This is the first post in the embody compassion series.
Choosing to Embody Compassion
Understanding compassion is one thing, applying it is another. Embodying it; well, that is a serious challenge and may take a life time’s work to achieve!
Aim for the stars, even if you fall short you will still land on the moon.
Compassion is central to the way we connect with each other and create meaningful mutualistic relationships. When you develop compassion, you relate to other people as equals, allowing you to share their suffering and celebrate their success.
When suffering is shared, it means you feel it too; when people feel suffering, they want to relieve it; compassion gives you the capacity to relieve and transform the suffering of others. You may then find; the universe conspires to support you too!
Cultivating a compassionate mindset and using sincere words are key to elevating the energetic vibrations of those around you. Compassion allows you to feel their resonance and identify how you can help increase it.
Much like speaking sincerely, compassion is a simple concept but its application is not simplistic.
There are scientific studies that show how having meaningful social connections helps with both our physical and psychological health; in other words, compassionate behaviour gives universal benefit.
When a person is struck down with illness, if they have the support and compassion of friends and family, they get better quicker. Benefits for them. The friends and family also develop an increased sense of wellbeing as a result of their caring act.
Compassionate behaviour is win-win.
Compassion will on the surface, appear to come more naturally to some people than others, it all depends on the cultural foundations of your mindset. The development of compassion is central to a number of ancient eastern philosophies, but more modern westernised views have created a shift in the global community where humans are conditioned to view themselves as individuals. The west is centred on the self.
Without cultivating the right mindset and perception of the world, the true essence of compassion is hard to understand and apply. It is hard, not impossible.
The very challenge of its pursuit is the exact reason we could choose pursue it. When things are tough, we encounter lots of failure; and failure is an opportunity to learn. Learning is a good thing! The trick is to focus on the lessons and not the failure.
Having some compassion is better than no compassion at all. It is an area that we can work on and develop over time.
When people are devoid of compassion it gives rise to ruthless behaviour. At the extremes we could consider individuals like Hitler and Stalin. While it may be possible to attempt to justify ruthless behaviour with some form of logical rational, the fact remain that the behaviour is ruthless.
Ruthlessness creates an imbalance in our psyche and give rise to fear. As fear accumulates over time, it depletes our mental and physical health while destroying all of our meaningful social connections (if our ruthless behaviour ever allowed us to create any!).
I am not saying you will become a genocidal dictator if you do not practice compassion; I am simply suggesting that it is wise to be mindful that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and the universe knows everything.
Compassion is a feeling rather than an emotion. It is not automatically generated inside you; it is more of a conclusion that you arrive at and feel. There is an elevator of feelings that grow in to compassion:
- Pity: I acknowledge your suffering – Me is sorry for you.
- Sympathy: I care about your suffering – I feel for you.
- Empathy: I feel your suffering – I feel with you.
- Compassion: I want to relieve your suffering – I am moved to help you.
Let’s explore this ladder in a bit more detail…
In terms of the evolution of feelings, pity is a distant ancestor of empathy and compassion. Yes, it is a feeling that involves two parties (the pitier and the pitied), but fundamentally at its core it is based on a world view where we are separate individuals. It does not just imply a sense of separation, but an undertone of selfishness and dominance. You cast pity down on someone.
“Oh, there there, poor you…”
Nobody wants to be pitied. Pity does nothing for the person being pitied. It is an act of ego grooming by the pitier to make themselves feel “better”. The narrative is one of the “strong” pitying the “weak”. This happens because when the “strong” pity the “weak” it alleviates their ego held fear of being “weak” because they are casting words down on to someone that that have chosen to perceive is below them. Words of pity are words of the ego and the unconscious mind.
Words of pity are not sincere.
Sympathetic behaviour occurs when you feel genuine concern for the plight of another person. You are feeling for another person but not with them.
The feelings you express are genuine and your words are sincere, but there is still a grounding in world view of separation.
“I feel for you….” or, “I give you my deepest sympathies….”
Verbal expressions of sympathy are a part of accepted social conventions in most cultures. This means that humans are taught to develop an awareness of the suffering of others, and where socially appropriate, to express their sympathy. Because it is a “social norm”, it means that not all expressions of sympathy may be genuine and sincere.
Genuine sympathy is the first step on the road to compassion as it requires the development of real feelings while considering another person and their life situation.
Sympathy brings in to play you and I; but empathy is much more experiential. It transcends from you and I to a feeling of us. Empathy develops when you actively listen to and learn from another person.
When you become aware of their background it gives context to their feelings and current life situation; it is this that allows you to start to understand then share the same emotions as the other person.
Empathy is the opens the doorway to compassion.
When you feel your own personal suffering, you want to relieve it. Empathy allows you to feel the suffering of others like it is your own.
Unlike with pity and sympathy, there is no set “catch phrase” for empathy. It all depends on the situation and the emotions involved. The key is to express your understanding of both the situation and the other persons emotions, and to genuinely make them feel supported.
Empathy isn’t just used for unpleasant feelings though; you can empathize with someone’s happiness too.
Compassion is empathy in action. When you feel with someone, you will feel the need to take action; helping them to celebrate their success, or to alleviate their suffering.
The transition to action from an empathetic position requires the right internal foundation to first be in place. The foundations are formed of three elements:
- Self-compassion – Being non-judgemental of yourself. Being aware of and accepting your own suffering.
- Mindfulness – The ability to be present and aware of our surroundings.
- Common Existence – Acknowledging that every living being suffers, feels pain, and has the right to elevate it.
Self-compassion is the start point. You are your own test subject for compassion.
Mindfulness practice enables you to develop self-compassion; you have to learn to be aware of yourself so you can learn to make the right choices and as such to take the right actions.
Developing a sense of common existence simply comes down to your perception of the world. Spend time reflecting on this definition of common existence so you learn to appreciate it; accepting it as a truth.
Once you have started to develop your internal world, you can then look outwards…
In the next post of the series, we will look in more detail at ways to develop more compassion.
Enjoy, for now.