I was once speaking to a group of people and said, "I think that if I was in charge of the universe, it would be a lot better world." Someone in the group called out, "Are you sure?" I considered that for a moment then firmly replied, "I am really sure!" But alas, one of the great poignancies in life is that we're not ultimately in control. Because of that, what we are looking for is the balance between compassion and equanimity. Compassion can be thought of as the heart's moving toward suffering to see if we can be of help. Equanimity is a spacious stillness that can accept things as they are. The balance of compassion and equanimity allows us to care and yet not get overwhelmed and unable to cope because of that caring.

The phrases we use reflect this balance. Choose one or two phrases that are personally meaningful to you. There are some options offered below. You can alter them in any way or use others that you create.

To begin the practice, take as comfortable a position as possible, sitting or lying down. Take a few deep, soft breaths to let your body settle. Bring your attention to your breath to begin with. When you feel ready you can switch your attention to the silent repetition of the phrases you've chosen. Begin to silently say your chosen phrases over and over again.

Feel the meaning of what you are saying, yet without trying to force anything. Let the practice carry you along. You can call a particular person to mind -- get an image of them or say their name to yourself, get a feeling for their presence, and see what happens as you silently repeat the phrases you've chosen, such as:

I care about your pain yet cannot control it.
I will care for you and cannot keep you from suffering.
May I offer love, knowing I can't control the course of life, suffering, or death.
I wish you happiness and peace yet cannot make your choices for you.

And then move on to consider the boundlessness of life -- people, creatures -- as you silently repeat one or two phrases that express our capacity to connect to and care for all of life and also know peace:

I will work to alleviate suffering in the world, and I know I'm not in control of the unfolding of the universe.
May I recognize my limits compassionately, just as I recognize the limitations of others.
May I remember compassion as I work to be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.

When you feel ready, you can open your eyes. See if you can bring some of this sense of spaciousness and compassion into your day.

Sharon Salzberg in Real Change