Episode 10: Compassion in New York

Episode Summary

This week Keith shares two stories that taught him a lot about Compassion… He also teaches a short compassion practice to do over breakfast!


Welcome to Episode 10. This week, it’s all about compassion, but not compassion in the way you might think we assume compassion is something we do for others, like something we’re supposed to do. But this week, we’re going to explore how compassion can really protect us. And I’ll also share a sort of mysterious compassion practice that you can do right in the middle of your day.

Hey there. So today’s episode is in the form of two stories that actually took place about 20 years ago in in New York or nearby. And they might sound like they’re kind of rambling but stick with it. There’s actually a point to this.

The first story takes place summertime, I was in second year in college. I had gotten a J-one visa to go and to work in the States. And I was playing Gaelic football for a team there, which was great fun, like going to Gaelic park in the Bronx and playing for the team. And the manager of the team had arranged a job for me before I went over. This was actually my second summer being in New York. The previous summer, I sort of illegally worked as a plumber and worked in construction. But this time I was doing it properly with the visa and the proper job and everything organised.

So the manager set me up with a job where I was the doorman in an Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan. And so not like a doorman, as in like a bouncer but the type of doorman who greets the person, has this sort of suit and hat and opens the door for them. And so it’s an incredibly wealthy building. I was’nt actually the guy in the front door I was standing inside. And my job was that when the person would come in – the doorman would greet them, maybe take their bags, or whatever it was. And then when they’d come in, I had to know, are they going to the elevator on the left or the elevator on the right of the lobby. And they’d be about it was 16 floors, so and there was two apartments on each level. So like 32 families, roughly. And so I’d have to greet the person trying to think, okay, they’re going to this elevator, I would walk with them to the elevator carrying their bags, if they’ve got something, and then they’d get into the I press the button, they’d get into the elevator, I’d get into the elevator, and then I’d have to know what floor are they going to, and I just pressed the button to the floor. So it was basically a completely pointless job.

But I was about 20 at the time, and it paid really well. And it gave me this chance to see all these people who were millionaires. And you know, in lots of cases, billionaires, and sort of be up close and see what they were like. So it was really interesting. One thing that really became apparent was that even though these people seem to have everything and be incredibly wealthy, they actually looked less happy than the average person I know. And for a young guy, this was a real eye opener to me that, that incredible wealth doesn’t really guarantee happiness at all. And in fact, they just looked quite stressed and under pressure and generally more tense than the average person.

And then there was one exception, there was one guy, and he lived on the second floor from the top, like just below the pentose. And he immediately seemed really different. Like he tended to dress more casually, he walked in a more relaxed way and, and I talked with the other staff and found out that he was he was another like guy in this high pressure job for high stakes. But all the staff really liked him. You know, I could see things like when he’d come in, firstly, he’d know all the staff by name, which not everyone did. And he’d also like, stop and chat with them. And one of the guys I worked with was Puerto Rican. And he’d always say like, how’s your dad getting on? How’s the recovery going? And he knew things about everyone’s lives. And you could see it just in how physically he carried himself. Like, he looked relaxed, his shoulders are relaxed. He’s not rushing, his jaws, not tense. You know, often when I was with people in the elevator, their guard is down and you can just see they’re like, yeah, they often looked really tense.

Where as this guy was relaxed. He’s in the present moment, he’s chatting with me. He had a real interest in what I was doing. So we chat. He knew I was studying geology at the time. And he’d have a few things to say about that. And a few questions for me and just being like, generally encouraging. For some reason, he became like an archetype, like a symbol for me. And it really stuck in my mind. Like, how, how is he doing it? What’s different about this guy? And it became like a puzzle to me or a Koan? Like a riddle, what is it about this guy? How can he do what he’s doing? and still be present and relaxed? And I was thinking, like, I’d really like to be like that. How does he do it? What’s he doing?

Okay, so that’s the first story.


The second story is a strange one. I’m now 26 or so, I’ve been studying Tibetan Buddhism in a pretty focused way for three or four years. My teacher is an American monk. And his teacher is a Tibetan Lama. His name was Khen Rinpoche shale. And in this case, it’s K, H, E, N, and it means Abbot. And he was actually the former Abbot of a monastery in South India, where I happen to have studied before as well. He was one of these people who when the Chinese invaded Tibet, he fled across the Himalayas, with the Dalai Lama and lots of other Tibetans, so he’s from that kind of generation.

So Khen Rinpoche, or his other name was Geshe Lobsang Tharchin was an incredibly revered teacher. And people said to me, you know, he was in his early 80s, at the time, maybe 81, or 82. And people were saying, look, you may not be teaching for that many more years, it will be amazing for you to go and like you should go and try and study with him. And somehow I was at an age where I could just like, do things like that. So I planned a trip to go and study with him. And he was based just outside New York in New Jersey.

So there was a big event planned like a teaching on Buddhist philosophy and meditation over three days or so. And I decided to go I went to New York. Luckily, my aunt lives in New York, so I got to stay with her. And then a few days before I was due to travel to Khen Rinpoche, someone said to me, why don’t you call him up and see if you can arrange a one to one meeting beforehand? Because like in the big crowd of everyone, you won’t really get to see him. And you’ve come all the way from Ireland. So why don’t you try this?

So someone gave me his number, and I worked up the courage and I made the call, and I actually got a guy on the phone called Jinpa. It’s like Jinpa it’s actually that word is Tibetan for giving. That was his name, “giving” or “generosity”. So Jinpa answered. And, you know, I said, Is it possible to arrange a meeting for Khen Rinpoche. And he’s like, yeah, okay, come tomorrow, and he gave me a time.

And that’s where things get interesting, because actually, this story is about Jinpa. So Jinpa is the Assistant to Khen Rinpoche, and has been for years. And he just goes around, and he’s like the caretaker and manages logistics and organises people visiting and does all of that sort of stuff. And over time, people noticed that there was something really special about Jinpa, there was something unusual about him. Even like people started to have this idea… I don’t know what it is about Jinpa, but he always knows what I want. It’s like that guy’s reading my mind. Like he seemed to be just really tuned in to people. So there was this sort of curiosity around Jinpa like what’s going on with Jinpa he doesn’t say much, but he seems to know a lot.

So then it’s the day of the visit. I get the bus from New York. And, and I’m in the bus station in I don’t know, I forget the name. And I’m trying to figure out like, what ticket do I need to get to New Jersey and you know, you’re kind of lost and you’re like, there’s a queue behind you’re getting the tickets and somehow when I was getting the bus ticket, I just got a one way ticket instead of a return. So I’d gotten the ticket I think darn I should have I should have done that properly. And and I’d seen something about like needing I had read something like you need the right change to get the tickets for the way home and I was thinking how’s that going to work out and you know, you’re in this place, you don’t really know what you’re doing and you’re trying to do everything right and you’re a bit lost…

And then when I was on the bus I was so nervous about not missing the stop I ended up getting off a stop early. So I had to walk about a mile in the heat. It was August and so it’s hot and humid. So I’m walking along and I’ve got the directions to Khen Rinpoche’s house, and it’s a really seedy part in New Jersey like it’s all liquor stores and adult shops and and then you go down this little side street and it’s kind of more residential, but just these ordinary houses, and then I arrive and it’s like, wow, this house right here is where this kind of famous amazing Lama lives with his assistant.

And to some people in the world, this guy is a rock star. But actually like the general public don’t know him at all have never heard of his name. And probably it looks like his neighbours don’t even realise he was here. So I went into the house. So the house had a nice garden. And I went and knocked on the door and went in and there’s Jinpa. And I’m really nervous thinking about meeting Khen Rinpoche, and what am I going to say? And maybe I have a chance to ask him a question. And how will I like, I’m going to get a short length of time, how do I use it best and, and so I’m thinking about that I’m really nervous.

And then there’s, there’s Jinpa, and he’s really smiling, and he can see that I’m, I’m boiling. I’m like sweating. And he’s like, would you like a drink of water? Would you like a juice? And, you know, being Irish, I just sort of say, Oh, no, I’m grand! And so he just said, Okay, that’s fine, and said, Okay, you go, go and visit Khen Rinpoche.

So that meeting, then that’s really a whole other story. But all I’d say for now is that it’s the closest thing I’ve ever come to meeting Yoda. It was a great experience. And I actually got to meet him The following year, as well with Amanda and another friend. And just a side note on Khen Rinpoche, he’s now I would say he was 82, or maybe 83, the second year, and he actually passed away, not that long afterwards. And when he was teaching at that age, he’s sitting on a cushion. And he’s crosslegged. And he’s teaching for three or four hours at a time without a break. And this isn’t kind of simple, be good to your neighbours smiley, easy to teach stuff. He was teaching, really philosophy and psychology, and how to understand your own mind and the way we perceive reality. And it was incredibly complex and deep, and he could do it effortlessly. And meanwhile, in the audience, we’re like, I’m in my 20s. And I’m just wilting and struggling to stay with him. So really showed me how somebody with that type of focus and practice can have an incredibly sharp mind, like well into their 80s.


I just picture him as like sitting upright and commanding the room. And just being an incredibly clear, amazing teacher.

But this story continues then. So after speaking with Khen Rinpoche, I went back downstairs. And again, there’s Jinpa, and this time, he’s poured a glass of orange on the counter. So there’s no choice, I can’t turn it down. So it’s like a nice, cold, freshly squeezed orange juice from Jinpa, which is actually just what I wanted. And so I thanked him. And then just as I was about to go out the door, he said, Hey, Keith, do you have a return ticket?

Because in the back of my mind, there was still that thought, how am I going to manage with the bus and getting the return ticket? And how’s that all going to work out? And so I said, No, I don’t. And he just turned around, reached into a drawer, took out a return ticket and handed it to me.

Okay, so let’s pause here for a moment and do a short practice. And after that, I’ll share one of the practices that I think Jinpa was doing. And that helped him to have so much awareness and so much compassion for others.

For a minute or so let’s see if it’s possible to just drop into the body

just for this time, like letting go of planning or needing to do something else.

just dropping into this moment and into the stillness of this moment.

And if you can, dropping your awareness down to your feet on the floor,

like the solidness of the contact your feet have with the floor.

And if you’re sitting also being aware of the contact your body has with the chair.

So nothing really special to do.

Just kind of coming into the body.

Being aware you have a body and that it’s in contact with the earth, with the floor with the chair.

And being aware that your breath is flowing the whole time.

Just your own natural breathing.

The whole body being here and breathing.

Just a few more breaths, just this sense of being here of being present.

And then letting go of the practice in your own time.


Thanks for doing that practice, sometimes a practice like that can help us feel more presenter, just drop into the present moment a bit more. And then the interesting thing is that someone like Jinpa, of course, Khen Rinpoche, they’re living in that place all the time. Some one like Jinpa, he just lives in the present moment all the time, or close to all the time. That’s just his reality.

So when I walk into the kitchen, from his perspective, he’s not really thinking about anyone else, or anything else. He’s just focusing on me. He’s putting his attention into observing me and anticipating what I need.

So it’s an interesting thing, the starting place for compassion for noticing another person for noticing when they’re struggling and wanting to help.. the starting place for all that is coming into the present. Like, we have to be sort of steady tuned into what’s happening right now. And that allows us to tune into the other person. And it becomes possible to let go of all the running thoughts and needs and worries that we have and tune into another person.

And here’s a really nice practice for that. It’s called, I was taught it as watchful eyes. So here’s the practice called Watchful Eyes. And it’s really fun to do. So you could test this out. Like, if you’re living with some people, you could test this out at breakfast tomorrow morning. And here’s how you do it, the first step is deliberately coming into the present. So that might mean noticing your feet on the floor, or noticing your breathing are just noticing what you’re seeing around you put something to help you become present and kind of let go of ruminating and running thoughts about your plans and your needs, and all of that. So coming into the present, and tuning into the people around you. So you can choose when to try this, this tuning into the people around you.

And the watchful eyes part is just literally, you start to just watch people’s eyes, like pick one person and just for maybe 30 seconds, you just tune into their eyes. And their eyes kind of tell you what they’re looking for, like their eyes will, you know someone is putting butter on their bread, and their eyes will flick across to the marmalade or the jam. And that tells you, that’s what they’re thinking of next, that’s what they want. And you just pick up the jam and hand it to them.

So just playing with this for a short time without freaking the other person out or saying it.. Just kind of coming into your own experience, and then tuning into another person just anticipating what do they need. And little bits of practice with this skill helps you to automatically start to be able to pick up on body language better, and pick up on the signals from other people about what they need. And to tune into it and to be able to maybe sometimes help them have what they need.

And I’m not saying you should do this all the time, actually, it takes a lot of concentration. So it’s a it’s a minute or less, or maybe a few minutes. It’s fun to do. And you can also imagine what’s it like for the other person to feel noticed in this way. And it might not be that you get to hand them something, but just that feeling that you’re giving them your attention. So this watchful eyes practice is really a training in how we can give our attention to someone else.

So someone like Jinpa has just years of this training of practice of trying to anticipate what other people need and giving it to them being of service to them. So when this sweating Irish guy comes in, it’s automatic to Jinpa that he’ll try to give them a drink. And then if he sees that they won’t accept it the next time he’ll make sure he has one ready for them.

And he’s seen enough people come out to know that sometimes some of them don’t have the right bus ticket. And he can see this guy looks a bit flustered. And he looks pretty naive. He doesn’t really know what’s going on here. Maybe he needs this just in case… I’ll offer him the bus ticket.

And so people imagine it’s as though he can read minds or something like that. But it’s not really that. He’s just really tuning in and just pouring his attention onto the other person. He’s able to let go of his own needs and thoughts just for that moment and just really pay attention to someone else. And I think this can be really beautiful.

Now it’s not saying on any level that we ignore our needs, like it’s really important to also be able to tune in to our needs. It’s really important to have compassion towards ourselves. But it can also be interesting to see what’s what does it feel like to tune into someone else’s needs? Does that feel enjoyable for us also?

And then back to the first story, that guy who was really wealthy but didn’t look stressed at all. And years later, I realised a big reason why he’s not stressed is because of his ability to tune into everyone else. Like he’s coming in knowing everyone’s name, empathising, relating to other people. So he no longer sees himself as the centre of the universe and his thoughts and worries as the most important thing. I’m sure he’s not ignoring them. But they’re in context. And his sense of self is in context and the importance of his needs compared to other people’s needs is in balance.

So that’s the way that I see that compassion can have this really protective impact on us, it can protect our minds and our happiness. Another time I look at how compassion can also be a really powerful, powerful motivating force for us. But that’s a story for another day. That’s loads for today. So yeah, I hope you found that helpful. Thank you so much for listening and take care.

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