glimpses of bliss which sit between your breaths when you feel connected to your true nature and connected to the universal energy we inhale with each breath don’t cling to it. Just observe it. Practise just being, don’t judge it, analyze it, discuss it, label it, change it, that action of simply just being with it will transform your meditation, your practise, your health it will lead you to a state of bliss.

With these methods in place – the mind discovers a place of sharp awareness, clarity and stillness. All thoughts, fears, anxieties, worry, passion, anger, desire, expectation both your own and that of others will dissolve. You will experience a deep relaxation of body and mind.

In the end the action of letting go and just being, moves you towards your own personal anandamaya kosha. Your own personal state of bliss. Thoughts suspend, breath seems to stop, sensations disappear, the total awareness, connectedness, blending of everything, every being, every single atom is so simple so natural you will wonder at its beauty and simplicity.