I believe that compassion is essential if we are to find happiness in our lives. Compassion is one of those terms that is hard to grab on to and hard to describe. Compassion is that feeling that arises when you are truly present and connected with another person that is going through a hard time. Compassion isn’t sympathy and feeling sorry for someone, because that implies that you are coming at it from the perspective of judgment and separation in a way saying, “thank goodness that’s not me” or “you poor thing.” Compassion is a flow of energy that leaves the recipient feeling understood, loved, not judged and creates an environment for healing to occur. Compassion doesn’t mean that you take on the suffering of another, rather you bear witness to it in a connected and open way.
Have you ever stopped to ask: how compassionate are you?
For many people, there are certain situations where compassion flows freely and other times when it doesn’t flow and you actually feel the opposite of compassionate; resentful, angry, harsh, or at times even mean spirited. When compassion isn’t flowing, that is a signal that we need to do some reflecting and become intimate with our thoughts and feelings. Our natural state of being is compassion and when it’s absent, our ability to experience happiness and peace is compromised.
As if thinking about compassion as it relates to other people isn’t enough, we can also consider how compassionate we are towards ourselves. Many people experience lives that are full of thoughts focused on self-loathing, judgment, criticism and the opposite of compassion. Let’s be honest, we are hard on ourselves? What would happen if we treated ourselves with compassion and kindness and that became our new normal? How would we feel? How would we behave?
Recognizing that compassion towards ourselves and others is necessary to live a peaceful life, how do we foster compassion? Is compassion something you can grow or are you born with it? All the research points to the fact that you can increase compassion in your life and with practice become more compassionate.
I love the Cherokee parable about the two wolves that goes like this:
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil- he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego”.
“The other is good- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith”.
“This same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too”.
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”
The old chief simply replied,
“The one you feed.”
If we want to increase compassion towards ourselves and others where do we start?
The first place we always need to start is with increasing our awareness. I believe that awareness needs to start with determining how compassionate we are towards ourselves. We can’t change things that we’re not aware of. There is a great tool on the Self -Compassion website which includes 26 questions which will give you a good idea about how compassionate you are towards yourself. There are also a number of excellent exercises described to increase your self-compassion.
Another powerful way to increase our compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others is through practicing a Loving-Kindness Meditation. If you’d like to experience this type of meditation, there are lot’s of resources on the internet to guide you in this meditation. The Insight Timer is a great free app that includes a meditation timer as well as many different types of guided meditations.