…. we all want to change the world
Well maybe not everyone. But there’s no escaping that the world faces some pretty huge challenges environmentally, socially and politically right now. There’s a growing sense that old approaches and existing mindsets aren’t going to fix the problems that they’ve played such a huge part in creating. Increasingly, people sense that a deeper shift is needed. It’s a time of deep concern and also of hidden aspiration.
So, I’ve created a programme called the Compassionate Professional Revolution.
But it’s a tricky word – revolution. It carries all sorts of historical baggage and troubling associations from the past. So, let’s dive a little deeper to see what lies beyond…
Originally the word revolution referred to celestial bodies and planets moving “in a circular course.” Revolution, in early 15c means revolving, a circling around; “a cyclical reoccurrence, or recurrent change or event”. By 1660s it relates to “an object or person turning round or moving round a point.” Think bicycle wheels and pottery wheels and (if you are old enough!) record turntables. Only later was revolution linked to a great change in human affairs, and to the “overthrow of an established political or social system”.
This dictionary delving is important, because when I invite you to a professional revolution you might be a little hesitant! If we associate revolution only with seismic upheavals like the Russian Revolution or the Chinese Cultural revolution, it is hard not to associate it with violence, mayhem and threat.
And that’s not a helpful way to think.
Revolution as a natural process
There are two ways of thinking about revolution. One is a linear, instrumental, Western way and the other a more ecological, organic, Eastern way.
The Western way sees revolution in terms of a linear, straight-line, before and after, process. It means an overthrow of the previous, existing order. Something new comes along that replaces what has gone before. First ‘A’, then ‘B’. If we see revolution in this linear, either one or the other, way, it is no surprise that we imagine violence, danger and threat. It seems inevitable that one thing must die or be destroyed, so another can take its place.
The ecological, Eastern view of revolution stays closer to the original meaning. It draws our attention to a universal, circular process, something that goes round and round (think planets and celestial bodies). This makes it easier to see revolution as a natural, necessary, organic process of life. Yes, it still involves (apparent) endings and beginnings, and yes, all endings can feel scary. But revolution becomes an ongoing process of life. Revolution is a process in which different ways of thinking, being and behaving naturally rise and fall, come and go, circle around from one extreme to another endlessly – like the celestial bodies, the planets. Like all of life.
And once we see revolution as intrinsic to the way life naturally organises, then we can begin to imagine a compassionate one …
Compassion is not what we think it is
This is Tara. Tara is a Bodhisattva (‘awakened being’) within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She expresses the quality of endless compassion. Tara is smiling and beautiful. She appears calm, peaceful, gentle, generous and supportive. Like all Bodhisattvas she expresses perfectly a quality that is intrinsic to us all. We too have compassion just like Tara. It’s just that we put up habitual barriers, fixate on thoughts and emotions, and are filled by hesitations and doubts that Tara is utterly untroubled by. And so, her compassion can shine through.
This is another manifestation of Tara. This Tara is not so obviously beautiful. This Tara looks somewhat ferocious, scary, even violent. Her necklace has become a garland of severed heads. Her crown is ornamented no longer by jewels but by grinning skulls. Her eight hands hold weapons of various kinds, and if we look closely we can notice that her smile now features sharp pointed teeth.
We might wish to meet the first Tara one day – perhaps in an exotic, mystical place, perhaps in a visionary dream, perhaps, if we are really lucky, in the checkout queue at TESCO.
The second Tara we would not wish to meet. We would be terrified. Yet this second Tara is also an expression of our own intrinsic compassion.
Compassion is not always what we think it is.
Most people, if they think of compassion at all, think of a feeling. A rather nice, warm, but also rather passive and un-dynamic, feeling. We might feel sorry for the suffering in the world. Perhaps we feel sad, genuinely touched in our hearts. But we do not think of compassion as a vibrant, energetic, creative, powerful, even an unstoppable natural force.
What if we did? And what if we brought that to our work? Every day?
Compassion (literally – ‘suffer with’) is where the truth of our own experience, of who we are, meets the suffering in the world. This includes the suffering of other people, of non-human animals and of nature. We could also include the suffering of our future descendants, and of those ancestors who suffered in terrible ways because of humanity’s historical lack of awareness.
Humans are endlessly creative, dynamic participants in our world. Whenever we open our hearts to the suffering out there, we describe ourselves as being ‘touched’. We say that we are ‘moved’. These phrases are not at all coincidental. We have an ongoing communication and exchange with the world. We are literally touched and moved. Then naturally we respond. This response, based on an open hearted relationship with the world, and arising from wise seeing into the nature of the world is compassion. Compassion implies action – it’s not just a feeling. But action based on a deep understanding of how suffering is created in the world and how we can respond skillfully.
A compassionate professional revolution requires a rebalancing of self and culture so that work circles away from an individualistic, materialistic, instrumental focus, towards becoming a creative, courageous service to society, humanity and the natural world. That may seem odd, or hard to do if you work in a garage, or an IT department, or an airport. But why not? Such a rebalancing is certainly possible. Celestial bodies cycle, and so do cultures and mindsets. That is revolution.
Healing hearts and restoring life through our work
The initials of Compassionate Professional Revolution are CPR – more commonly an acronym for a lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating. Individually and collectively our hearts, the central essence of our humanity, are indeed under attack. Professional life does not encourage people to live from, or be true to, our hearts. Every day all over the world, billions of people go into workplaces and feel the need to cover, deny or defend their hearts in order to do work. The price we pay for being ‘professional’ in this way is a collective heart attack! Multiply the activity of several billion souls all spending their days doing things in ways that attack their hearts, is it any wonder that the living systems of the natural world, the heart of our planet, are also under sustained attack?
What if we just didn’t do that any longer?
What if we refused to obscure or distort the natural wisdom and compassion of our hearts in the work that we do each day?
This is the essence of a Compassionate Professional Revolution.
Sure, we’d need to talk about our fear – of looking stupid, of losing money, of feeling different and being judged. And sure, we’d need to give space to our visions, aspirations and dreams. Honouring those can make us feel weird, afraid and uncomfortable too. And sure, then we’d need to find some way of putting that all into action and staying true to our visions when the going gets tough. None of that is straightforward.
And yet it’s all possible.
The world is shaped by what we each do each day. And what most of us do each day is this thing we call work. And that makes our work the perfect place to practise opening our hearts and participating in the great cycling and re-balancing in human culture that is underway.
Be in touch if you would like to explore whether this is for you. And if you think this will be helpful to anyone you know and love, please feel free to pass it on.