I’ve talked about the importance of empathy here on the blog, but haven’t spent as much focus on the value of compassion. I, myself am only beginning to truly appreciate compassion and the power it has to completely transform the way we relate to life, to others, and to ourselves. Dare I say it may be as important, if not more important than empathy. Empathy is what you feel AS somebody. Compassion, according to psychology today, is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person or oneself. It’s also the desire to end the suffering of others or of oneself. Compassion often involves love, and kindness, and humility, and forgiveness, and most importantly, understanding, all feelings that only improve our mental and emotional state. Compassion creates unity rather than separateness. Sympathy is what you feel towards somebody, and though it’s meant with good intention, creates separateness, and can make the recipient feel more alone. The key element for compassion is that you don’t get lost in the feelings of the other person, or of yourself! When one is practicing compassion, they are coming from a place of power, because they are separate from the emotion, observing the emotion, or observing the suffering. They might even be observing the irrational thoughts and fears that are creating the suffering, all the while understanding how the person or the self might be feeling without getting lost in the feeling themselves. How cool is that? Compassion is powerful!
I recently heard a wonderful example of compassion on The Lively Show podcast that illustrates the difference of compassion and empathy beautifully. Jess Lively used the example of a child, who’s scared of the monsters in the closet and the mother, who practices compassion towards her child. The mother, if she were feeling empathy, would also be afraid of the monsters in the closet. The mother practicing compassion, understands her child is scared of the monsters in the closet. She knows there’s nothing to be afraid of, she’s not afraid herself, and yet she’s able to comfort and identify with her child, and have understanding of the child’s fears. It’s a nonjudgemental stance, and the child ends up feeling supported by the mother and understood, while the mother doesn’t get lost in the fears of her child. The mother practices love, and the child is able to feel that love, and simply by feeling that love, the child feels a bit better. That’s the power of compassion.
Compassion doesn’t have to equate to a “saving” or to any actual action, really, it’s more about a feeling, a way of relating towards someone or to yourself. Imagine if we practiced compassion towards others when we realize how ridiculous they are being rather than getting frustrated. If we could realize that, for them, they are lost in their feelings, or in their irrational beliefs/thoughts, and with love, without getting caught up in their stuff, could wish for the end of their suffering, or for the end of those thoughts/beliefs. This is a much healthier way of relating, one that fosters positive emotions rather than negative ones. Imagine how this could transform your relationships with yourself. If, every time you felt sad, or mad, or scared, you sent yourself compassion, all the while knowing, in the back of your mind these feelings are real, but they are just like the monsters in the closet, knowing there’s nothing to be afraid of, but understanding that you are simply stuck in that emotional place for now. We are human. It is the nature of the mind to think irrational thoughts, to become upset about things that don’t truly matter, and to go through times of fear, and doubt. We can help ourselves and we can help others simply by practicing compassion during those times.
Compassion, also called Metta in buddhist practices, can be utilized as a meditation, or as a daily practice. When I am feeling a particular amount of resentment towards someone. I try to practice compassion. I send them good wishes in my mind. I wish for the end of their suffering and for that person to be at peace. I also wish for myself to be at peace, because let’s face it, resentment doesn’t feel good. Anger doesn’t feel good. Fear doesn’t feel good. People rarely wrong others when they are happy, content, and at peace. And when we feel sad, or resentful, or angry, we aren’t at peace. Thus, the person who’s wronged, and the person who has been wronged both need peace, both need compassion.
Below is a mantra I use for practicing compassion (Metta):
May I be at peace
May I be happy
May I be free from suffering
May all beings be at peace
May all beings be happy
May all beings be free from suffering
Feel free to substitute the (all beings) for a specific person, if need be.
Want to learn more about Metta Meditation and how to practice it? Check out my old post below: