Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, the question “What if everyone did this?” seems more relevant than ever.

I’ve been asking myself this question for years, as a practice of compassion and mind training called Lojong.

There is a lot we can learn from this practice: it brings structure, resilience, and discriminating wisdom. It offers coping mechanisms that serve us under any circumstances. The present chaos in the world leads to stress and fear for many, making life difficult; whether it is trying to buy toilet paper or worrying about the health of your family and loved ones. Even though you may feel mostly inclined to look out for your own health and wellbeing right now — being compassionate and considerate may feel out of reach — it is actually our natural state of being to look out for one another.

We are programmed by evolution to be cooperating beings. We are deeply conditioned to be concerned for one another. Our hearts are made for loving. This may not always ring true, because our actions are often impacted by the actions of others (and actions then become reactions). However, I am fairly certain that when you see a baby, a puppy, or another small endearing creature, you will feel a softness welling up in your heart. “My heart is melting” is an expression for a reason.

Compassion and connection turn difficulties into opportunities. Every time a hurricane hits somewhere, an earthquake destroys a town far away, a flood overtakes a country you’ve never even been to, your first thought probably is: “How can I help?” As morbid as it sounds: nothing better than a disaster to get people united. We just want to help.

It is not necessary, however, to experience imagined hardship to feel the need be of service to others. Compassion and resilience can be cultivated by anyone willing to take the time. With practice, they can become the way we are.

When we are fully steeped in the wisdom of interconnectedness and global suffering, compassion comes naturally. Your consciousness (your mind, in this context) is the sum of your total experiences. And the quality of your consciousness determines how you live. It goes both ways. The more skillful your thinking, the more skillful your actions will become. You can actually train your mind. Just like you train your body by going to the gym, you can train your mind through spiritual practice. It takes time and persistence. It is worth the effort, though. Mind training will positively influence your relationships and your sense of self and the world.

Lojong (mind training) stems from a text composed in Tibet in the 12th century by Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, which was based on an earlier text of the 10th century Indian Master Atisha. This text consists of seven key points and 59 slogans. These slogans are short, catchy phrases, like bumper stickers, that give our mind food for thought — to put it simply. The slogans are somewhat unusual. They point you towards the unpleasant instead of avoiding it. They invite you to turn towards the difficulty. When you train your mind to embrace what’s hard instead of trying to get rid of it, you have begun to work a path of growth, happiness and true resilience. You need to learn to bear your own sufferings and difficulties first, in order to be able to embrace the suffering of others — which is what compassion is. To practice compassion is to be liberated and opened by the suffering of others to the point of finding love.

Part of the Lojong practice is the Four Key Points, or: The Four Mind Changings. I have written about these before, here and here. These contemplations are:

  • The rarity and preciousness of human life.
  • The inevitability of death.
  • The awesome and indelible power of our actions.
  • The inescapabilty of suffering.

The third Mind Changing refers to karmic consequences: The Law of Cause and Effect. Every positive and every negative action I take has an effect. Every thought we have, every word we speak, and every action we take has an effect. If we do evil it has a negative consequence; it brings suffering and pain. If in our thoughts, words and deeds we do what is good and helpful, it brings happiness and well-being.

Karma is the consequence of everything we do and have done. Everything you did in your life led up to this exact moment. This is the main principle of the karmic experiences of one’s actions. What we do has a consequence that is unfailing; there is no mistake.

I see many people who think (and act) like they are inconsequential; they think it doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do. However, we are part of a bigger collective. One of my biggest frustrations is people who leave their shopping cart in the parking lot of the grocery store instead of returning it to where it belongs. They don’t seem to care that someone else will need to return the cart for them, or worse — that someone can’t park because there is a cart blocking the parking spot. Sometimes I wonder if making a one-dollar donation really makes a difference. Yet, if everyone donates a dollar the sum of the donations will be significant. How we are living matters. We are responsible for how we are relating to what happens around us.

You can cultivate this discriminating wisdom by asking yourself the question: “What if everyone did this?”

What if everyone left their shopping cart in the parking lot of the store? (Not good.)
What if everyone put their plastic water bottles in the trash? (Not good)
What if everyone ran the red light? (Not good.)
What if everyone smiled at each other on the street? (Good)
What if everyone stopped saying unkind words? (Good.)

In other words: let your actions be guided by the question if they would have a positive or negative effect for the collective, not just for yourself in the specific moment. With this discriminating wisdom it will be easier to abide to social distancing, staying home, and not hoarding toilet paper.

It is worth the practice. The better we get at it, the sooner this pandemic will be over. And the world will be a better place as a result of it. Karma never fails.

If you’d like to read more about the Lojong practice, check out my Resources page for recommended books.

Guest post by studio BE mindfulness teacher Marije E. Paternotte, E-RYT 500.

Marije E. Paternotte offers a unique approach to yoga; balancing movement and breathing practices of traditional Hatha and Tibetan Yoga with the stillness of the Taoist Yin Yoga, awareness of Chi flow, and an emphasize on mindfulness and the Buddha Dharma. Her teaching style is understated and compassionate. She has the ability to present complex concepts, and an in-depth knowledge of yogic anatomy and philosophy, in a simple and approachable way, for which she is loved by beginning and advanced practitioners alike.

Marije was born and raised in Amsterdam where, after her training to be a professional ballet dancer, she studied law and worked as a corporate lawyer. A yoga retreat in Bali led her to the United States where she took her first yoga teacher training. She currently lives in a small beach town in New Jersey with her husband, and teaches yoga workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings around the world, as well as locally. Marije is also a guest teacher at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts and the Mandali Retreat Center in Italy.

Marije received both her foundational and professional level yoga teacher certification at the Kripalu Center, and is certified to teach Yin Yoga and Mindfulness by Sarah Powers’ Insight Yoga Institute.