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Compassion Haiku

Grass, Karl. Compassion Haiku (Karl Grass Publisher, 2013).

Excerpt from Compassion Haiku

Daily insights and practices for developing compassion for yourself and for others



Compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. ~Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary


The inspiration for this book came from a conversation with a good friend, Linda Newlin, who had just described for me the vision that tapped an amazing font of creativity from inside her.  She had just finished writing her first CD and was planning a one-woman show.  The focus of her work was about loving yourself and saying, “no” to help end abuse.  It immediately hit me how important self-compassion is.  Without it, abusive relationships continue.  With it, more people say, “no” and do what is needed to get out of the horrible situations they find themselves.  Imagine how much suffering in the world would end if we all became more self-compassionate. 

For some years prior to this I had been working to boost my own level of self-compassion and had been on the lookout for ways to increase it.  The conversation with Linda gave me an idea; what if I reflected on it everyday and wrote about what I learned and tried that day?  I had journaled quite a bit and knew from experience that regular reflection was helpful.  The idea of a daily haiku coupled with some short comments appealed to me.  That way I could capture something of both the experiential and intellectual nature of what I had encountered each day.  And with no further thought I started that day and continued each day thereafter until a full year had gone by.  

Surprisingly, I never hit the dreaded “writer’s block.”  Many nights I sat down with my laptop and had no idea what I would write.  Yet, after reflecting on the day, something invariably came up.  Sometimes I had a felt sense of the insight and working to reflect it in a haiku helped bring out the rational side.  Sometimes it was the logical understanding that was clear and I worked to get in touch with the essence and express a more experiential form of it in a haiku.  And, of course, some are more successful than others.

As I continued I found my focus shifting from mostly self-compassion to compassion for others.  What I see more clearly now is how tightly bound the two are.  As my self-compassion became stronger, my capacity for compassion for others grew.  My hope is that you will experience the same.

Although the writing of this was a self-development activity I decided to publish it in the hope that it might benefit others.  This wish is true for each reader and for our broader world.  I hope it can become a resource for anyone looking to increase his or her own capacity for compassion.  If it offers a chance for your own use of reflection and supports your own experiments in compassion it will have met its mark.  More broadly, it is clear to me that compassion is the most effective and practical means we have for ending suffering in our lifetime.  It is available to each of us all of the time, no money is required to develop it, no laws or regulations are needed to use it, and no limitations in science or technology are holding us back.  Making it a daily practice is all that is required to literally change the world.  The image of a world where abusers care enough for themselves and others that they can no longer tolerate being a source of pain and where those being abused are self-compassionate enough to get themselves out of harm’s way when they can is a powerful one.  Imagine all of the ills that will end when we each take up the mantle of living compassionately.  There is literally no limit and my wish is that this is enough to motivate you to start today. 

For anyone reading this who is wondering if all of this isn’t just a bit too lofty I’d like to offer a more mundane example.  Consider how compassion and capitalism can meet.  The very heart of capitalism is an exchange between parties where each receives something of greater value than what they gave up.  Here is where compassion can make such a difference.  The more in touch we are with someone else’s challenges, the better we will be at helping overcome them.  And the better we are at overcoming them, the greater the value we provide.  And the greater the value we provide, the more likely we will not only do good but that we will also prosper and build a loyal customer base in the process.


My suggestion for working with this material is that you set aside a short amount of time each morning and approach each day’s haiku and commentary with a spirit of contemplation and an intention to make compassion a part of your day.  Each day’s words should be read slowly.  While it is certainly possible to read ahead or to read sections at a time, I am not sure this will be as meaningful as taking in the material gradually, one day at a time.  If you prefer to sample a page at random each day I certainly invite you to do so.  However, there are a few sections where I suggest some multi-day exercises.  If you run across one of these you may want to stay with the sequence that contains them until the exercise is complete. 

End of the path looms
Sweet nostalgia arises
New travels begin


January 3

We love others well
If we were our own children
Would we be so hard?

See yourself from another perspective.  If you were your own child, how would you, as the mother or father to you, see you?  What would you love and appreciate about yourself?  Would you be nearly so hard on yourself?


February 13

Peaceful and quiet
Drop hanging expectantly
Action releases it

Reflective practices open our eyes to new ways of seeing things and deeper understanding.  They allow our potential to ripen.  Taking the next step, practicing, transforms potential into reality.  Reflect on compassion often and experiment with your insights in order to perfect them and make them real.  What growing realization or insight can you experiment with today?


March 25

Raindrops from the sky
On earth they join together
The river flows on

Compassion is not a grand event although it is grand.  Nor does it need to be dramatic, although its impact can be.  We live our lives in moments.  Each one offers a way to live compassionately, a way to alleviate suffering, a way to nourish.  Simple acts with good intent.  One by one they accumulate and their impact is multiplied.  In what simple ways can you avoid creating suffering today, for others and for yourself?  Keep this in mind and let it guide you all day.


April 15

Chipped paint, sagging roof
Inside warmth and love is found
Perception is flawed

What we see in others is rarely more than a surface glimpse of a much more complex picture.  Our judgments fail to account for what we do not see.  We might think and act differently towards them if we knew what lay behind their behaviors and actions.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may have said it best when he penned, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”  

When faced with bad behavior from others consider what in their secret history might account for their actions before you respond.  Defend your own well-being but also consider how you can avoid detracting from theirs.  By opening your heart to the possibility of his or her own secret history you may find this easier to do.


May 7

Silent skies above
Tranquil water lays smooth… flat
Fierce screams now empty

What isn’t present defines what is.  When we refrain from negative thoughts, habits, and behaviors we find a very different world.  Choose something negative to let go off today and see how your experience changes.


June 1

Arid, empty field
In the middle, arms outstretched
We accept the rain

What happens when others shower you with warmth?  It may be praise, it may be thanks, it may simply be recognition for something you did.  Allowing it in and letting yourself soak in it may not be your first inclination.  Try it the next chance you get.  The exercise of self-compassion includes making ourselves vulnerable to the love around us.


July 2

True, false, I don’t know
Stories that spin are tested
Avoid loss and pain

If we are pay attention we probably notice that we have a judgment or story about someone based on even the slimmest of evidence.  People who wear all black are trying to be cool, or someone who doesn’t smile is a bitch, or the well-dressed preppie is selfish, or the person who keeps interrupting just wants to have their way, or whatever…  I’m guessing you know what I mean.  Testing these stories with a simple, “true, false, or I don’t know” often reveals that we don’t really know if what we are reacting to is actually true.  And with that knowledge we can see and take advantage of more opportunities to connect in a healthy and productive way.  Try testing all of your stories as you go through the day.


August 13

Reflections of light
Dancing fantastically
Forever they change

When we realize our life is unfolding at every moment we can see that it is less solid and fixed than we may have thought.  Understanding this makes it easier to let go of trying so hard to preserve something that is likely to change anyhow.  Which in turn allows us to see new opportunities to evolve and change in ways that support well-being for others and ourselves.  What better version of your self might exist in the next moment?  What new choices can be made?


September 11

Evil eye at work
In anger we wish the worst
Darkness blankets all

How often does the irritation of someone’s actions lead us down the path of wishing something bad on someone, even if it is relatively mild like, “I hope this happens to them someday!”  I’m guessing we all can admit to having secretly wished ill will on someone.  Yet, wouldn’t it be more effective if that person were to suddenly become more understanding or loving or compassionate?  How can it help anyone, including us, if they suffer?  The next time you find yourself getting annoyed or angered by someone else try wishing them well, seeing them with the positive traits that would make them a valued friend.


October 26

Open hearts expand
We all reach for love, not hate
Imagine that world

When we tap into the well of love we hold inside we can give it away freely.  When we think about a world where everyone lives from that same place we can imagine a heaven on earth.  What is stopping such a world from existing? Nothing is, other than the participation of each of us.  By exercising compassion freely you are removing one barrier to that world and inviting others to do the same.  Contemplate that today.


November 1

Buried deep inside
Horrors waiting to be found
If only we knew

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words over 150 years ago.  They offer sound advice on what to contemplate when faced with attacks from our enemies or those who dislike or mistreat us.  What could this person have faced in their past that would explain who they are.  What sorrow and suffering have they faced?  With this attitude we can take a more compassionate approach to the challenge they offer.


December 8

A moment in time
A leaf falls, a cloud goes by
Many lives are changed

It is the in-between moments that make up our lives.  We have many short moments when we can enjoy beauty and we have many short moments when we can add beauty.  The simple acts of compassion we show when we lend a helping hand, lighten a load, smile, or listen can change the direction of someone’s day.  In turn, that change can ripple out to others.  In just the time it takes for breeze to rustle the leaves, you can touch many lives for the better.  What are you waiting for?

This excerpt appears here with the permission of the author.


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