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Inquiring into Compassion and Connection

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

Buddhist Festival in Southeast Asia

I often hear my teachers talk about relationships and how life is all about relationships. I found myself at a Buddhist Festival in a capital city in Southeast Asia, watching and listening to young men and women perform Laos traditional folk music. I didn’t know anyone in the crowd and was feeling a bit alone and vulnerable, as my Laos language skills were still not very strong.

I decided to say hello to a couple standing next to me by asking “do you speak English?” It turns out they did, though French was their mother tongue. Soon, we began to connect and have a great spontaneous conversation about our travels, interests, and life situations. I began to get curious about my own internal landscape and found that after I met and connected deeply with this couple there at the festival, that suddenly I felt more connected to all of the thousands of people who also stood around me. Why was this, and what did it mean?

I reflected on the traditional mindfulness heart practices such as compassion and loving kindness that I was trained in, use, and teach. These practices ask us to start easiest by thinking of a being that is very easy to care for. For me, this is often a pet or a best friend. The idea is that by bringing them to mind, we can actually cultivate that internal state of peace that many yearn for. The next step is asking what that being may need and wishing it for them. For example, I could wish for my friend to have a joyous day or that they feel fulfilled. From here the practice progressed to spreading out to include the entire world.

To me, this teaching became clear as I stood in the crowd, having earlier felt alone and separate. Now after this one connection with these friendly folks, I viscerally felt more connected and belonging to the thousands of people standing around me all sharing the joy and beauty of Laos traditional music. As I reflect back, I’m so glad I said hello to those nice French folks. I wonder if you have had a similar experience of meeting one person in a crowd and then feeling connected more to the entire group. Wishing all a feeling of connection and belonging this holiday season!

About the author:

Phillip McKnight is currently in Laos for a Fulbright English Teacher Assistantship, where he hopes to deepen his understanding of the roots of mindfulness practices by intentionally participating in Laos Buddhist culture.

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