What is compassion to you? Is it something you ever give thought to? Are you aware of a time you have received compassion? And if so, how did it leave you feeling? Are you able to think of a time when you had compassion for someone else and acted in a kinder way as a result? Or is it something not terribly prominent in your thinking or behaviour? It may be that it is simply not something that you think about. Or used to think about at least. The compassion seed is now hopefully being planted.
Compassion is kindness, sympathy, consideration and especially empathy, the ability to put yourself, as best as possible, into another’s shoes to feel the situation properly. Thomas Merton, a gentle and wise scholar from last century best describes it as ‘the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things’.
It is a human emotion, yes. There are plenty of human emotions that I could speak of. But compassion is also a powerful force when applied. It generates loving energy to whomever it is directed to. It also gives the giver a feeling of love from within, an opening of the heart.
Compassion has the power to turn everything around. If we are able to view life from a compassionate place within, we let go of the ego and its need to be right, to dissolving the ego and working from the heart. It is choosing to be emotionally mature, letting go of ourselves and our need to validate.
Instead of carrying on after a disagreement with someone, both losing valuable time from the relationship due to stubbornness, hurt, or being unforgiving towards the other for years sometimes, we can choose to look at the situation from a place of compassion instead. It doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with the actions of that person. It means that you make a conscious choice to not carry that energy with you anymore.
By choosing to look at a situation with compassion, we are more able to look kindly towards others, to see their own frailties and recognise our own. All of us are simply trying to be happy and avoid suffering. None of us are immune to learning, making mistakes, or having said or done something that has hurt another. We are all learning, constantly, whether we consciously choose to or not.
If we can remove our ego from the situation, our need to be right, and see the other person’s opinions or words as an expression of who they are now, which is a result of all of who they have been and what they have experienced up to this point, then the situation naturally softens immediately. We don’t have to agree with everything. Compassion is not about being walked over and trying to be a martyr by saving others. It is simply recognising that all of us have goodness and all of us have humanness, which at times shows up in less favourable or desirable ways.
If a person is speaking unkindly, they are not in their natural space. We are born as loving creatures with our hearts wide open. Through years of wounds and fears, we often act from a place disconnected from our own true wisdom. We have forgotten the loving person we truly are, or the person speaking to you in an offensive way has forgotten who they are. We do have a choice as to how we respond however.
We can add more suffering to suffering by causing hurt, or we can choose to come from a place of emotional maturity and view the situation through compassionate eyes. The ego will rear up and try to hold on. As you are now working from the heart not the head, the ego is losing power, which it does not like. But over time, as we grow and develop in compassion it becomes a natural state for us. Like everything, it gets better with practice.
I grew up in an environment where forgiveness was a constant lesson for me. Even though I endured emotional wounds that took years for me to heal, forgiveness was the only way forward. But how did I do that, when I had become so fragile, sensitive and fearful of exposing myself to more of the same year after year?
It wasn’t until I was able to develop compassion that things began to change. And they changed enormously. Through compassion we learn not to take things personally, because it is really not about us. It is the other person’s suffering that they are dumping on us. So if we are able to detach in a loving way and realise that no matter what has been thrown at us, it is really just a manifestation of the other person’s hurt, then we are able to have compassion for that person and let it go. This not only stops giving more power to negative situations, it allows healing to begin on all levels for everyone involved, including you.
For my own personal situation, I now reap the rewards of such courage by enjoying hugely changed, loving, mature relationships between myself and those mentioned, relationships that I could never have imagined possible.
Whether it is the person serving you at the supermarket, or an impatient driver on the roads, it doesn’t matter. There are opportunities to develop and grow in compassion every single day. It takes work to dissolve the ego and not want to get the last word in, or to be kind to someone who may reject your kindness. Make it about them though, not you. You can then wish kindness toward them and move on, knowing that the power of compassion is in place and is a force well beyond our comprehension, generating the change needed. It is a loving force that permeates every area of your life once developed.
So how does one begin to grow in compassion? How do you develop it? Compassion has to start with ourselves. This is the most difficult part of the whole compassion journey. It has to start with ourselves. We are our own harshest critics and until we learn to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves, we cannot grow in it for others. As Westerners in particular, we can be incredibly harsh on ourselves. Yet we are all children of God, whatever you conceive that to be, and we are all born with the desire to be happy.
We first need to forgive ourselves for things of our past. By continuing to carry regret or guilt, we hold ourselves back from blooming into the people we are here to be. Sure, we would all have done some things differently given the chance, but we are human and we are constantly learning. So forgive yourself and realise that you did what you did as a result of who you were at that time. And you are not that person now. Have compassion for the person you were.
You are constantly growing, constantly evolving into a better person. So be kind to yourself and remember that that was the best you could do back then, as who you were then. And be grateful for the growth in yourself that now recognises this. You must learn to be gentle on yourself. It is the first point of healing for you and for all who come into contact with you.
I am not saying it is easy. I cried for four days solid when I first started generating compassion towards myself. And more tears followed as the process continued. It is not dwelling in the victim mentality forever and thinking poor me all the time. Instead, you are recognising the suffering of your own past and generating kindness towards yourself as a result. It is forgiving yourself. It is choosing to love who you were and who you now are, all of you.
The power of compassion is a tangible force, with results unimaginable. It is a force of love, forgiveness, kindness and healing. We all suffer. We all yearn for happiness. We are all capable of healing. Never underestimate the power of compassion. I have seen it heal on all levels of society.
Simply make the choice to be aware of compassion, of it being an option as to how you respond to others. But first and foremost, it is an option as to how you treat yourself.
The power of compassion needs you onboard. Start by generating compassion towards yourself. Recognise your beauty and love yourself, with all of your frailties and mistakes. You are worthy of this love. You are worthy. You are still an incredibly beautiful soul with much to share.
When you are able to be kind on yourself, you are then able to be kind to other people, to animals, to the Earth and to all who need compassion along your path.
With an open heart, the power of compassion flows through you as naturally as the air that you breathe. You owe it yourself.
Be aware of this magnificent force and all that you are capable of being.
Be kind. Be sympathetic. And above all, be compassionate.